“Sorry seems to be the hardest word” except if you have a mental illness. With all due respect to Sir Elton John, for those of us stuck in the world of anxiety, OCD, or depression (really, any of the mental health disorders), we’re pretty much always apologizing. Oh, if you’re a woman, multiply that by 2. And if you’re a Southerner, multiply that figure by 3. Which must mean, I apologize no less than 1,217 times each day.
I read an article once that suggested we stop apologizing for things we don’t mean or stop apologizing for things that don’t require one. Example, “I’m sorry, but do you know where the nearest Target is?” Really! Why do I need to apologize for asking directions? Or this one, “I’m sorry but I don’t agree with this new project.” Again, apologizing for what? That I don’t agree. We’re not designed to agree on everything so why are we apologizing for it. Then there comes “the situation” (not to be confused with The Situation from Jersey Shore circa 2000 and something.)
I recently read “The Art of Apology” by blogger Hilary Jacobs Hendel and she talks about individuals who were berated as children, now berate themselves as adults. What’s interesting is if you have a mental illness, you are constantly berating yourself even if you don’t mean to or don’t even realize it. We live with perpetual guilt. It’s always there. We think everything is our fault. Everything. “I’m sorry it’s raining outside” (yeah, like I control the weather). “I’m sorry they were out of Lucky Charms at the grocery store” (I do not work there.) “I’m sorry that I did something wrong even though I have no idea what it is.” Wait, what?
One of the trickiest situations people with lived mental illness get themselves into is the relationship with the narcissist. It’s like a lion and his prey. Narcissism is a disorder (read about it here) in which those around them are basically at their mercy. A person with anxiety and a person with narcissistic personality disorder are like a stick of dynamite and a match together. Eventually there’s going to be an explosion. The person with mental illness will always go back and apologize, repeatedly, and take 100% of the blame, even when it’s not their fault. Why? Because of that constant feeling of guilt.
I agree with Hendel when she shares that an apology means “I care more about you than about my ego” but what happens when you don’t have an ego. What happens when your self-esteem and morale is so low you can only apologize and not even know for what. The worst part…at some point people stop listening to your apologies because they don’t mean anything, at least to them. To you, the guilt-ridden, overly anxious and depressed individual, the apology may be genuine but think about how much of that is your illness versus how much that person deserves the apology.
As a former apologist, I no longer throw out unnecessary apologies. Given that I am an anxiety-ridden, female living in the south, I’m sure I must come across as rude or harsh. But I want my apologies to be genuine and deserved. I’m not going to apologize because my kid’s teacher gave him math homework or asking where caulk for my sink is at Home Depot. My apologies will not be fueled by my anxiety and guilt but rather by my mistakes and misunderstanding.