I have spent most of my life vacillating between “I’m sorry for who I am as a person” and “c’mon, just admit that I’m your favorite.” Admittedly, the latter is my playful way of overcompensating for wholeheartedly believing the former. In the past couple of months, I have been peeling back a lot of layers in my heart, and have made some surprising discoveries about what lies at the root of my need to self-deprecate and apologize for myself in perpetuity.
I have always felt “too” something. I once dated someone who told me I was too tall, and tried “requiring” that I exclusively wear flats. Those who know me well will likely find it hilarious that someone thought they could force me to do anything really, and that I would comply just to appease their delicate and inflated ego. Yeah, not gonna happen. In reality, my stubborn behind promptly switched to the tallest stilettos I could find because #yourenotthebossofme and also buh-bye, enjoy being single. While I proudly push back on these types of arbitrary expectations and “requirements” that people and society put on women in particular, there is still something in me that readily internalizes that sense of being too something. It has been suggested by various people along the way that I am too: smart for my own good, rough around the edges, stubborn, opinionated, feminist, open, feisty, passionate, talkative, disobedient, outspoken, difficult, complicated, independent, liberal, conservative, skinny, tall, strong, intense, loud, persistent, insecure, and too empathetic for my own good… among other things. This doesn’t even begin to include all the times I was told that I wasn’t something enough.
We all have lists like that, right? We all have those accusatory voices from our past that tell us we are used up, broken, empty, worthless. Some of us are haunted by those voices and experiences from our past. Some of us are haunted by voices that are currently in our life - people who claim to love us that take opportunities even now to remind us that we are defective in some way. That we are too this, and not enough that. And then people wonder why some of us are constantly apologizing for ourselves.
I want to tell you that I became aware of this issue, and that I am diligent in changing this pattern and am having great success. What is more accurate, sadly, is that I am becoming increasingly more aware of this issue, and I am trying to slowly uproot that which is lurking beneath the surface of my insecurity and constant apologies, but it’s not going great. It is going to be a long, arduous process. I figured that if I am going to do the hard work of making changes, I might as well track my progress here in the hopes that it helps someone else out there besides me. So, in the spirit of learning and growing together, here is what I have discovered so far.
I’m not actually sorry every time I apologize. A lot of the time, I am apologizing for THEM, not necessarily for me. If I feel like I have frustrated them, annoyed them, burdened them in some way… I will apologize. In actuality, I think that is sometimes more their shortcoming than mine, and in my insecurity I apologize to alleviate whatever feeling they might be having. It’s the emotional equivalent of only wearing flats to make them feel taller. I was disheartened to realize this because it essentially means that many of my apologies are actually disingenuous. A better thing to say than “I’m sorry,” might be something like “Have I upset you?” I want to reserve my apologies for when I am sincerely sorry for doing something wrong.
I often apologize when I should express gratitude. I say that I am sorry because I feel guilty for needing anything, when I could just as easily be thankful that a need has been met. Instead of saying “Thank you for helping me out,” I apologize because I feel guilty for needing help. When I should say “Thank you for waiting for me,” I apologize because I feel guilty for making someone wait. When I could just as easily say “Thank you for listening,” I say “I’m sorry I dumped that on you,” because I am convinced that sharing my life with others is too much of a burden - chaotic and stressful. Instead of people in my life feeling appreciated, they feel frustrated and maybe even resentful. When I sense their frustration, I feel worse and apologize more. It’s a super fun pattern!
My apologies can be offensive because they are often filled with assumptions. I am assuming that the other person is bothered or burdened by me in some way. This may or may not be true, but I am definitely making an assumption about their feelings and then responding accordingly. I might be totally wrong, and I can easily project messages I have received from others onto someone who may, in fact, think I am the best. Which I am, so that would make a lot of sense. (See how this works, I can swing alllll the way to either extreme. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure book filled with all my baggage!)
I apologize to give people an out. I only recently learned this about myself, but I learned it the hard way and at great personal cost. I am always expecting people I love to leave. Sometimes, when I really care, I even push them to leave. It’s very healthy of me. (Jk but I’m working on it or whatever.) So, the more I care, the more I apologize for myself, and I present all of my shortcomings on a platter and what my apologies really say is “See, look how awful and difficult I am. Leave, you know you wanna.” If you offer enough outs, people will take them. Like any dysfunctional self-fulfilling prophecy, their retreat proves me right, and deepens my insecurity and that pattern is further embedded into the way I operate.
Literally everyone loses when I do this. Perhaps nobody more so than I. So, I am committing to tracking my apologies, evaluating them, reframing and rephrasing whenever I catch myself erring on the side of being excessively apologetic. I am still in the observation stage. I am simply observing when I feel the instinct to apologize for who I am. It’s often and it’s not pretty.
Here’s the thing though. I am doing my best to lean into this knowledge that there is a perfect God out there and he is El Roi, which is my favorite name for God in the Bible. It means, the God who sees. He is the creator of the universe, and he not only sees me and KNOWS who I am, he actually made me this way. When I spend time apologizing for who I am, I am subtly accusing God of getting it wrong. I am apologizing for his handiwork. Even at the observation stage of this process I know enough to say that accusing God of failing is probably not the best plan I’ve ever had.
So that’s all. I am inviting you all into this with me. I am in process. I am still learning. I am doing my best. I am observing, tracking progress and I am trying really hard. I want to change, but I also know that I am helpless to do better apart from God. The only one who truly knows me, sees me, and created me, will be faithful to tweak things here and there as he sees fit. I will choose to wait on him, to believe even when I don’t feel it and I will not apologize for who I am, because if everything I claim to believe is actually true…
I am his beloved creation.