That "other" S word

My language isn't exactly pristine, but I'm not a potty mouth, either. I can let the curse words fly, but I generally don't. Still, I use the s-word a little too much for my own good.

No, not that s-word. The other s-word: sorry.

Sorry is a good and useful word that should probably be used more often in some situations (public transit) and less often in others (pre-teen sarcasm). I would like to think I apologize when I am genuinely sorry, but that's not really the point of this blog (sorry about that!). The point is when I apologize for things that really weren't my fault.

I've become immune to how much I say "Sorry 'bout that" throughout the day, and it was only when a co-worker brought it to my attention that it hit home. (This was the co-worker who asked why I was upset at being hungry, not the one who told me to let my titties hang out.) The direct quote was something along the lines of "What the hell are you apologizing for? You just knock that off!"

My response? "Sorry!"

Yep- I'm pretty hopeless in that respect.

I'm not a stereotypical people pleaser--I'm pretty selective in who I bend over backwards for--but I am terrified of someone getting mad at me. Part of how I cope with that fear is by apologizing profusely and otherwise keeping my mouth shut. I don't ask myself whether someone is actually upset with me, whether that anger really matters in the long run, or whether I have any reason to be sorry for my actions. I generally just apologize. Sorry for being in the way. Sorry for not being there. Sorry for existing at all.

When I was deep into my eating disorder, I truly was sorry I existed. I was sorry I took up space and resources, and sorry I was me. This mindset pervaded everything I did. In my first hospital stay for anorexia, I was standing in line in the hospital cafeteria (I was actually pilfering Equal packets for later) and another boy pushed in front of me. What did I say? "Sorry." It was reflexive. I was clearly in his way. This somehow got brought up in group therapy, and so I was told to not apologize for anything for 24 hours. It was hilarious- I didn't even last 24 minutes until I was apologizing again, and then apologizing for failing to follow the instructions not to apologize.

I've gotten a little better since then, but not much. I still have that mindset that I am in the way, or that I am a bother. Really, that my existence means I have something to be sorry for. I use oxygen/water/food that would be better for orphaned children/serial killers/feral cats. Self-esteem problems? Where would you get that idea?

Working in retail, the ability to apologize for anything does come in handy. I've been told to apologize for whatever it is, and then make the situation right. This is strategic and differs dramatically from the reflexive oh-I-suck type of thinking that I otherwise engage in. I've apologized to diffuse a very tense situation. Like I said, saying "sorry" can be useful. It's just that I really don't use it in those useful ways very much.

I know I need to start working on valuing myself more as a way to stop apologizing, and I also need to just break this habit. It's just a matter of how.


Jessi said...

You're not the only one! My husband points this out on almost a daily basis...I apologize for stuff I have no control over. Its a gut reflex, I feel that I need to be sorry...for everything. A lot of girls I met in treatment said they felt this way too. I wonder why we're wired that way?

Melissa said...

I do that too! If someone bumps into me, I apologize to them. If someone tells me I apologize too much, I apologize for it. I wouldn't even realize that I do it, except boyfriends have pointed it out to me in the past. (Well, the nice ones point it out to me. The mean ones exploit it. After all, when you're with someone who tends to think everything is her fault already, it's easy to...make everything her fault. That made everything super easy for the abusive guy, and then there was another guy who actually got me to give him $100 when he broke up with me. True story.)

Cammy said...

I have been/am SO guilty of this! I've recently worked on breaking the habit, but for a while I'd frequently apologize so much that people told me to stop, then I'd apologize for's not as though I felt actually responsible for whatever had happened, but it's just a kind of reflexive submissive/low self esteem reaction, I think. I didn't really think I was worth anything, so it seemed natural that if someone had to express guilt/regret, I should.

Glad you're bringing the issue up, Carrie, I think it's great you're working on this!

C said...

I used to have a hot temper when I was young, and then I went to the other extreme, let people walk all over me. I wanted sooo much to be liked that I tried to please people, I tried to fit in so hard at school. Of course, doing that makes you even less likely to be liked. I learnt the hard way that being assertive actually makes people respect you more, and makes you feel better about yourself.

I am currently reading the 'Anxiety and Phobia Workbook' by Edmund J. Bourne and something he said struck a chord with me: 'The truth that takes some people a long time to realize is that self-worth is *inherent*.You have an essential value, worth and dignity just by virtue of the fact that you're a human being'. So it is not reliant on what you accomplish or on being loved or approved of, or anything else.

James Clayton said...

Yeah, it's a reflex for me as well. I guess it is that subconscious thing of 'I don't even feel like I should exist/I'm an inferior person/I hate myself and everyone must hate me'.

It's all a part of that accepting yourself and just being idea, not feeling like you have to justify everything. At least no one will ever accuse us of being impolite...

KristineM said...

My adult D with EDs is also terrified of people getting mad at her, and she's been this way forever. I, her mom, have probably gone as far as raising my voice with her a few times in her life, but as far as I know she has never actually been on the receiving end of someone else's real anger. She thinks people are mad when they are not. She has enormous anxiety, which we are trying so hard to address these days. All this is so hard.

rr said...

I have also recently started to stop saying sorry all the time for everything. I am trying to never just say 'sorry' or 'I'm sorry'. I am trying to make it a full sentence such as 'I'm sorry I am in your way' or 'I'm sorry you misunderstood me' it makes me think about why I think i need to be sorry. It also makes it less passive and more assertive.

I originally started this because I often wanted to say sympathy-sorry to someone (as in 'I am sorry that happened to you') but it came out sounding like i was apologizing for the situation.

dutch84 said...

I have the same problem. I find myself apologizing even when somebody else wronged me. It's weird...

Harley said...

I do this too, so much. I think partially it's almost a control thing. If I make something into my fault, then I might have the power to do something to make it better. Even if all that I do have the power to do is apologize for it. On the other hand, once I've apologized then I can be forgiven, if other people 'play along' and tell me it's okay. That's how I think it works for me anyway.

paper lanterns said...

there is no need to apologize for things that are correct. live with it.

Abigail Gonzalez said...
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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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