Guilt and apologies continued

In DBT, one of the interpersonal effectiveness skills involves avoiding over apologizing (part of the FAST skills). The reasoning behind this skill is that excessive apologizing can  undermine our self-respect. If we find ourselves apologizing for what we think, how we feel, for saying no to things, and so on, we are basically giving our brains a signal that we have done something wrong. It’s fine for our brains to get that signal if we actually have done something wrong. But, what about situations in which we apologize for what we think or how we feel? Apologizing for how we feel makes about as much sense as apologizing for having a sore toe or having a lot of energy. All emotions or feelings are ultimately understandable and valid on some level. Just because we feel a certain thing does not mean that we have done something wrong. Similarly, it makes little sense to apologize for our thoughts or opinions. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should express all of our thoughts are opinions without regard to others’ feelings. But, it does mean that we are entitled to our thoughts and opinions without having to apologize for them. When we teach the DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills, we often have people think about situations in which they apologize as a knee-jerk response. Perhaps think of times when you do this. If you’re simply apologizing because you’ve gotten in someone’s way, bumped into someone, took the last cookie, and so on, you’re probably not going to undermine your self-respect. If, however, you regularly find yourself apologizing for your feelings, thoughts, opinions, for having the personality you do, or simply for being alive, you are probably in danger of eroding your self-respect. Try to think of other ways of expressing how you feel that don’t paint you as someone who has done something wrong. -Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.