Updated: Jan 4
Stop Over Apologizing.
Easier said than done, right? In order to stop engaging in a habit that is so ingrained in our culture, in our very way of being, you must first ask yourself, “Why do I apologize so much?”
We over apologize because at its core, it is the polite thing to do. We were taught as children to always say sorry whenever you hurt someone. As adults, this has morphed into apologizing for gently bumping into a stranger on the street, or for arriving late to a meeting, or I’ve even seen people apologize just for passing by someone on the sidewalk. It is good to be a polite and kind person, I am all for that.
Read below to find out if you might be over apologizing, how to stop, and when you actually should offer up a sincere “I’m sorry.”
Why do you say sorry so much?
When you break it down, over apologizing is usually acting as a coverup or distraction from something else. Here are a few of the common reasons why you over apologize.
It is a scary thought to acknowledge that we might offend someone else or make them think poorly of us. It makes sense that we would apologize for that- in advance- just in case it happens. We want to show them that we know our actions have made them feel something negative and that we also know they can’t handle negative feelings so we apologize to try and mitigate some of that pain. Wait what?
When we try to lessen the perceived pain of others, what we are actually doing is telling them that they aren’t strong enough. We are telling them (and ourselves) that they cannot handle feeling negative so we must handle it for them.
Our parents had such good intentions with teaching us manners, but this is an example of where they failed us. Apologizing does not make everything ok. Saying sorry does not take away any of the pain that anyone must feel. Our words do not have that much power. This is especially true in situations where apologizing is not necessary.
Apologizing does not make everything ok. Saying sorry does not take away any of the pain that anyone must feel.
Feeling Unworthy or Undeserving
When we apologize for actions that equate to taking up space in the world (passing by someone on the sidewalk, standing where someone might want to walk by, breathing), we are essentially apologizing for our existence. This is based on feeling unworthy to actually have that space. This one is more common in people socialized as women, but applies across all genders easily.
Think about when you pass someone on the sidewalk and say “oh I’m sorry” or when someone else bumps into you, you turn to them and beg for their forgiveness even though it was their fault completely. This belief of unworthiness might be subconscious, but it is likely there, under the surface telling you that you do not deserve to be here in this world and take up the space that someone more worthy could be using. (BTW, it's lying to you).
Saying I’m sorry as a manipulation can fall into two categories- intentional and unintentional. Some people will apologize just to end a conversation without actually intending to solve the problem. They just want to move on, stop getting blamed for whatever they may have done and forget about it. That is intentional manipulation and is a sign of an unhealthy relationship and possibly something bigger (different blog, different day).
Unintentionally manipulating someone is more of a people pleasing move. The unintentional apologetic people pleaser is still trying to avoid actually solving anything, but they are doing it out of discomfort and a need to be liked rather than not wanting to deal. It’s subtle but it’s an important difference.
Ah, my favorite quality to deny about myself. Apologizing when we don’t live up to the high standards we set for ourselves is really hard, probably impossible; yet we are still disappointed in ourselves when we don’t reach it. This is the worst unnecessary apology because perfection isn’t actually real! We will all make mistakes and that is ok. Many of the situations in which we don’t need to say I’m sorry fall into this perfectionism category. Keep reading to see!
When “Sorry” isn’t Needed
These are situations I see all the time where people can’t stop saying sorry- but I think it's unnecessary. There are better ways to approach the discomfort of these situations without taking on the idea of having hurt someone. Remember, we want to say that we are sorry when we hurt someone, but these situations don’t typically create harm for anyone.
Bumping into someone (or they bump into us)
Asking for help or for a favor from a friend
Not meeting a deadline
Having plans when someone asks you to help them move last minute
How To Stop Apologizing When You Don’t Need To; What to Say Instead
You do not have authority over others’ feelings and behaviors. No matter how much we want to think we have that kind of control, we just don’t. Others will absolutely be influenced by your actions, but unless you actually hurt someone or their feelings, you don’t have to apologize.
When you ask a friend for a favor, you can say things like “I would really appreciate it if you could help with this” or “Can you please help me?”
If it is an inconvenience to them, it is their job to say No to you. Hopefully, you have the type of friendships that can withstand questions and responses like that. Similarly, if you have to say “no” to someone, it does not need to come with an apology. You can simply say “No, I wish I could” or “No, thank you” depending on the circumstances.
Know You Deserve to Take Up Space
You deserve to be here, you deserve to breathe this air, you deserve to feel fulfilled and expansive, just like anyone else.
When you run into someone, or they run into you, instead of apologizing to them, you can say “oh, excuse me” or get fancy with it and say “pardon me.” Midwesterners like to throw out an “ope,” which works too.
You are Human and You Make Mistakes
There is nothing wrong with this! We are all having this experience together and we will all make mistakes along the way. It helps to give yourself and others compassion- recognize that mistakes will happen. With that, when we run late, an empowering way to acknowledge the faux pas is to say “Thank you for your patience.” If you have to interrupt a conversation, say “excuse me, may I interrupt for a moment” and ask for permission.
When Should You Apologize
This remains pretty simple: Apologize when you actually hurt someone, or when you truly feel remorse for your actions. Those are the times when saying sorry is actually important and necessary. To make the apology meaningful, follow it up with real behavior change- do things differently. If you don’t know what to do differently or how to be different, ask the person. Ask them “how can I do this better in the future?” “How can I avoid hurting you next time?” This shows them that you care and are willing to change, which brings sincerity to the apology.
Apologize when you actually hurt someone, or when you truly feel remorse for your actions.
If this resonates with you, let me know! I love hearing from you. If you want to stop apologizing so much, be gentle and kind with yourself. Like I said, these behaviors and reactions are very ingrained into our culture and the way we behave in the world- don’t expect perfection from yourself.
Get support to stop over apologizing and improve your relationships! Schedule a consultation today to see if we are a good fit to work together so I can provide you personalized guidance to help you feel more confident and free in your relationships.