Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told you apologize too often. [I’m raising both hands right now.] It’s a habit that many of us have and would love to break. We aren’t happy with the way it makes us feel or the effect it has on our interactions with other people. So why do we do it? And how can we stop? Let’s look at what saying sorry too much means, why it’s not good, and simple techniques to replace it with something that benefits us.
What Does 'Apologizing Too Often' Look Like?
“Don’t mind me.”
“I hope I’m not bothering you.”
Do words like these come out of your mouth without a thought? Maybe it’s your go-to whenever something doesn’t go perfectly … and even sometimes when it does. Often you don’t even realize what you’ve said, until a friend or family member asks you to stop apologizing so much. That’s because this habit has become automatic.
Over-apologizing is about being apologetic when there is no need to be.
Consider these examples.
- Do you apologize for yourself, your home, your work, etc?
A friend drops by for a visit and the first thing you do is apologize for the state of your house.
- Do you apologize for things you had absolutely no control over?
You leave in plenty of time to reach your destination on time, but get caught in traffic and are late. And you are full of apologies as you enter the room.
- Do you apologize for other people’s actions?
As you’re waiting in line at a store, someone bumps into you, and you apologize.
- Do you apologize when you ask for something totally reasonable?
“I’m sorry, but your car is blocking my driveway.”
- Do you apologize when you don’t want to upset someone?
“I’m allergic to some of the ingredients, so I don’t buy Girl Scout cookies. I’m sorry!”
If you recognize any of these habits in yourself, you may be an over-apologizer.
Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that we stop apologizing altogether. It’s part of the glue that holds relationships and society together. And taking responsibility for our actions is part of being an adult.
So, just to clarify, here are a few points to help avoid any confusion about what we’re discussing.
- Apologizing ‘too often’ is not just about how many times you do it. It’s about doing so unnecessarily.
- It’s not determined by how emotional an apology is, as if being too heartfelt is over-apologizing.
- Finally, if you find yourself apologizing often because your actions have genuinely negatively affected others, that’s not over-apologizing. But you will want to think about why it’s happening and how you can change that.
Saying you’re sorry is important when it’s called for.
But why do so many of us apologize way more than needed?
Why Do We Say 'Sorry' Too Much?
Everyone is different, but there are some common reasons why we may get into the habit of over-apologizing.
Here are a few:
- We believe it’s the polite thing to do.
Maybe we’ve been taught that apologizing and accommodating other people was considered a sign of good manners, regardless of the truth or how it affected us. So of course that’s how we interact.
- We feel insecure.
Personally, I think this is a major factor for lots of people. There are many things we can feel insecure about, and over-apologizing can actually be a way we deal with the fear.
- We’re trying to make peace in a situation by taking the blame for something.
If we’re regularly dealing with difficult circumstances or people, we may learn to shift blame to ourselves as a way of diffusing tough situations.
- We’re trying to say ‘no’ without upsetting the other person.
It’s not easy to say ‘no’ to people. We don’t want to look or feel uncaring, cheap, lazy, or any number of negative things. So we apologize as a way to soften the blow.
- We feel as if we’re imposing on someone when we ask for something we need or want.
How many times have you said ‘I’m sorry to bother you…’? You may just be doing your job or even doing something that would benefit the other person. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve done this!
There are more reasons than these, to be sure.
But you can see how what we believe about ourselves and other people is a big part of why we get caught in the trap of apologizing too much.
What Are The Effects of Over-Apologizing?
This seemingly minor habit can have some significant consequences in our lives.
Not necessarily from the occasional extra ‘sorry’, but if we have fallen into overusing it regularly.
- It can reduce the impact of genuine apologies.
There will be times when all of us need to offer a sincere apology for something we’ve said or done. And if we’re always apologizing for everything, our real apologies will be taken less seriously.
- Over-apologizing becomes frustrating and annoying to other people.
Have you every said ‘sorry’ to someone, only to have them tell you to ‘stop saying sorry’? If this has happened, it’s a good bet you’re taking the blame onto yourself too often.
- It causes other people to see us with less credibility and respect.
After all, we do teach people what to think of us. When we show so little confidence in ourselves and our actions, other people will believe what we’re showing them.
- It feeds our own minds with the message that we are lacking.
Even if it’s automatic and we don’t always realize we’re doing it, over-apologizing still has an impact on our own view of ourselves. It’s as if we’re apologizing for taking up space.
- It sets a poor example for our children.
Our children depend on us to provide strong examples of the self-confident adults they can become. If you’ve ever witnessed your child saying ‘sorry’ unnecessarily, you’ll know that’s not something you want them to be burdened with.
All of these consequences, and more, send ripples through our relationships. They affect our homes, families, careers, and life goals in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. But the results are never positive.
So it’s clear why it’s well-worth our attention to start breaking this habit.
How to Break The Habit
Now, we get to the good part.
How can we stop apologizing too much?
It will take a little time and practice, but you’ll feel more confident and in-control each time you’re intentional about changing how you speak.
Pay attention to when and how often you say ‘sorry’ or something similar.
Awareness is the first step to making a change. So from now on, start to pay more attention when you find yourself apologizing for no good reason. Is it in a certain type of situation? Around certain people? How often is it happening? All of this information will help you to break the habit.
Asking a friend or family member to gently alert you when they notice you doing this can be really helpful, especially in the beginning and if it’s a strongly automatic habit.
Think about why you may be saying ‘sorry’ when its not warranted.
Once you’re more aware of your own pattern of apologizing, it will probably not be too hard to figure out what is driving it. What role is it playing in your interactions and what purpose is it serving for you to say it?
Move from apologizing to appreciating.
Flipping your response is a great trick to use. Instead of taking an apologetic tone, say a form of thank you. For example, replace ‘I’m sorry I’m late’ with ‘Thanks for waiting for me’. Or, replace ‘No, I’m sorry’ with ‘No, but thank you for asking’. Moving to appreciation puts both you and the other person in a more positive mindset.
Start saying what you mean, or nothing at all.
What does your ‘sorry’ really mean? It could be that you regret things didn’t go more smoothly. Or that you wish you could be of more assistance. Or that you hate to give someone negative feedback. Whatever it is in each interaction, try to put more specific words to what you’re trying to convey.
Create your own personal apology guidelines and stick to them.
What types of things do you believe call for an apology? And what things don’t? Here’s a personal example. My goal is to not apologize (1) if I had no control over the situation, (2) if I didn’t harm anyone by my actions, or (3) just to smooth over a tense situation. That doesn’t mean I won’t empathize or sympathize in these situations, but not take blame that doesn’t belong to me.
As you put these things into practice, you’ll notice the positive changes in yourself and your interactions with others.
Say This Not That
Instead of saying: ‘I’m sorry’ when you’re trying to show compassion
Try saying: ‘That’s frustrating’ or ‘I can understand why you’re angry’ or ‘I wish you didn’t have to deal with this’, etc.
Instead of saying: ‘Sorry to interrupt’
Try saying: ‘I’d like to add’
Instead of saying: ‘Sorry’ to fill an uncomfortable pause
Try saying: Nothing
Instead of saying: ‘Sorry to bother you’
Try saying: ‘Excuse me’
These will get you started and you’ll naturally come up with more ideas of what to say instead of an apology.
We all have negative habits that don’t contribute positively to our life. Over-apologizing is a very common one. And thankfully it’s one that can be overcome with a bit of time and persistence.
If you are aware that this is a habit you have and would like to break, start with becoming aware of when and how often you’re doing it. This will give you insight into why you may be apologizing when there’s no need.
Once you’re aware, start to use the strategies and substitutions that I’ve outlined to overcome the negative patterns.
The changes will feel good and will no doubt give you a new way of looking at yourself and others.