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I’m Sorry – But I Don’t Know What For

I apologize for everything; things that are my fault, things that I think might be my fault, and things that I have no responsibility for whatsoever but I still feel the need to say “I’m sorry”. It drives some people around me crazy and I always hear, “Sarah, would you quit apologizing! You have nothing to be sorry for!” But I can’t help it; it’s like an automatic response to anything going on in my life.

I know where my constant need to apologize stems from. I spent my childhood trying to avoid abuse from my mother by apologizing for everything. If Mom had a headache, I was sorry. If the power bill was late, I was sorry. If the truck broke down, I was definitely sorry. It didn’t matter if what I was apologizing for was my fault or not because it would only be an hour or so before it was made to be my fault and I would be punished regardless.

I would apologize for doing the right things too. I’ll never forget the time we lived on the farm and Mom and I went to the feed store for a bag of horse food. The man behind the counter rang up the total, which was just over thirty-five dollars and Mom handed him two, twenty dollar bills. The clerk took one of the bills and the other one slipped off of the counter onto the floor near my dirty sneakers. The clerk didn’t notice and rang up that Mom had paid him $40 and started to count out her change. I picked up the twenty dollar bill and handed it to him, “Sir, I think you needed this” I said. Mom shot me a dirty look and the clerk smiled at me, “Thank you young lady! I didn’t even notice! I thought they were stuck together!”

I spent the ride home and the following hour getting screamed at and sobbing “I’m sorry” as Mom smacked me and pulled my hair for doing the right thing. “We could have had twenty extra dollars this week Sarah! You are so stupid!” So you see, right or wrong, I spent the first half of my life apologizing for everything I did or didn’t do.

But you would think that would stop in adult life. You would think that once I moved away from Mom and got away from all of the abuse, I would stop feeling guilty and apologizing for everything and for everyone. But I couldn’t. If someone bumped into me, I was sorry. If I asked someone for the time, I apologized. If I felt I took too long in the checkout line, I would spend five minutes apologizing to the people behind me for their long wait. I spent many years of my adult life taking responsibility for things that were out of my control or apologizing for things that most adults wouldn’t think twice about.

I had to stop. I was driving people around me insane, (which I would apologize for), and walking around feeling guilty about everything in my life. I was sending the message to everyone around me that I was just interested in being a people-pleaser instead of being honest. I was constantly telling other people with my constant “I’m sorry” that nothing was their fault and that I was responsible for everything.

I realized that it is impossible to be held responsible for everything and everyone. Through my writing and talking with trusted mentors, I realized that we don’t always need to agree with one another and we definitely don’t need to always please everyone. I realized I don’t have to apologize for having a bad day, for taking too long in a checkout line, for taking a parking spot, or for having dinner on the table five minutes late. Why? Because no one is perfect and we can’t always be responsible for what people are going to get upset about.

We can’t live our lives worrying about how other people are going to react to us, because honestly, that really isn’t living at all is it? We need to quit trying to be everything we think everyone wants us to be, quit acting the way we think everyone wants us to act, and just embrace ourselves for the awesome individuals we are. We all make mistakes and the words, “I’m sorry” are worth a lot more when we truly mean it and we know and acknowledge what we are actually sorry for.

I’m Sorry – But I Don’t Know What For

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2015). I’m Sorry – But I Don’t Know What For. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Sep 2015
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