When I was little, I played tennis with my slightly less little brother. And every time I hit the ball out of the lines or into the net, I would blurt out, “Sorry!” loud enough for him to hear, and louder enough for his road of patience to become shorter. Eventually he would snap, “Stop saying sorry! Just play!” While this probably helped release his irritation, it only made me feel guiltier and sorrier (yes, I was too young to know what an adverb is).
Being apologetic is not a habit one can easily grow out of. As I’ve become less little, more confident, and more aware, I have not necessarily become less apologetic. It’s annoying — no other word can be used to describe this habit that doesn’t want to die. It’s almost like there’s an apology for just being alive, and without this habit, it makes no sense.
Annoying. For both myself and the person I’m apologizing to. It’s a state of mind that I’m constantly in because something is inevitably going to go wrong and my ability to self-sabotage is so well-prepared that it’s like I’m psychic. “Sorry, I knew I was going to mess up somewhere along the line, so here’s an upfront apology on something that’s not quite my fault, but I’ll take responsibility for it anyway.” Now we can move on.
But the reality is there is no moving on. Once that apology is out, the guilt comes marching in, having waited patiently on the side-lines for this inevitable moment. The guilt of apologizing for something you should not have apologized for (yes, brain, I did it again), and then the guilt for kind of doing something wrong since you’ve now taken over the ownership and rights to that mistake.
I am sorry for being sorry. I’ve tried changing words, tried different ways of apologies, tried figuring out why this habit is so hard to break (it’s as common a habit as we believe it is), and still, it’s determined not to be broken. The resilience of this bad habit should receive some kind of award. It’s been so deeply entrenched in my psyche that even having a better self-esteem or better understanding of oneself doesn’t quite help. Maybe it’s because it’s just easier; easier to apologize and take everything on because you’ve become so used to doing so; easier because it’s second nature, and who possibly could have broader shoulders to carry all that stuff? Surely an apology will make everyone feel a little better. Even you. I mean me. Who’s apologizing again?
It makes me wonder if some part, deep within me, just believes no one else will be able to handle the repercussions of the mistake, so is apologizing for it some sort of save-the-day moment? Is my worth determined by how much of other people’s stuff I can take on, and is the only way to determine my value by estimating how much lighter others feel because maybe “Sorry ” isn’t their habit? What kind of addiction is this? At what point are you supposed to feel good for apologizing? Are you even supposed to, or is the addiction in that feeling of responsibility? “Yes, everyone, it’s okay, I’ve now said sorry and taken on the mistake, so don’t worry, I’ll figure it out. You don’t have to feel sorry for anything.”
Maybe the only way to overcome this habit and deal with the withdrawal symptoms of guilt is to accept that there is more value and worth in letting others own their own stuff than in you trying to save the day. Maybe that’s where the real worth lies. Maybe the real worth lies in helping others accept their own mistakes and you waking up to the idea that your worth does not require an apology. This may be where the new habit creation is needed. It’s just a pity it’s so hard to form a new habit, and I’m sorry that it’s going to take some time to do it.