Should I Apologize to Those I Hurt When My Anger, Depression, and Anxiety Were Out of Control?

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Reader’s Question

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life. I was on medication for several years in my early 20’s. Unfortunately, I experienced a bad reaction to the medication (Prozac) that I was given at the time and tried to hurt myself, so I was taken off of it and then ended my sessions with a psychologist. For years afterward I did nothing about the problems, and they only grew worse. I suffered from social and generalized anxiety disorder as well as depression and had immense problems meeting and working with people, and I became more and more isolated. My behavior became more and more erratic. I only had 4 or 5 friends, and they were all people I had known since the age of 18 or 19. I became filled with anger stemming from my condition and problems and sometimes directed it at my friends. I would bring up things that happened years before and accuse them of trying to treat me badly. I said very irrational and hateful things to all of the them like “I hate you” and “I wish you were dead” and eventually cut off my communication with all of them altogether about 3 months ago.

Looking back, I realized I was sad, angry, or constantly worried every single day of my life since about the age of 12. So, I finally decided to seek help and started seeing a psychiatrist about 2 months ago. I go to group therapy for social anxiety now and have had one-on-one sessions with a therapist about my generalized anxiety and depression. I take Lexapro once a day and Klonopin when I’m worried to the point of not being able to sleep or have panic attacks. My mood has stabilized, and my anger has diminished. I feel much more in control and stable emotionally, and I’ve felt good and somewhat happy, albeit in a general way, for the first time since I was 11 or 12 years old. I also see that my behavior over the past years was out of line and irrational and downright crazy at times. My thinking had no logical basis, and I feel deeply remorseful and saddened for the way I treated my friends. They tried to help me repeatedly over the years and still stuck by me even when I was saying the most horrible things to them. They left only when I cut them off completely. I feel that I hurt them too much and our friendship is destroyed and beyond repair. I’ve accepted that, and it makes me hurt inside with sadness and remorse when I think about what I’ve done to them.

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I want to find a way to convey to those who stuck by me that I was out of control and psychotic, and I was completely wrong and out of line to behave the way I did, and that I accept full responsibility for my words and actions and that I feel extreme remorse for them. I don’t expect them ever to forgive me because I don’t think what I did is forgivable. But I want to apologize in a way that doesn’t come off as empty, meaningless words or trite speech. I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if it will accomplish anything.

What do you think I should do? Is there a way to apologize for this that will do any good? Or should I just stay away from them and let it go and move on with life?

Psychologist’s Reply

Your question about whether there’s a way to apologize “that will do any good” is a very loaded one, indeed. Because you have no power over outcomes, focusing on them is a recipe for increased depression. If you want to attempt to make amends, by all means do so. You have the power to do that. And you have the power to express yourself simply, concisely, and sincerely (e.g., a simple “I’m sorry I said such hurtful things. I was pretty ill at the time but I’m getting help now and getting better. I hope you’ll forgive me” should do just fine). Beyond that, you have no power over the potential outcome. And fretting about the possible outcome will only heighten your levels of anxiety and depression. Expressing sorrow and feeling true contrition might indeed be very good for your own soul. And, it might in fact lead to a healing of wounds with your longstanding friends, although you have no guarantee of that. If you’re thinking about doing the right thing for what it might lead to, I’d suggest you save yourself the potential heartache. It’s best to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing and let the consequences flow as they may.

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