Pleasing and Appeasing: Are You an Over Apologizer?

“Ouch!” then “oh, sorry,” I say as something lands heavy on my thigh, then suddenly airborne a centimetre or two before plopping back down on my seat again. Turning my head toward the event unfolding, a woman, swallowed in grocery bags, has planted herself beside me. I reach below to soothe my aching thigh and notice the bag that hit me. Inside were two large cans of Libby’s beans and still partly occupying my space in a feat of imperialistic arrogance. I give the bag a rebellious shove off my lap toward its empress. I hold my gaze on her, a look that insists she apologize for the damage she just caused. No such luck!

“Ouch!” then “oh, sorry,” I say as something lands heavy on my thigh, then suddenly airborne a centimetre or two before plopping back down on my seat again. Turning my head toward the event unfolding, a woman, swallowed in grocery bags, has planted herself beside me. I reach below to soothe my aching thigh and notice the bag that hit me. Inside were two large cans of Libby’s beans and still partly occupying my space in a feat of imperialistic arrogance. I give the bag a rebellious shove off my lap toward its empress. I hold my gaze on her, a look that insists she apologize for the damage she just caused. No such luck!

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She does not even acknowledge my existence; never mind, apologize! I begin to stew as the throbbing pain intensifies from the epicentre of the attack. That’ll leave a Rorschach of a bruise, I tell myself. I am angry. “Why did I apologize? She’s the one who slammed into me!”.

Now humiliation is added to my anger. I feel small, powerless. “Do I have a sign on my forehead that says ignore me? … I’m sick of letting others get away with their bullshit,” I catch myself muttering aloud. I then run a montage of revenge scenarios through my mind like some B-rated movie. “I’ll say this to her… I’ll do that…” – I was nobody’s lackey, and I wanted to teach her a lesson! An idea came to me. When my stop arrives, I will squeeze by her and accidentally on purpose, let my gym bag annoyingly slide across her lap and just keep on walking. See how she likes it! In complete chemical response to the plan, my body relaxes. Shoulders drop, jaw unclenches, breath deepens.

I still have quite a few stops to go, so I pull out my book, “Story of my Life,” by Jay McKinney. Not long after, the train, at full speed, rounds the corner toward the next station. Screeching brakes cause passengers to cup their ears in protection, and I sense my gym bag slipping from my lap. Folding into it, and hugging it close to my core, I manage to stop it from falling and all the while not letting go of my book. I don’t come up. I stay low. I stay low. Like a panther protecting its catch my head resting on my bag. I experience an odd feeling of safety and comfort in this position. The train stops. “Chester, Chester Station!” the TTC man calls out to no one in particular. Unexpectedly, the woman jumps up from the seat, startling me for the second time. My torso flings into a sitting pose, and I watch her run off the train; the doors narrowly miss the streaming bags behind her. My mission aborted, and I am secretly relieved.

A few stops later, two bone-thin guys in their early twenties but whose bodies seem stuck in adolescence step onto the train. Long gangly arms, appearing too long for their torsos, hang down from their sides, flipping and flopping along to a beat of their own. They remind me of a pair of string puppets, their heads taking the lead, bobbing rhythmically in stride. I’ve always liked string puppets.

Both young men bore sunglasses. One had his atop his head functioning as a make-shift hairband preventing his long locks from falling into his heavily lidded eyes. Still wearing his shades, the other young man sported a ball cap with the words: “Toronto Blue Jays.” I think to myself: “who in the right mind would name a professional baseball team after a cute little bird.”

“Ouch!” then “oh, sorry,” I say as something lands heavy on my thigh, then suddenly airborne a centimetre or two before plopping back down on my seat again. Turning my head toward the event unfolding, a woman, swallowed in grocery bags, has planted herself beside me. I reach below to soothe my aching thigh and notice the bag that hit me. Inside were two large cans of Libby’s beans and still partly occupying my space in a feat of imperialistic arrogance. I give the bag a rebellious shove off my lap toward its empress. I hold my gaze on her, a look that insists she apologize for the damage she just caused. No such luck!

The blue jay is a beautiful bird indeed, and it is indigenous to Canada. After every rainfall, you can find them showered about the city, beaks deep in mud and grass, banqueting on earthworms. But and this is a big but, in no way, is this sweet little blue jay intimidating in the least.

I must say, most, if not all of us, who call “the six” home, would ever choose the blue jay as our home team’s name (head swivel to the right and then to the left for emphasis)! I am positive there are diehard Toronto baseball fanatics who’d disagree with me and go to the ends of the earth to save face for their team! I am not one of them.

Once at a party, while sharing my dislike of the team’s name, a guest, obviously a diehard Jay’s fan, overheard me and interrupted. Indignant, he began lecturing us on blue jays being aggressive birds and provided a litany of examples, yadda, yadda, yadda. He was spewing off blue jay facts as if he were an ornithologist. Did this persuade me – what do you think? Who was he kidding? Himself, I guess. Why not the Falcon, Eagle, Hawk or even an Owl – but Blue Jay???

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Anyway, I digress (my ADD can sneak up on me sometimes). Now, where was I? Oh yes, the two young guys on the train. – My seat, no longer partially hijacked, I release an audible exhale. But before I could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” one of the Blue Jay cap guys gingerly sits down beside me and is wreaking of weed. I do a face-plant atop my gym bag, shut my eyes, and start to doze.

I wake abruptly to the shrill of the conductor’s whistle and realize I missed my stop. How could I have fallen asleep so quickly? I get up from my seat, but Blue Jay hat guy’s giraffe-legs are making a crossing gate of themselves. I wonder how he managed to jam them into such a small space. He doesn’t notice me trying to exit. Perhaps I need a password for safe passage? Open sesame? – “Excuse me” (no answer) … excuse me (a little louder, still no response). “Sorry” (deep breath), and I manage to exhale an: “EXCUSE ME loudly!” Startling even myself, the young man quickly jumps up to make space for me to pass. “Sorry,” I say, “this is my stop.”

“Ouch!” then “oh, sorry,” I say as something lands heavy on my thigh, then suddenly airborne a centimetre or two before plopping back down on my seat again. Turning my head toward the event unfolding, a woman, swallowed in grocery bags, has planted herself beside me. I reach below to soothe my aching thigh and notice the bag that hit me. Inside were two large cans of Libby’s beans and still partly occupying my space in a feat of imperialistic arrogance. I give the bag a rebellious shove off my lap toward its empress. I hold my gaze on her, a look that insists she apologize for the damage she just caused. No such luck!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There was a time when this was my life. A time when I regularly was under-estimated, ignored or fell victim to blame and shame. I could not or would not acknowledge (denial) what would have felt like the humiliating truth that I was the one orchestrating such situations. I was both a victim and a perpetrator. I could not, or did not, connect it to my habit of apologizing for everyone, everything, everywhere! I can laugh now because this is behind me. However, when I was in the thick of it, it was no laughing matter.

In those days, I was a full-fledged over apologizer (OA). For example, if I were to accidentally spill my coffee on a friend’s carpet, of course, I would immediately apologize, and then again, and again, and again. A flood of painful emotions (shame, guilt, fear) would pour over me, and I struggled to keep myself together. I could not let the incident go until I felt 100% sure that my friend was not angry with me. And, despite their best efforts to assure me they were not upset and that “yes,” they had moved on and “yes, accidents happen” deep down, I couldn’t let it go. I was looking for a resolution in the wrong place. I looked externally to others to soothe me, an expectation that no one could ever meet because the person I needed forgiveness from was myself. You can imagine how my expectations could be annoying to others. Sometimes, the person at the receiving end of my “sorries” would snap in frustration, causing me to retreat and hide in the belly of my wounded feelings.

I apologized when people bumped into me. I would apologize to the cashier at check-out for any price tags missing from grocery items. When the cashier offered to get staff to do a price check, I volunteered instead, running through the store in a frenzy, not wanting to upset customers waiting in line behind me. Or let’s say the cashier gave me change for a ten, but I paid with a twenty-dollar bill; I’d respond: “Sorry, I gave you a twenty, and you only gave me change for a ten.” Also, I sometimes even apologized before announcing my presence – “Sorry, hi. I’m here to meet with “Mr./Ms. ‘So and So,’ one of the most difficult things to change was my habit of apologizing before asking a question. “Sorry, can you point me in the direction of…” or “Sorry, can you repeat what you just said?”

All this to say, I am not an ‘armchair therapist.’ I have been there in the trenches with you. Subsequently, I have gained much more than just a clinical and academic understanding of over apologizing and its harmful consequences. I remember the feeling of being the broken person in the room. However, I also know what it feels like to be the Phoenix rising from the ashes. I have lived that life. I have overcome that life. So can you.

To be continued…

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