“I’m sorry if I offended you.”
Seems like an innocuous statement, right? Perhaps even kind, understanding. But it’s one sentence that automatically makes me want to punch something.
When you look closer, you realize it’s not an apology at all. There are two letters that ruin the entire sentence and its sentiment: if. “I’m sorry if I offended you” is not an apology; it’s a blame statement. It makes the person saying it seem like a decent human being while subtly implying that the listener was offended by something that shouldn’t be offensive to them. It’s a complete invalidation of the listener’s experience, and it’s a tidy way for the speaker to avoid taking responsibility for being offensive.
When I hear this sentence, it makes me feel absolutely certain that the speaker is not sorry at all. If you’re actually sorry, apologize without conditions: “I’m sorry I offended you.” If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize.
I think it’s a hot-button issue for me because my mother was (and probably still is) the master of gaslighting backward blame-apologies. She always had some perfect reason to justify her behavior as fair/reasonable/in my best interest/otherwise acceptable, and she was extremely adept at making me feel crazy for being upset. She loved to tell me I was only upset because I had “distorted perceptions of reality,” an excuse she really latched onto after I was [mis]diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. My mother justified and fake-apologized for everything from secretly reading my journals for most of my life to leaving me with my abusive father to kicking me out of the house to live in my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
But today’s rant grows out of an incident yesterday in which a woman on a pro-treatment mental health forum posted bout how DID is not real, just iatrogenically created by therapists. This particular woman is rabidly anti-psych and has previously posted such things as “No one on psych meds should be allowed to live.” If I were a mod there, I’d take great pleasure in slamming her with the banhammer, but since I don’t have that power, I argued with her. (Well, mostly it was Kate arguing with her.)
This woman decided DID was always iatrogenic because she read a book claiming that Sybil and her therapist were frauds. She has no experience of living with or being diagnosed with DID, nor does she know anyone with DID. In fact, when I questioned what right she had to question the veracity of something she has no experience with, she told me I didn’t have the ability or insight to judge my own experience because I bought into the myth of DID.
There were enough holes in her logic to drive a galaxy-class starship through.
First of all, just because you read a book about something, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Even if it calls itself nonfiction. I read a book claiming that the moon landing was fake, but I didn’t blindly accept that as truth because some conspiracy theorist with a typewriter said so. I applied this amazing new invention called Critical Thinking ™, and it told me that the book probably wasn’t accurate because there was much more credible evidence to support the hypothesis that we had landed men on the moon.
And given the choice, I’d prefer the moon landing conspiracy theorists to the DID conspiracy theorists: at least moon landing conspiracy theorists aren’t telling thousands of people that their experiences aren’t real. (Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins might disagree with me on this, though.)
Then you get into the argument about who is qualified to judge the existence of DID. True, it is a subjective experience. There’s no definitive diagnostic test to prove someone has it, but neither are there definitive tests for depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and ADHD. No one seems to be arguing that those problems don’t exist. However, there is a body of medical evidence that strongly suggests DID does exist. There are documented cases where vital signs have changed based on which alter is fronting in a single body. There have been studies with fMRI and PET scans that show differences in brain activity depending on which alter is out. A therapist can’t teach the patient to fake that.
Yes, we could have theoretical discussions questioning whether my concept of “two or more distinct identities” matches your concept of it, but those arguments get nowhere. If we can’t create a consensual reality, all meaning and communication utterly break down, and the discussion becomes meaningless. How can we even prove that my perception of “green” is the same as yours?
When I made these points to this woman, she tried to say that she wasn’t trying to invalidate anyone, she just wanted to have a theoretical discussion about whether therapists create/increase disorder rather than decreasing it. Sounds reasonable…except that she chose to start this discussion by claiming she KNEW that the experience of thousands of people was made up. If you want to have a conceptual discussion, there are ways of framing it that don’t invalidate people. She chose not to do that.
Finally, I gave up on trying to argue logic with her and told her that a pro-treatment forum was not the proper venue for that discussion, at least not in the terms she framed it. I told her, “No matter what logical mobius loops you manage to twist your argument into, it’s still an entirely inappropriate place for it. This forum is pro-treatment, whether that treatment involves meds, therapy, or both. I agree with some of your ideas, and I support informed critical psych. But it’s not okay to run around here telling people they made up their diagnosis. When you say someone’s diagnosis isn’t real, you are implying that they don’t need or deserve treatment because their pain and struggles aren’t real. This is categoricall unacceptable.”
Then she posted her huffy, “Well, I’m sorry if offended you” thing. When I called her on that being a cop-out, she said she “wasn’t sure [I] was offended.” Really? In what quadrant of the galaxy is invalidating someone’s experiences and their concept of self/selves NOT offensive?