We all make mistakes and saying sorry can often compensate for them. But is it possible to apologize too much?
While there are a lot of stereotypes to what living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) looks like, it can look different from person to person.
Your symptoms may not be the same as others. And sometimes, constantly apologizing — even in situations where you’re not at fault — may be one of them.
For some people with OCD, apologizing can be a compulsion in itself.
There are two main characteristics of OCD: obsessions and compulsions.
While obsessions are persistent, upsetting, unwanted thoughts or urges, compulsions are acts that are meant to “banish” or relieve the distress those thoughts cause you.
But compulsions rarely, if ever, actually stop the obsessions. More often than not, the obsessions continue.
Apologizing can be a compulsion — a response to an intrusive thought.
- If you’re having obsessive thoughts about hurting someone, you might constantly apologize to them even though you haven’t actually done anything.
- If you’re having obsessive thoughts that you feel are blasphemous, you might apologize while praying or apologize to your spiritual leaders. This could be a type of OCD called scrupulosity.
- If you’re having obsessive thoughts about a loved one dying suddenly, you might feel guilty about even considering it, and you might apologize to them to help yourself feel better.
These are just a few examples. Excessive apologizing in OCD can show up in many other ways, too.
Compulsions often manifest as seeking reassurance.
For instance, if you keep thinking that your house will be broken into, you might have a compulsion to check your locks 10 times before leaving the house. You’re seeking reassurance that everything is fine.
Apologizing can be a kind of reassurance-seeking, too. You’re looking for the other person to reaffirm that everything is OK.
Reassurance can also take the form of constantly needing to check in with others. For example, you might find yourself asking others, “Are you sure that this is safe?” or “Are you sure I didn’t hurt you?” or “Are you sure something bad won’t happen?”
Many people with OCD have a difficult time coping with uncertainty, which is why seeking reassurance is a persistent action.
Of course, apologizing in OCD isn’t always about seeking reassurance.
If you have harm OCD — where you have constant, unwanted thoughts about hurting others — you might constantly apologize to those people in order to mitigate your guilt (even though you did nothing wrong and it’s not your fault).
Sometimes the other person won’t know why you apologized, but to you, it may be important to hear it from them that they’re OK.
People with OCD may fear manifesting horrible situations just by thinking about them — and controlling obsessive thoughts can be very difficult.
In this case, if you think you’ve manifested something negative like a natural disaster or accident, you might constantly apologize because you feel you’re to blame.
Excessive apologizing on its own doesn’t mean you have OCD.
Apologizing excessively could be a part of people-pleasing, or the result of childhood trauma. It could also simply be a communication style you learned in your life.
If you feel that you over-apologize and it’s usually linked to an urge to decrease distress, it might be a good idea to talk to a health professional.
The symptoms of OCD can show up differently in everyone.
In order to figure out whether you have OCD, you’ll need to be assessed by a qualified professional who will compare your symptoms to criteria, like what’s found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
The DSM-5 indicates that signs of OCD may include:
- unwanted, upsetting, persistent thoughts or urges
- specific acts performed repeatedly to make these thoughts go away or soothe your upset
These compulsions and obsessions will either be time consuming — taking up at least an hour of your day — or be especially distressing, affecting the way you function daily.
There are many reasons why you might have intrusive thoughts and feel the urge to relieve the distress they cause you. This is why only a professional can reach a diagnosis and help you understand why you feel this way.
Many people find it hard to deal with their compulsive apologizing, especially if it’s part of OCD. But there are many effective ways to treat and manage OCD and its symptoms.
Psychotherapy and medications
Psychotherapy, aka talk therapy, is one of the most common forms of OCD treatment.
Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is considered the first-line therapy for OCD. In ERP, you’ll face your obsessions but avoid acting out your compulsions while guided by a therapist.
Although this can be challenging, it seems to be effective. Research suggests that
Other types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can also be used to manage OCD. Although ERP therapy is considered a type of CBT, other types of CBT may also be helpful.
Some people with OCD may also be prescribed medications, such as antidepressants, to help them cope with their symptoms. This is usually done alongside therapy.
Self-care strategies and coping tools can be helpful for people with OCD, though they’re not a replacement for therapy.
You can often work with your therapist on creating a self-care toolkit that works for you.
Research has shown that some self-care strategies, such as yoga and exercise, may help you cope with symptoms of OCD like compulsive apologizing.
A 2018 study suggests that a regular exercise program seemed to reduce OCD symptoms and boost people’s mood.
Self-care can look different for everyone, so it might take some trial and error to find what helps you cope. Other things you can do for self-care?
- get good sleep
- eat a balanced diet
- practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- limit caffeine and alcohol
- use OCD workbooks
- find a creative hobby or activity to relieve stress
OCD support groups might also be a source of comfort and guidance for some people with OCD.
If you’d like to find an in-person support group near you, consider searching the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) support group list.
The IOCDF also has a list of online or phone support groups that can be helpful if you prefer online meet ups, or if there are no local groups near you.
Many people persistently apologize. Although not always the case, for some people, this can be a symptom of OCD.
While OCD can be challenging to manage at times, it’s possible. Many people who have OCD are able to manage their condition effectively. You can find an in-depth list of treatments here.
If you have OCD, or if you think you have OCD, speaking to a therapist can be beneficial. They may be able to help you figure out the root cause behind your need to constantly apologize. Then, they could help you work through that cause and suggest helpful self-care strategies.
Finding an experienced, qualified professional can be a great first step in learning to manage OCD.
Consider these resources for the next step:
- American Psychiatric Association’s Find a Psychiatrist tool
- American Psychological Association’s Find a Psychologist tool
- Asian Mental Health Collective’s therapist directory
- Association of Black Psychologists’ Find a Psychologist tool
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helplines and Support Tools
National Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline Directory
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Inclusive Therapists