I’m Sorry Syndrome

I had a dream in the early hours of morning about a visit to a therapist.  Dr. Carl Jung sat across from me with a giant desk in between us.  I remember asking, “Dr.Carl, this is very impersonal.  Is there a way we can sit next to each other without this desk in the way?”  We moved to the area where I sat on the sofa and he sat on a comfy chair across from me.  I began with apologizing for my brokenness.  It was a long dream.  I was woken by my boyfriend while crying.  The details aren’t important.  What is relevant is my sense of apologizing for my emotions.

I have always had the “I’m Sorry Syndrome.”  And when someone asks me to stop apologizing I apologize for it again.  I know where and how it stems from.  There has to be a barricade to this agonizing need to please others.  As women we tend to do it more frequently than men.  Childhood traumas, abusive relationships and just pure self-esteem issues cause us to immediately sneak in the apology to smooth things over with another person.  But, sitting across from Carl Jung I realized it wasn’t necessary.

We tend to apologize for everything.  I apologize for interrupting, for feeling a certain way, for being early to an appointment, etc.  Heck, I apologize just for laughing or crying while thinking I am making the other person feel uncomfortable.  And, let’s not even discuss the apologies I shell out when the other person has done me wrong and I end up apologizing for them.

The word “sorry” is magical.  It opens hearts and allows for forgiveness.  However, that same word can be a crutch in not allowing self-worth to grow in a positive manner.  We apologize for our parenting skills, professional choices, schooling, loving too deeply or not loving enough.  We apologize for not wearing the right clothes, not having enough money, and having a bad hair day.  We apologize for so many senseless acts based on our emotions.  When do we stop this self-sabotage outrage of losing our self onto another?  Why do we apologize when we find our voice and want to express it?  Each time an apology is dished out we are serving a part of our worth and letting that person hold the key to our emotions.

I remember my ex never apologized…ever.  So, I spent years apologizing every time he did something wrong or hurtful to me.  I would end up apologizing for a fight or disagreement.  The common answer from him was, “If you weren’t the way you are then you wouldn’t push me to act this way.  I accept your apology.”  Typical narcissism personality disorder to the oomph degree!  In these moments an apology is like white-out.  It is covered up but always still underneath it all.  When you’ve wronged or hurt someone an apology is a must!

Some of the questions I asked Dr. Carl (as I kept calling him) were: “What is my purpose here?  What do I do with myself from here on?  What can I bring to this life?”  I believe I had a few more universal questions in regards to my existence.  I can’t remember right now.  What I do remember is the feelings of shame and displacement.  I recall the brokenness of remorse and guilt. In the middle of the conversation I can still feel the sense of self-criticism and judgment while apologizing for the past and the lessons that I’ve learned from such traumas.

As a child I wasn’t heard.  My mother had me at 44 years of age.  She was too busy going through menopause when I was just starting middle school.  Puberty was something you did and never discussed.  I apologized for my mood swings, for wanting to be with friends, and for needing to just be left alone without her around.  I apologize for my ultra sensitivity, my need to be perfect in school, and anything that she could not relate to as a teenager in the 80’s.  I was expected to be seen and not heard.  This was most people of my generation.  Now that I am my mother’s age I see the difference the generation gap created.  The need to apologize is a weakness rather than a healthy characteristic when the resentment is for wanting to honor your feelings.

When do we stop this nonsense of putting everyone else in front of our own needs?  When and how do we break the pattern of justifying what we want with an apology?  When do we start to live authentically…now or the day we are dying?

I believe that a dream with an archetypical world famous psychologist was exactly what I needed to reflect and cease those things I keep struggling to fix.  I cannot continue to be sorry for the person I am or continue to become.  If I happen to ruffle a few feathers along the way I have to accept it is a reflection or projection of that other person.  We must stop apologizing for evolving and wanting to live authentically.  Let’s put the word “sorry” back to its real context once and for all.

“The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.”  ~Red Auerbach

I Am Sorry


These are the hardest words to say. They are often linked to shame and guilt and other indescribable behavior that bring uncomfortable emotions. And I don’t mean the “I’m sorry!” that comes from leaving two pieces of Fruit Loops in the cereal box or the gallon of milk in the refrigerator with a drop of liquid because you are too lazy to throw both items out. I mean the “I am sorry” because you truly hurt someone and need to own up to it. Whether or not it was intentionally, well, that’s another issue. It really doesn’t matter. “I am sorry” is still painful when it requires taking responsibility for our fault.

Almost twenty years ago, right before my father passed, I went to visit him in Puerto Rico for a long weekend. He was just entering his long suffering of cancer. I did not know this. My father had been pretty non-existent from most of my life. That weekend he drove me around the island. We had a wonderful time. I was a young adult with two boys and a divorce under my belt. I was determined to enjoy a precious time with him.

He showed me Puerto Rico through his eyes. He loved to take pictures. He was an amazing photographer. There was always a camera somewhere near his proximity. It didn’t matter if it was at home or in the car. This elderly man allowed me to see the beauty of the tropical island through his vision.

In one of those relaxing moments, rocking away on the balcony of his apartment, overlooking the city, he said, “I am sorry.” His voice cracked, his eyes watered, and he placed his hands on his forehead. I looked over at him and asked, “What for?” He said, “For everything. For not being part of your childhood, or your adolescence. For being selfish….”

I stopped his apology. I interrupted his flow. I couldn’t handle the emotions that would bring both of us to ruin a wonderful and memorable weekend. I had so few of them that I didn’t want to go to that place of hurt. I did not want to enter the depth of the ocean of truth and release. I told him there was nothing to forgive. He looked at me as he had allowed the tears to flow down his cheeks and continued to explain the reasons for so much. And with each word, the magic of forgiveness appeared like a genie releasing out a bottle. All my memories and pain began to create a void in the agreement of conditioning I had created for years.

Those words are often excruciating and agonizing to hear. We shush them at times because what they are requiring from us is to go to a place of acceptance, and deliberating the “letting go” of our stories. When did, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” become an acceptance in our society? What that sentence did for the movie Love Story does absolutely nothing for our humanness. Because we love, we must conjure up those words and truly express their meaning.

A year after I left my ex, I wrote him a long letter taking responsibility for my share of absence in our eighteen year relationship. He wasn’t in the union alone in destroying the sacredness of love. I was not present in the last few years. It didn’t matter who abandoned ship first, I had to own up to my faults. And that’s hard. It’s horrible to admit when you are responsible for your story. I never heard from him until a few months ago when, right before Christmas, he called to tell me the words, “I am sorry.” They were followed by such deep emotions that they broke me and set me free simultaneously.

“I am sorry” release so much stigma, shame, weakness, delinquency, guilt, blame, acceptance, dishonor and much more. But if we don’t truly own up to them we can’t be free. We cannot move on to the next lessons that the Divine has available for us. The more humility one has the easier things become. Ego places a huge price on those words, but our spirits know that they are the “abracadabra” of our existence with love and each other.