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When Anxiety Makes You Apologize for Everything

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My anxiety has led me to develop a bad habit. It doesn’t seem like it would be a bad habit, but for me it is.

I apologize too much.

I know, I know, you’re thinking maybe I’m just polite and considerate. Are you? That’s what I thought as it started. I thought since apologizing can be really difficult for some people, and many apologize without truly meaning it, it was something I should be thankful I can do.

When I was little, and even now, if I am sick or hurting I constantly apologize to my caregivers. I would have strep throat and a fever and would constantly apologize to my mom and dad for fixing me special foods and drinks, like soup and hot tea, to help me heal. I was terribly sick a few years ago with a raging stomach virus they could never really identify, and for weeks my then-boyfriend (now husband) would clean up after me, changing sheets, doing laundry, fixing me soup (soup is a major comfort food when I’m sick. He learned how to make my Nana’s special chicken and rice soup, because it always makes me feel so much better). I constantly apologized.

But as I got older, it was not just when I was sick that I would apologize. If I thought I might have offended or hurt someone, I would immediately grovel. It could be just that a conversation ended abruptly, and I assumed I was at fault and the other person was now upset. But the truth could be that the conversation was just over and no feelings were hurt at all.

I am so afraid of abandonment, and it feeds my anxiety like tinder does a wildfire. It spreads into every facet of my life, and every relationship. For a long time I told myself it did no harm, and I was just being kind. I have learned that is not always the case.

While I am trying to protect myself, and protect the other person from myself, in truth I am driving people farther away. Incessantly apologizing can be annoying. I believe no one likes to be around someone who undermines their every word and action by saying “I’m sorry” for every behavior. It’s not to say I have lost relationships over this — I haven’t — but I have been told by many people over the years to stop. I have seen the frustration on my husband’s face when I apologize for taking longer to eat my meal than him. I have heard from my friends to “just stop apologizing!” And I have started listening.

I am not going to say it has been easy. The first thing I do when someone tells me to stop apologizing is to apologize for that. And then there’s the apology for that apology and at some point you just have to stop. You stop and you say, “OK. I recognize I am doing this, and it is pissing you off. OK. I’ll work on it.” I know I will have to continue to work on it. I reserve my apologies for when I know I have done something wrong and I know “I’m sorry” is warranted.

Part of that also is working to keep my anxiety under control. When I am constantly doubting myself and fearing my family and friends are going to leave me because of my behavior, those are the times I find myself most prone to apologizing. I still tend to apologize if I am sick or in pain. When I feel vulnerable I am afraid for the lasting strength of my relationships. It all boils down to the fact I am afraid the people I love will recognize what I see in myself (which is a topic to be addressed at another time) and leave because of it. I become plagued by my shadow of anxiety, and that is when my relationships really do suffer.

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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix

Originally published: June 7, 2017
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