Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking: “This therapist is really going to suggest that less apologizing can somehow lead to personal growth? Hello! Isn’t that called pride, or at worst, narcissism? As a counselor, aren’t you supposed to be helping people become better humans?”
Whew. I hear ya. Apologizing less does sound like weird advice coming from a therapist, huh? Let me first say that I’m a big fan of people apologizing whenever they’ve actually done something wrong. That’s not what I want to discuss in this post. Instead, I want to talk about over-apologizing.
People who over-apologize say sorry as an automatic response throughout the day in various situations in which they’re not actually doing anything wrong what-so-ever. They’re simply living and existing like the rest of us, but feel compelled to apologize to others for it.
You might be an over-apologizer if you find yourself saying sorry when:
- You walk by others in a public place (e.g. “Sorry! Can I squeeze past you real quick?”)
- You ask someone to do something for you (e.g. “Sorry, but can you refill my water?”)
- Someone is waiting on you (e.g. At Starbucks, trying to decide what to order, you say, “Sorry! Just a minute. Sorry, I can’t decide!”)
- You miss someone’s call or don’t immediately reply to a text or email (e.g. “Sorry I missed your call!” or “Sorry for just now responding!”)
- You decline an invitation (e.g. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it – I already have plans that night.”)
- You ask a question (e.g. “I’m sorry, can you explain that to me one more time? Sorry!”)
What’s Wrong with Over-Apologizing?
Over-apologizing is a symptom of low self-esteem. Therefore, many over-apologizers struggle with things like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body image issues, and self-harm. The act of over-apologizing worsens these struggles.
Think about it: Each time you say sorry for something you didn’t actually do wrong, you send the message to yourself that you are doing something wrong for existing, having needs, and/or taking up space. At the end of the day, after saying sorry fifty times throughout the day, you’re bound to feel like a burden to others and like a hot mess that can’t get your life together. This is all part of a vicious cycle: Your feelings of insecurity and inferiority trigger you to over-apologize. Then, your over-apologizing triggers you to feel insecure and inferior. And…repeat.
How Can I Stop Over-Apologizing?
You can’t control the feelings that trigger you to over-apologize. However, you can control your action of over-apologizing. One of my favorite quotes is: “We don’t think our way into new ways of living; We live our way into new ways of thinking.” Therefore, as you stop the action of over-apologizing, your thoughts and feelings about yourself will begin to change. In time, you’ll feel more confident, empowered, and comfortable in your own skin.
Five Tips to Help You Stop Over-Apologizing
- Observe how often you say sorry. Catch yourself when you automatically blurt out “Sorry!” and take note how many times that occurs throughout the day.
- Remind yourself that your needs are just as important as everyone else’s. It’s okay to have preferences and to use your voice to get your needs met. For example, if you want to switch tables at a restaurant because your chair is uncomfortable, you deserve to ask if you can move! There’s no need to say sorry for wanting to be comfortable.
- Reflect on if you really need to apologize. When you feel the urge to apologize or find yourself saying sorry, ask yourself, “Have I really done something wrong?” Reserve your apologies for when you truly need to take ownership for wrongdoing.
- Find other phrases to replace “sorry.” For example, if you bump into someone, you can say, “Excuse me.” If you decline an invite, you can say, “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it.” If you miss a call, you can say, “Hey, I got the voicemail you left earlier.”
- Turn your “sorry” into a “thank you.” Even if you’ve inconvenienced someone, try thanking them instead of apologizing. For example, instead of saying, “I’m sorry you had to wait a few minutes,” you can say, “Thanks for being patient with the wait!” Think about which phrase you’d rather receive from someone.
Now that you’re looking out for this, you might be surprised just how often you notice yourself and others apologize unnecessarily. If you make a point to only say sorry when you’ve truly done something wrong, you’ll undoubtedly increase your sense of self-worth and confidence over time. Remember: You have every right to take up space here on this earth and get your needs met just like everyone else!
Now, it’s just a matter of putting that belief into practice. Working with a professional counselor can help you address the underlying issues behind over-apologizing. In my Houston counseling practice, I help people work through things like self-criticism, perfectionism, and people-pleasing. If you struggle with any of these things, I’d love to help you as well. To get started, simply call or email me today!