Why I apologize for things I did not do
I love apologies. Apologizing is a fantastic and necessary means of repairing a damaged relationship and communicating sympathy to those going through a hard time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an apology when it is warranted; in fact I encourage it. However, I frequently find myself apologizing for things I did not do. While reflecting after an intense OCD spiral sent me into an apology frenzy, I realized that there are three scenarios where I feel the need to apologize when I really don't. Since many of you can probably relate, I broke them down below and tried to explain why we shouldn't apologize in these situations even when we feel inclined to do so.
Scenario #1: Someone does not agree with a decision you made.
Why we apologize: I think this happens quite often, especially to women. We find ourselves in tense situations where someone has said something critical to us and in order to avoid conflict, we apologize to deflate the other person and smooth things out. (Example: We are in charge of choosing the t-shirt color for a charity run, and choose green. Someone comes up to us and says "Oh...you chose green? That's really not my favorite color...")
Why we shouldn’t apologize: Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for apologizing when we say or do something hurtful, even if it was not the intention. However, if another person simply does not agree with us, there is no need to apologize. Instead of apologizing to appease the other person, wouldn’t it be better to talk things out and help them understand why we acted in the way we did? Apologizing will be interpreted as admitting wrongdoing, and there is no reason to do so unless wrongdoing has actually occurred.
Scenario #2: You cried or vented to a friend about a problem and feel bad.
Why we apologize: Usually after venting, we feel as though we have burdened the other party in some way and don’t want them to be upset/annoyed with us.
Why we shouldn’t apologize: We cry and vent to our friends and family members because we rely on them for support and vice-versa. We feel close enough to these people to reveal our deepest regrets, insecurities, frustrations, and grievances to them. It is important for us to have people in our lives whom we are comfortable being vulnerable around, and let’s face it, everyone needs to vent from time to time. Chances are, if you are leaning on a friend in this way, he/she/they have leaned on you in the same manner. Instead of apologizing, get in the habit of saying thank you. You can thank them for their time, their energy, their advice, or their comfort. Chances are, they will not want you to feel bad or apologetic for talking to them, but they will definitely appreciate the gratitude.
Scenario #3: Anxiety convinces you that you said or did something wrong. This happens frequently to anxiety sufferers after social interactions, even positive ones. Example: (What if I came off as rude in that conversation yesterday?)
Why we apologize: It’s pretty obvious. For whatever reason, mental illness has convinced us that we did something wrong or caused offense. We apologize to repair the damage, but mostly to relieve the anxiety.
Why we shouldn’t apologize: When we think we’ve done something wrong, our gut reaction as decent human beings is to seek reassurance or apologize to right the situation. Unfortunately with Scenario #3, it is extremely difficult to tell if we did something wrong or if anxiety is just convincing us that we did. One way to combat this dilemma is to act on logic, not emotion. This comes from something my therapist used to say to me all the time: "Feelings are not facts." If no one is upset, angry, disappointed, or frustrated, chances are the "feeling" of having done something wrong is purely an anxious thought that has no basis in reality. Another reason we shouldn't apologize in these scenarios is because oftentimes the apology is a feeble attempt to reduce our own anxiety, but by seeking this instant gratification we actually feed the anxiety and give it more fuel to run on. Example: You apologize for the perceived wrongdoing, then the other person assures you you did nothing wrong. Then you feel silly for apologizing, and apologize for apologizing. Then, the other person tells you to stop apologizing, and you feel even worse! See how the anxiety grows bigger and bigger the more you feed it?
Now let me just say, it is much easier to sit here and write about this topic than to actually stop myself from apologizing when I know I shouldn't. Chances are, this is something many of us will always wrestle with. If you have read this post and are still struggling to know when an apology is necessary, here are some guiding questions:
Has something you've said or done caused someone to feel sad, hurt, belittled, or betrayed?
Have you done something that goes against your moral code?
Have you made an error or mistake that affected someone else?
If the answer to these three questions is no, chances are you do not need to (and should not) apologize. I hope this blurb has been of some use to you. Happy -appropriate and necessary- apologizing, and remember, never apologize for the simple act of existing and taking up space.