Why do we over-apologize? And when I say ‘over’ it’s almost like we unconsciously start each sentence with an “I’m sorry…”.
Think about the last time you said “I’m sorry”. Did you mean it? Did you do something to warrant the apology? Did you just offer that out of reflex? Out of habit? Or maybe to fill a silence?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and you’re a woman, then you’re among good company.
Most women, have been socialized to be quick to apologize, back down or diplomatically moderate their opinion.
However, for many of us, saying “sorry,” especially when we’re not at fault, may simply be an involuntary reaction.
What it Looks Like to Over-apologize
Right now you might be saying to yourself ” Oh I don’t think I’m that bad…”. But something brought you to this article.
Let’s take a look at some examples of how this shows up in the day-to-day.
- The waiter brings you the wrong order and you say, “I’m sorry but this isn’t what I ordered.”
- You approach the receptionists at your doctor’s office by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you. I have a question.”
- While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier accidentally breaks your eggs and sends someone to get another carton for you. You apologize to the shoppers behind you in line, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long.”
- When someone makes a request of you and you say “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do that.”.
- Your spouse makes a racist joke. “I’m sorry. S/he’s not usually like this,” you say to your friends.
- You’re in a meeting and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Could you repeat what you just said?”
- You’re late for a meeting and say “I’m so sorry for being late and making you wait”.
Why Do We Over-apologize?
As mentioned above, a lot of what’s going on when “I’m sorry” drops form our mouths, is living in the subconscious.
- false guilt: Feeling responsible for something you are not responsible for or where there is no wrong-doing.
- Carried guilt: Feeling guilt for someone else’s mistakes or inappropriate behavior.
- People-pleasing: You’re overly concerned with what others think of you and don’t want conflict or to disappoint.
- Low self-esteem: You think poorly of yourself, so you worry that you’ve done somethin wrong, you’re being difficult or you’re asking too much.
- Perfectionism: Your self-imposed high standards constantly set you up for failure and feelings of inadequacy, so you apologize for your imperfections.
- Low self-confidence: Sometimes we feel uncomfortable or insecure and apologize because we want to make ourselves or others feel better.
- Bad Habit: Often we don’t even recognize that this is the language that we use and it’s become an automatic response without even thinking about it.
Over-apologizing is a common symptom amongst individuals with low self-esteem, fear of conflict and a fear of what others think. This goes hand in hand with poor boundaries, perhaps accepting blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. We instantly feel guilty like everything is our fault — a belief that probably began in childhood. When someone is afraid of rejection and criticism, they will go out of their way to be accommodating.
However, when you use your words in this way, you undermine yourself and your opinions, which can lead to excessive self-guilt. With each apology, you’re giving away a little bit of your confidence and this can seriously affect the way you see yourself.
The Dangers of Over-apologizing
There are several reasons why it’s important to get over-apologizing tendencies under control.
- Phrases like “sorry if…” and “sorry to…” might demonstrate that we are seeking reassurance. And by using phrases life these before sharing thoughts and opinions, we’re sending a message to our audience that will undermine the validity of our statements simply because it demonstrates a lack of confidence.
- One of the major reasons why people hold themselves back is because they’re concerned about what other people are thinking about them. The reality is that being consumed with what others think of you and how you’re perceived is something that will keep you from feeling confident and being happy.
- When constantly use language like “I’m sorry” we are subconsciously effecting how we view ourselves. Our self-esteem is impacted by the nuances of the language we use and our subconscious absorbs messages of not being important or being wrong. This will effect our confidence and feelings of security.
- When we preface comments or questions with “I’m sorry” it causes the audience to see you as less competent or your knowledge and viewpoints and less important.
- When we constantly apologize it dilutes future apologies. Save the apology for when it’s warranted and it will have more impact.
What to Say Instead
- When someone bumps into you, say “excuse me” or “pardon me”. You don’t need to apologize for the space you occupy and a simple acknowledgement of the unintentional bumping is enough.
- When you’re late for a meeting say “thank you for waiting for me.”. There’s no need to preface with I’m sorry. Simply acknowledging that your colleagues waited for you is enough.
- When you have a question in a meeting, don’t qualify it with “I’m sorry”, but practice simply stating your question. There is no need to add an apology for simply asking a question, you’re not interrupting or annoying so don’t assume you are.
- When someone makes an unreasonable request of you say “No, I’m not able to do that”. Clearly stating your limits is a sign of confidence so you simply have to let go of any fear that you might upset someone or that they might dislike you if you say no.
- When you’ve forgotten something, simply say “thank you for reminding me”.
In most cases, there is power in the pause before you speak. Take a moment to think through how you would like to respond before just allowing your subconscious to ‘have at it’ and say whatever it wants.
Pay close attention to the language that you use. This is not only informing others about who you are, but also creating an impact on your confidence.
Saying Sorry In The Right Situation
Of course, there are times when an apology is necessary. We should apologize when we’ve done something wrong – hurt someone’s feelings, said or done something offensive, been disrespectful, or violated someone’s boundaries.
You do not need to apologize for:
- Things you didn’t do
- Things you can’t control
- Things other adults do
- Asking a question or needing something
- Your appearance
- Your feelings
- Not having all the answers
- Not responding immediately
Saying sorry when it is necessary (and not apologizing when it’s not) means that apologies are more sincere and heartfelt. Heartfelt apologies can go a long way in dissolving hostility, encouraging forgiveness, and mending damaged relationships.
Apologizing for being afraid of offending someone, putting forward an idea or because you’re worried you’re going to be judged is not good cause for an apology. It’s okay to have needs, boundaries, an opinion, preferences and to want something different.
When you stop over-apologizing, you get better at expressing your REAL thoughts and being authentic. So if you can curb your apologies while leaning into more authentic self-expression, you will ultimately boost your confidence.
More importantly, pay attention to this use of language: It’s impacting how you see yourself, and how others see you.
If you’d like to work with me, Let’s have a quick call to see if we’re a fit.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.