Sorry to Bother You
First and foremost, and since you asked: Yes! The title of this post is a reference to the amazing movie by Boots Riley that was out last year! Go watch it! Already! Please!
More to the point, though: did you know that excessive apologising can be a sign of an anxiety disorder? I’ve known about my OCD for about a year at this point, and, despite being pretty well-acquainted with the fucker by now, it was only recently that I discovered that my constant reassurance-seeking wasn’t exactly standard-issue.
Picture the scene: I’m with my partner. I crack a joke that is slightly off-colour, and I can tell from his reaction that he didn’t care for it too much. Oh. Sorry. That would be the end of it, except five minutes later, I feel that creeping dread of anxiety coming upon me again: he hates me, this is proof of how bad a person I am, I must hear him accept my apology again. And so I apologize again. It does nothing to stem the panic. I keep apologizing. Then, I start apologizing for apologizing too much. A day later, I will come to him with an hour-and-a-half PowerPoint presentation about how very sorry I am for some extremely innocuous thing that he has already forgotten about but that I have actually been consumed with terror over for at least the last twenty-four hours.
The apology compulsion is one that I really didn’t think anything of for a long time – I put it down to my generally neurotic character, death-adherence to manners, and wobbly social anxiety. But it’s probably the compulsion that most affects my day-to-day life. Do you know what it’s like to have someone demand your forgiveness for something over and over again and then apologize for that forgiveness, and then ask for it once more? I know that it’s a really shitty way to treat people: it suggests that I don’t take their initial acceptance of the apology seriously, while at the same time applying mounting pressure on them to make me feel better when I’m the one who did the wrong thing in the first place. And being aware of this only makes me want to apologize more, and thus the terrifically terrible cycle continues.
Now, to be clear: apologizing, feeling the need to apologize and make things right when you have done something you perceive as wrong – that’s not abnormal. That’s just good fucking manners. Where it becomes a problem is when it takes on those ugly traits of the reassurance compulsion that appears in so many parts of this disorder – repeated doctor visits for healthy anxiety, for example. It fits neatly into the obsessive-compulsive pattern for me: the obsession becomes this idea that the people around me hate me for some sleight, real or imagined, that I have committed – the compulsion is the constant, irrepressible urge to seek reassurance that they don’t. Even when, in some delicious irony, my constant demands to hear that push them closer to just being bloody tired of me in the first place.
Now that I’m more aware of this as an extension of my disorder into my relationships, I’m making an attempt to try and address it: and it fucking sucks, and I feel like I spend a lot of my time shooting steam out of my ears as I fight the urge to throw myself at the feet of everyone around me and beg for their forgiveness over something or other just to prove I’m not an inherently unloveable person. But this little post is a check-in and a reminder that this compulsion might feel reassuring in the short-term, but in the long term, it only serves to make me feel worse (like, honestly, most of them do).
But, you know, sorry for making you read this. And sorry for asking you to check out the rest of my OCDiaries series here, and my Patreon here. And sorry for wrapping up this article in such an utterly predictable way. I promise I’ll try not to spend the next five posts making it up to you. Probably.
This is really interesting! Hopefully it’s something you can incrementally correct now that you’ve identified it. I wonder what other ways this self-minimisation has manifested, and if it has ever cost you professional opportunities? (I say that because opportunities are often handed to the uber-assertive, even if they’re not necessarily right for the role.)
I can be guilty of compulsively apologising too. I become acutely aware of it when coming home from a night out with friends. I start reflecting on all the conversations I had that night and scan the things I said, fearful I may’ve caused mild offence. It’s particularly stressful if I’d been drinking and gotten a bit animated. It’s never anything substantive or political; more like ‘oh, fuck, I trashed that show that So-and-So loves. I hope they don’t think less of me now!’
I’ll often shoot my friends a text message pre-emptively apologising because I’m afraid there’s a *chance* they may’ve taken some innocuous remark the wrong way. They usually tell me I’m being an idiot. I *know* I’m being an idiot with this behaviour, but it still stresses me out all the same, and in that moment I need my friends to absolve my shitty feelings and affirm they still like me. It’s exhausting, as you wonderfully described it. I guess this is neuroses.
Anyway, sorry for the over-share. It’s awesome that you’re sharing these updates. I find them really informative and interesting, and I hope there’s some catharsis in it for you 🙂