Episode 42 – Over Apologizing

Jan 17, 2019


What is “I’m sorry” as a habitual response really about? There’s the preemptive apology that is offered to forestall possible criticism, the apology that evokes reassurance from others, the apology for falling short of perfection…and more. This episode explores developmental, interpersonal, and intrapsychic dynamics of various kinds of habitual apologizing. We’ll be sorry if it falls short of your expectations.

The Dream:

I’m at a holiday “work party” for the very exclusive private school where I work, but it’s in a big, old, rather shabby hotel that reminds me of a firehouse where my family used to have annual holiday gatherings. I’m mingling among all of the people and (as is true in my conscious life) can’t seem to find a group with which I feel completely comfortable or myself. I feel like a lonely misfit in disguise, feigning conformity and pleasant attitude. I go upstairs to where the bathroom is supposed to be, and it feels very far away from the party–the second floor is creepily empty and quiet, with several large, empty rooms. I don’t remember actually going into a bathroom, but as I’m about to go back downstairs to the party, I see an infant boy teetering at the top of the staircase on the landing. He is far too small to be walking. I immediately pick him up to save him, and he looks up at me, clearly distressed, and begins speaking as a much older child would. I ask him where his mother is, and he says he doesn’t know and is crying. I don’t remember all of what he says, but he tells me that he is in kindergarten. I hold him to my chest and he begins to calm down, eventually falling asleep. I feel affection for him and give him a kiss on the cheek, but I’m alarmed and unsure of what we will do. I go downstairs to the bartender of this party and ask where this boy’s mother might be. He says, “probably in the party upstairs.”  No one at the work party seems to notice or care that I have this lost baby. I go back upstairs, and as before, there is no one there–just an open door exposing a room with these creepy, industrial looking blue closet doors (almost like storage spaces) underneath a fluorescent light. I feel a deep sense that this situation is not right, and a strong determination to get myself and the baby out of there. The dream ends with me standing on the landing, baby still pressed against me. ” 

Check out this episode!

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash


  1. Kendra Wolpe

    I found this episode randomly through a fbook advert, and boy am I glad! What an insightful and deep dive into the nature of compulsive apology. You helped me to look non-judgmentally at my own behavior. Keep it up!

    • Joseph23455

      Thanks Kendra!

  2. Kyle Aaron

    I thought this was a great episode! My father has always been a compulsive apologizer and it got under my skin greatly, and this episode helped me understand both him and my responses that I had some guilt about over the years. Thank You!

    Also, I must add one correction regarding the point made about the 12 steps and the amends process. When someone does their amends process, they are actually counseled not to apologize, but to instead name the transgressions clearly and specifically when it wouldn’t damage the other person, and then ask how they can rectify that.

    • Joseph23455

      Thank you for your enthusiasm Kyle- and the 12 Step clarification is very appreciated!

  3. Rosemary Taylor

    I grew up In England. “I’m sorry” is what you learn from a very young age… it becomes a habit. The English all do it -all the time! Its a Brit thing! A social norm!
    It is challenging to shift this habit- even when one has the awareness of the habit.
    Thanks for your discussion on this topic.

  4. Marie Weiss

    Hi…Joe, Lisa and Deb. Thank you for your podcast. It covers such important and relevant themes for us as humans and immediately connects me to my depths and the depth of life in my personal life and work as a psychotherapist. As ever the variety of views you offer and which unfold between you offer new perspectives. One thought re this episode…I’ve found via clients and my own experience can indeed be a submissive signal to placate a perpetrator of abuse or violence in those who have suffered from domestic,sexual and other abuse or violence and/or where a person’s sense of self has been controlled or defined by their having to comply or please. I often see it as a “red flag”. Women, of course, are often those in a lesser position of power and historically, those whose identities are narrowly defined in terms of their presentation and house-keeping. A low sense of worth and fear/appeasement are often accompanied by excessive apologising in my experience. Thank you for the opportunity to comment and look forward to listening to more.

    • Joseph23455

      Insightful comments Marie – thank you!


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