General Ramblings

Sorry I’m Sorry: An Essay on Anxious Apologies

I’m sorry. It’s something that I say a lot, if you’re around me. I apologize, usually with a little nervous laugh, probably because I stepped into your path or I accidentally interrupted you. I might say it if I accidentally touch your arm. But I’m more likely to apologize, sometimes in a very blurting, slightly explosive way, if you say you like something that I don’t like. Or if we share different opinions on something. I sometimes apologize for my quirks, like my irrational hatred for birds. And I don’t know why I constantly apologize. I don’t know why my default is to say I’m sorry.

I’ve said before that apologies start to mean nothing when you say you’re sorry all the time. And I’ve heard the stereotype about Canadians, that we never stop apologizing for just being us. But I have noticed, as I’ve gotten older, that I have an inherent nervousness that I feel like I have to apologize for. I have noticed that my apologies, while genuine, are also knee-jerk reactions that I throw out when I’m around people, especially people I want to impress. I’ve noticed that my natural shyness, that I struggle with daily to bury under an exterior of confidence and friendliness, betrays me when I apologize constantly. It tells everyone around me that I’m still struggling with self-confidence, with self-worth. I know this stuff . . . and I’m sorry.

I know inherently that there’s not one person in this world who doesn’t feel wrong-footed and awkward at least sometimes. The problem is that I feel that way a lot. I feel paranoid, like the world thinks I’m stupid and can see right through me. I feel like when I brag, or I nervously blurt out a lot of facts and information that I find interesting but others don’t, that everyone wishes I would shut up and go away. And when you have anxiety, like I do, this is your brain’s constant lie. The fact is, no one cares about how you appear because no one is even thinking about you. Everyone is concentrated on themselves. I’ve been through the cognitive behavioural therapy journey and I can usually explain these things away to myself.

Except that it comes out when I apologize. I’m sorry.

I used to stammer when I was nervous. Not badly and certainly not prohibitively, but it would happen and I’d cringe every time. I’m sorry. It sometimes still happens, when I talk to upper management or when I meet someone new. I’m sorry. When I was little, I used to be unable to speak to anyone new at first, because my shyness would paralyze my tongue. I don’t do that anymore, but when I’m called on how quiet I am in certain settings, I remember being asked why the cat always had my tongue. I’m sorry. I used to twitch and shake my hands when I was nervous or excited. It was a habit I was gently and cutely made fun of for by my family and close friends. I still do it sometimes unconsciously when I’m excited or nervous now. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Anxiety is this beast that sits right over your forehead and turns your head back and forth, showing you things you don’t want to see. Things that aren’t really there. And with the clarity of getting older and learning to deal with shyness and anxiety, I’ve realized that my anxiety lies. So, I’m working on this knee-jerk apologizing.

I’m sorry.Β  I’m sorry that I apologize all the time for things I don’t have to apologize for. That I’ve made you think that I’m someone who doesn’t deserve to take pride in her accomplishments and her intelligence. I’m sorry that I’ve made you think that the mistakes that I make are life-threatening and life-changing, that they’re things that can’t be fixed and that are the end of the world. I’m sorry that my self-confidence is low and that I feel like I have to apologize for that. I’m sorry for apologizing for having my own opinions. I’m sorry that I apologize for nothing and everything, because doing so might make me more likeable, or cooler, or more normal. I’m sorry that I apologize for quirks that I have, that might be annoying, or might be stupid, or might be nothing at all because everyone has quirks and that’s okay.

I’m sorry, self, that I’ve made you think you need to constantly apologize for being YOU. You are a pretty cool person no matter what anyone thinks. And the big thing is, they’re not thinking about you half as much as you think about yourself and how you appear to the world.

So let’s stop apologizing. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone. Apologize when you’ve made a mistake that has caused someone pain or suffering in any way. Apologize when you’re wrong and strive to be better next time. Mean your apologies. Make them genuine.

Because I’m really NOT sorry that I am the way I am. My anxiety just likes to make me think that I should be. And my anxiety is wrong.

I’m not wrong for existing. And I’m not going to apologize for it anymore.


11 thoughts on “Sorry I’m Sorry: An Essay on Anxious Apologies

  1. I also continually apologise for nothing in particular. Plus, I say “just kidding” with a little giggle when things get awkward and often when I’m not kidding! I think it is deeply ingrained from a young age that we shouldn’t interrupt, be ‘rude’ or disagree with authority etc and it has led to an epidemic of meaningless apology. It’s a very hard habit to break. πŸ™‚

  2. I don’t think I apologise for little things like that (I find it hard enough giving a genuine apology), but I can definitely relate to the anxiety, especially the speechlessness, and the things the anxiety tells you about not being liked by others.

  3. Sometimes I wondered if I was one of few people who do this. At work, I constantly have people telling me to stop apologizing. If I step in your way, have to ask you a question while you’re busy, or even if I just need a post-it note, I apologize. It’s an uncomfortable habit I haven’t been able to drop. I try to rationalize it and say I’m just an overly considerate person, but in the end it sometimes seems more based off anxiety. Really interesting post you have here πŸ™‚

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