Saying sorry can make you look less confident. So, if you find yourself saying sorry too much for things that didn’t really deserve an apology in the first place, then you could look incompetent. Saying sorry too much is an unhelpful defensive mechanism.
I once had a friend ask me, “Do you always apologize after giving someone a gift?” It shook me a little because I had no idea I was doing that. But when I started watching myself I totally did. I grew up in a culture of over-apologizing and it wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized how harmful it can be.
Saying sorry too much undermines how others see you and how you see yourself, and that can really impact you both at home and in the workplace.
In this video you’ll learn why you say sorry too much, how this messes up relationships and how to stop over-apologizing.
Over Apologizing: What Is It And Is it A Problem?
OK, so let me tell you about Sarah. Sarah would apologize for everything. Like if she was working at the table, and her boyfriend Joe sat down next to her she’d say, “I’m sorry, let me move this out of your way”.
If Joe was ever mad about something, she’s assume it was her fault and apologize profusely. If she didn’t make dinner she’d apologize. If she did make dinner, she’d apologize if it wasn’t just right. But for her, it was never just right. Joe was starting to get really annoyed, so he began to dismiss her apologies. This made Sarah wonder if he was mad at her so she’d apologize even more.
One day, Joe decided to take a different approach. He sat down with Sarah and explained how her constant apologizing was causing him to feel like he couldn’t express his own feelings or opinions. He told her that he loved and respected her, but that he needed her to be more assertive and to believe in her own worth. Sarah was shocked, she thought that apologizing was helping the relationship, but learned that it was actually making both of them feel less secure.
Apologizing too much doesn’t just happen at home, it’s really common at work. I saw this post that perfectly encapsulated the problem. Do you do this? When you give a presentation, do you start with an apology? When you make a suggestion, do you preface it with a handful of pre-apologies? Maybe you worry that you might come across as bossy or presumptions if you don’t apologize, but instead saying sorry too much makes you look uncertain, unskilled, insecure, easily manipulated and it interferes with good communication.
So Why Do People Over Apologize:
- Low self-esteem: If you feel like you’re not good enough, you may apologize to seek approval from others. When you say “I’m sorry that these cookies I’m giving you aren’t perfect”, and the other person says “No, they’re great!”. This behavior is a form of reassurance seeking that can become kind of addictive. It’s an attempt to bolster up your own doubts by seeking validation from others. It might feel relieving in the short term, but only internal validation is sustainable in the long run.
- The second reason is to avoid conflict. You may apologize preemptively to try to tone down any anger, or disagreements. And again, while this may work in the short run, it’s going to lead to poor communication, resentment, lack of good ideas being shared, lack of clarity, and more problems in the long run.
- Avoiding vulnerability– In some twisted way, apologizing is a defense mechanism, it’s an attempt to avoid being disappointed if you assert your needs and get told no.
- People-pleasing tendencies: Some people may apologize excessively because they want to be liked and to avoid upsetting others. It’s founded on the faulty mindset that you should never impose on people, other people’s needs are more important than your own.
- Some people may apologize excessively as a way of being polite. In some cultures, apologizing may be seen as a sign of respect and humility, while in other cultures it may be viewed as a sign of weakness or subservience.
- Some people apologize excessively simply because it is a habit that they have learned. They may have grown up in a culture or environment where they were taught to apologize frequently.
- Researchers have found that gender also contributes, as women will often say sorry with a greater frequency than men.
According to this recent study: “Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses… This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”
Over-apologizing has also been found to be associated with mental health conditions, like:
- Childhood trauma
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Perfectionism, and more
So what can you do, if you believe saying sorry too much has become ingrained into your everyday communication and psyche? Let’s strategize together.
4 Steps To Stop Over Apologizing
4 Steps to stop over-apologizing
1. Understand your triggers.
Take a moment to think about the situations that trigger your apologies.Do you apologize more with family and friends, or with your colleagues at work? What is it that really stimulates you to apologize frequently? You could write about it in your journal.
2. Pause and reflect before responding.
If you feel like you might begin to say “I’m sorry” for something that is not your fault at all, try to slow yourself down. Pause and take a breath.
3. Rephrase your response.
Often, an apology can actually be rephrased, and turned into a statement of gratitude instead. For example, you can try saying something like “thank you so much for your patience,” versus “I’m sorry for making you wait.”
4. Part of this is learning how to be more assertive
- Remind yourself that it is okay to have opinions
- Use “I” statements to express your feelings and needs, rather than apologizing for them
- Stand up for yourself and say no when appropriate
- Practice self-affirmation, you could say things like “I am worthy and deserving of respect”
OK, so let’s practice.
Negative (I’m bad)
Neutral (I’m here)
Assertive (Can you…?)
Your boyfriend wants to use the table. “Sorry my stuff is on the table”
Thanks for making space for my stuff on the table
I need some space on the table for my stuff, could you slide down? Being assertive can feel really uncomfortable for someone who has been really passive or submissive, but true honest deep and real relationships require people to be willing to give and make requests. A one-sided self-sacrificing relationship just isn’t healthy.
Someone holds the door for you. “Sorry to make you wait!”
“Thanks so much for waiting!”
“Thanks for waiting, could you push number 15?”
The team project at work is behind schedule “Sorry for not getting the job done. I’ll fix it.”
“Hmm, looks like the deadline wasn’t met by our team. What should we do?”
“Bob, you didn’t get your part done by the deadline, what obstacles are you facing?”
I actually messed up. “I’m so sorry. I’m such a screw up. I’m the worst” notice how this makes it all about you, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better.
“I messed up. I apologize”
“I messed up. How can I fix this or do better next time?”
When you replace over-apologizing with assertiveness, you actually improve communication and relationships.
You Really Can Learn How To Stop Saying Sorry Too Much.
Sarah knew something needed to change, so she sought support from a therapist, who helped her work on issues of low self-esteem and people-pleasing.
Sarah started to set boundaries and communicate more directly, making it clear what she wanted. It felt awkward at first, but Joe really liked it when she asked for things more directly so he didn’t have to guess what she meant.
Over time, Sarah noticed a big difference in her relationship with Joe. They were able to have more honest and open conversations, and Joe appreciated that Sarah was standing up for herself. Sarah also noticed that she had more self-confidence and felt better about herself.
Replacing over-apologizing with assertiveness will take some time, but it will be healthier for you both at home and in the workplace. You’ll begin to communicate and feel better, with more confidence, no matter who you’re speaking to or in what setting.
I hope these strategies help you learn to be more confident and assertive, thanks for watching. What topic would you like me to address next?