I’ve previously written about my son Dan’s tendency to apologize, and how I didn’t initially realize this was a compulsion – a form of reassurance to make sure all was okay. As is often the case, especially in my early days of blogging, I posted about something I felt was unique to Dan’s OCD only to hear from many others with the disorder who had the same symptoms; in this case, excessive, unreasonable apologizing.
But those with OCD are not the only ones who have issues with apologizing. In this recent post on Psych Central, the author talks about six kinds of apologizing and what he feels they mean. The gist of what he says is that people apologize for all sorts of reasons, such as to alleviate their own guilt, appease others, or to just be polite. Still others apologize because they are forced to do so. For example, a parent might say, “Apologize to your sister” to one of their children, but it is easy to recognize this doesn’t necessarily mean the child is actually sorry. The only apology that is a real apology, according to the author, is what he calls “apologizing from love.” He describes this type of apologizing in detail, but to summarize, it is a genuine apology.
Matt Bieber, on his recent podcast, talks about his own experiences with apologizing. He realizes that his own apologies typically fall into one of two categories. The first are illogical apologies which are compulsions related to his OCD and the second are apologies rooted in reality, based on relationships, and genuine. I recommend listening to Matt’s insightful podcast where he explains his thoughts in more detail.
So why all this talk about apologizing? Well, I think it’s important to try to understand what is actually going on when we apologize, and then we can hopefully figure out if we are dealing with an OCD compulsion, a genuine expression of remorse, or something completely different. What makes something like apologizing so complicated in terms of OCD is that it is something we all typically do, so it might be harder to recognize it as a compulsion. For example, if a person with OCD turns his car around multiple times to make sure he hasn’t hit anyone, it is obvious to many that this is a compulsion. It is not typical behavior. If a young girl has to turn her light switch on and off fifty times at night or else “something bad will happen,” this too is an obvious compulsion. But apologizing? Most of us do it, and even if we apologize excessively, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have OCD.
When I finally realized Dan’s apologizing was a compulsion, I was able to stop enabling him by not reassuring him; there was a little less fuel for OCD’s fire. Once again it comes back to the fact that the more we understand about all aspects of OCD, the better equipped we will be to fight it.