I’m a chronic apologizer. I sometimes say, “I’m sorry” as a reflex. It’s a great way to try to control other people’s reactions. That doesn’t mean it actually works, though, or that it’s worth doing in most cases.
For me, I think it comes from having constantly invalidated growing up. There were times then, however, when peers said that I apologized too much, so I must have had a sense of inferiority entrenched early on.
For most of my life, I have been what a friend calls “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” I’ve talked a lot about myself and my achievements while simultaneously feeling like crap on the inside. I think both sides of that quote are reducible to needing validation from others.
The good news is, with a lot of work, I’m making that larger tendency diminish over time. I’ll never be perfect at it, but I know that the more I practice doing things differently, I will achieve a greater sense of centered balance.
So, today, I’m committing to working on apologizing less to control others’ reactions.
I’m clumsy and awkward, so I unintentionally walk in the wrong direction, towards others. I don’t need to say, “I’m sorry.” I’ll try saying, “Excuse me” instead.
I will open myself to better feedback by asking general questions without trying to control the outcome with apologies or anything else.
A dear friend once told me, “You don’t have to apologize for anything!” And because he is a dear friend, I took him seriously.
However, I sometimes need to apologize for accountability—not ego gratification—and the difference can be tricky to discern. I can logically know the difference, but when it comes to impulsively apologizing for the sake of controlling someone else’s reaction, I’ll do it anyway.
As I can be really hard on myself, one of the most healing things I’ve ever done is giving and receiving apologies for accountability—specifically from myself and others when we’ve really worked to change.
Sometimes, the recipients of my apologies have said things along the lines of, “Don’t even worry about it,” or, “I think you’re overthinking it, Josh,” and I snap out of my head again and realize that they might be right.
And then there are times when others have written to me. One time, two weeks before I left my college to finish school at home, I heard from someone from my high school who bullied me.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so stunned to get such a message in my life. The person had clearly done some serious work on themselves and asked how they could help me. They helped me more than they ever knew by recognizing that how they had treated me was not okay.
It’s those kinds of apologies that matter. Not all apologies “mean something” because of where they come from, so that impacts how others receive them.
So, today, I will also work on accountability for myself. I will work on apologizing when I need to and avoiding apologies when I don’t.