One Apology Accepted!
I have a problem: I’m a compulsive apologizer. Or at least I used to be. If I mess something up I wind up feeling so guilty that I have to apologize. One apology won’t do, though, and I wind up apologizing for the same thing again after my first apology has been acknowledged. Then I apologize again. And again. I feel so wracked with guilt that I just want the person to understand how truly, deeply sorry I am. I don’t want them to be mad with me, and with each apology I feels like I’m getting closer to them understanding my guilt and not be angry with me anymore.
I finally understood the pattern of what I was doing when my roommate in college apologized even more profusely than I did. It was shocking. I could see the severe guilt lining his face as he apologized to me over and over for not remembering to replace the soap he’d used. I understood he was sorry the first time he apologized. The second and third reinforced that, but by the fourth I was just starting to feel guilty myself for having brought up his mistake at all. After that I was somehow trying to console him because of how guilty he seemed to feel which made me feel my own guilt. In the end, I just wanted him to stop apologizing and so I kept telling him it was okay even though nothing about the situation was okay.
These kinds of interactions are not healthy, nor are they genuine. Feeling guilt over doing something wrong is normal, but it’s not normal to internalize that guilt so deeply that we can’t stop apologizing for our mistake. It’s up to the person we’ve wronged to decide to forgive us or not, and apologizing over and over again in an attempt to make them forgive us is trying to take that power from them. Apologizing once and apologizing sincerely is all you need to do. Repeating an apology does not make it more genuine and manipulating a person through apologizing—whether it’s a conscious attempt or not—does not lead to genuine forgiveness.
These types of habits can be indications of other issues, as well. For my friend, it was a deep seated fear of people being angry with him. He thought it stemmed from dealing as a child with his father’s angry drunken outbursts; the fear of those outbursts stuck with him and he’s had a hard time dealing with others’ anger ever since. This led to him compulsively apologizing. Fortunately, therapy helped him learn tools to deal better with this. College campuses often offer free or affordably-priced counseling services for students and high schools often offer it for free. If you’re dealing with overwhelming guilt when you make mistakes, know that you don’t have to. Check out what local resources are available to you and www.ifiknew.org for more information.
Chris M, contributing blogger