I have spent nearly all of my life apologizing for who I am.
For being fat.
Not making perfect grades.
Not making enough money.
Not being enough, whether that’s pretty, smart, funny, patient, or faithful to my Christian upbringing.
Not speaking up for myself. Not putting my needs first. Not doing the things I want to do but am afraid to do.
In response to being told I’m egocentric, selfish, or a cold-hearted bitch when I stand up for myself.
Being blamed for another person’s emotions when I speak up for myself.
Being blamed for the conflict in the relationship because I speak up for myself.
Where do those voices come from?
From my childhood – my parents, siblings, grandmother, great-grandparents – and from friends, both current and former, and my husband.
But they all sound like my voice in my head after all of these years of hearing them. And they all tell me I’m not enough, doing enough, or being enough. That I’m not living up to my potential or focusing on myself (or I’m focusing too much on myself) and I am wasting my life. And those are the voices I hear when I am hit with the panicked thought, What if I die in my sleep tonight? at 3a.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ve said over and over and over again from about the time I could talk. I’m sorry, Mama, I don’t know why it is so hard for me to behave myself, I wrote in a letter at about 7 or 8 years old, a letter my mom still has to this day but does not have any of the short stories I wrote and gave to her as gifts.
I’ve blamed it on the trauma and dysfunction I experienced growing up. I’m sorry I’m so broken, I’ve cried. I’m sorry I’m such a burden. I’m sorry I’m too much and too emotional. I’m sorry you don’t want me.
I’ve mentally destroyed my body a million times, taking on others’ voices who called me disgusting, gross, and fat like it’s the most vile thing a person can be. I’m sorry my belly is so big. I’m sorry I don’t look like other women. I’m sorry I don’t have big boobs and a big butt and itty bitty waist. I’m sorry this is what you have to look at during sex or anytime I’m naked. You deserve a better body to touch and view. My stupid body and fucked up hormones, stupid PCOS, stupid hypothyroidism, stupid endometriosis. My body is ruined and it’s my fault, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I can’t find a job I love that pays well and that I can stay at, I’ve said to John several times over the past 3 years. I keep winding up with these hostile bosses who make an easy, sometimes even enjoyable job, torturous. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I’m doing something wrong, I am the common denominator here. I’m sorry I don’t have the fortitude to withstand their behavior towards me and continue working so I’m not a financial burden on you. I’m sorry my expectations for a job I want to stay at are too high. I’m sorry that staying at a job I hate for the majority of the rest of my life feels like a long, slow, brutal death.
I’m sorry I’m so overdramatic and need so much, I’ve said. I’m sorry I can’t seem to let some things go. I’m sorry I want affection and affirmation so much. It’s because I didn’t get either growing up. I’m sorry I lean on you for validation. I should know better. I’m sorry I want you to tell me you think I am beautiful and you are so lucky to have me and that I keep telling you that my needs aren’t being met. I’m sorry, once again, things were going so well, and I fucked them up with my feelings.
Last night, in discussion with John after a horrible fight, I asked him if he ever feels like he’s repeating his mistakes from his previous marriage. After a pause, he said no. I asked, kind of incredulously, “Do you even know what your mistakes were then?”
He responded, “I won’t apologize for being myself.”
I still can’t decide if that is the arrogance, egocentricity, and selfishness I’ve always been afraid of being accused of possessing or if it’s self-assuredness. I am always apologizing for myself because I never want to see like I’m beyond empathy or thoughtfulness of those around me, all at the expense of the lack of empathy and thoughtfulness towards myself.
I don’t think the opposite of constantly apologizing for myself is a cold-hearted “I refuse to acknowledge how my behavior affects others,” but an acceptance that this is who I am, I cannot nor need to be perfect, my voice, feelings, and needs matter, and I can have compassion, love, empathy, and kindness towards myself while also having those characteristics for others. The key part is having them for myself first so that I have a larger capacity for them with others.
Those voices from my childhood through now that I’ve adopted as my own came and come from hurt people, people who have tried to stop their own pain through their treatment of me (but who only inflicted more pain on me), people who see a reflection of their insecurities and pain in me and react to that instead of me personally. The words that came from those voices were about them, not me.
To re-parent myself is to observe my thoughts, which seem to flutter in a roaring cacaphony of billions of butterflies inside of my head. To catch them as they come and ask myself, Where did this come from? Maybe it’s even like a mental version of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up: “Does this thought serve me?” If not, thank it and let it go; if so, hold on to it, listen to it, and see where it takes me.
In re-parenting myself, it is time to stop apologizing for being a human being with needs, emotions, and desires. To stop apologizing for “falling short,” whatever standards I’ve been held against or that I’ve held myself against.
The only apology needed is to myself, Amy, I am so sorry I’ve taken others’ hurts and made them my own.
To replace those words those hurt voices said and say to myself:
I am enough. My body is good as it is, no matter what. My dreams are worth aspiring to. My needs are worth being met. My voice is worth being heard. I am not too emotional – I am attuned with my emotions and they are valid. It is okay for me to keep searching and exploring and pushing through my fears and discomfort.
I don’t know who said it, maybe Anne Lamott or Elizabeth Gilbert, but I don’t want to end my life looking like it was barely lived. I want to end it completely used up, my hair on fire, heart completely worn out, ready for whatever is next.
I will apologize when my hurts hurt someone else, but I will stop apologizing for who I am and what I do when it pertains to becoming and being the person I was put on the Earth to be.
Today: Consider the negative messages about yourself that are in your head and ask yourself, “Is this my voice or someone else’s?”
Says [Dr. Amy Combs, clinical psychologist and the director of the Charlotte Center for Balanced Living], “…One of the first things we can do is to ask these questions of ourselves: Whose voice is it? Where did it come from? Why does it make sense for me to talk to myself like that?
If this negative message was shared with you at a younger age, how would you re-parent yourself? What do you think your friend was missing in her life that made her say that? Do you think this is really what your brother thought, or was it how he thought he could get you the most upset? What was the goal?”
Whatever you may have been told, replace it right now with what you wish you had heard.