How many times a day have you started a sentence with: “I’m sorry, but…” or “Sorry to bother you…”?
Over-apologizing can easily become a never-ending trap of “I’m sorry’s” and regret that can wreak havoc on your mental health. In fact, constantly apologizing is not healthy for anybody, including the recipient.
Understanding the Impulse to Apologize
Constantly apologizing may seem polite, but it often stems from a very unhealthy place and can hurt you in various aspects of your life.
Over-apologizing could stem from insecurities, over-politeness, passive aggression, lack of confidence, or the need to please others and avoid conflict.
So how do you know if you’re apologizing too much? Here’s are a few common situations when people tend to apologize unnecessarily :
Situation 1: Apologizing for Not Having the Answer
You’re sitting in a meeting and your boss asks for ideas about how to win a large account that has been shopping around for new representation. You offer an idea which is debated, and rejected.
You respond with, “I’m sorry, you’re right. That wouldn’t work.”
All of your co-workers pitch in ideas, and if their options are turned down, no one apologizes for throwing out the suggestion.
The problem: Your apology is out-of-place and reveals your own insecurities. Ideas are meant to stimulate conversation to get to the root of this issue, which helps find creative ways to solve a problem.
No one expects you to have the magic answer that solves everything. Yet, by apologizing for your inability to fill this role, you’re actually putting yourself down, when you should be commending yourself for contributing to the discussion.
Furthermore, apologizing constantly in the workplace can demonstrate a lack of confidence, which could end up hurting your career.
Situation 2: Apologizing for Someone Else’s Errors
It’s your roommate’s turn to do the dishes, but she leaves them piled up, like always. You bring it up to her by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you, but did you forget to do the dishes? I washed them, but just wanted to let you know.”
The problem: Your apology is enabling your roommate to continue to skip out on chores. Why? By starting off the conversation with an apology, you’re letting them off the hook by apologizing for their failures.
Situation 3: Apologizing Automatically, When You’ve Done Nothing Wrong
You’re in a crowded airport and a group of men with suitcases bump into you, one after another.
“Sorry. Sorry! Oh, sorry!” you call after them.
Not one of them apologizes to you.
The problem: Here, not only are you apologizing for another person’s error, but you’re apologizing for your very presence. Saying “sorry” could be more of a polite reflex, but it’s one you should be aware of. There’s never any reason to apologize for someone else bumping into you, and doing so will only make you feel more insecure and inferior to others.
This situation may seem a bit more harmless, but since it occurs so often, it’s actually more dangerous than you might think. Constantly apologizing is a repetitive way to train your brain that you’re often in the wrong, or the person who needs to justify mundane, human actions.
Furthermore, if you’re a woman constantly apologizing to men for bumping into you, this apology indicates a power imbalance that you likely associate with that gender. For fear of being seen as aggressive, many women simply apologize, without really feeling sorry.
3 Ways to Help You Stop Apologizing
1. Recognize You Have a Problem
Over-apologizing can be difficult to correct, because some apologies are so automatic, we don’t even realize they’re happening until they come out of our mouths.
Being aware that you might apologize too much is key to correcting your problem. Pay attention to every time you say “I’m sorry” throughout the day and keep track of it. Writing down all of these instances, or at the very least, tallying them can have an overwhelming impact.
2. Examine Why You Apologize
Once you have your list or tally, it’s time to start analyzing your apologies to figure out the motivation behind them. Some reasons for apologizing could stem all the way back to your childhood, so it’s important to be upfront and honest with yourself during this process.
Ask yourself questions to figure out why you might be apologizing, even when it doesn’t make sense. Some questions to consider could be:
- Did you come from a household where you were expected to be polite and apologize instead of discussing conflicts (no matter how minor)?
- Growing up, were you discouraged from vocalizing your own opinions?
- When others speak up and don’t apologize for advice or thoughts that are negatively received, do you feel they should apologize?
- Would you want your child (hypothetical, if you’re not a parent) to apologize for the way they feel, so as not to cause conflict?
- What is your impulse when someone tells you “no” or asks you why something isn’t complete?
Sifting through these questions can help you better understand your underlying reasons for apologizing, so you can become more cognizant of them in the future.
3. Practice Not Apologizing
Now that you know what systems trigger your need to apologize, practice alternative responses. Since saying “I’m sorry” is often so ingrained in over-apologizers, practicing other potential replies can help you overcome this bad habit.
For instance, if two co-workers are discussing a problem you’re invested in, instead of saying “Sorry to interrupt,” which demeans your point, you might just say, “Another option is…”
Likewise, next time someone bumps into you, instead of apologizing, you might say, “Did you not see me?” or “It’s crowded in here”. You might not get an apology, but they’ll at least acknowledge they did something wrong, instead of expecting you to apologize for them invading your space.
Your responses can be direct without being aggressive. Your coworkers, friends, and family members will respect you more for this newfound communication style, and you might even find you feel more secure and capable.
At the end of the day, you should be able to confidently communicate your ideas, without apologizing for them.