You Don’t Always Have to Be Sorry … and How to Stop

How many times in a day do you apologize? You bump into someone, “I’m sorry,” someone tells you about a bad experience, “I’m sorry,” you don’t have time to do one more thing for one more person and suddenly you’re apologizing. But are you really sorry and, if you are, should you be?

It turns out that not all apologies are created equal and some are down right toxic. In fact, many of us have become so accustomed to saying “sorry” after anything that is less than a celebratory moment that most apologies are little more than empty words. In addition to the fact that many apologies are simply ineffectual, they can actually have a negative impact as well.

The Problem With Always Feeling Sorry

Apologizing plays an important part in social functioning. It can demonstrate consideration, respect and an understanding of acceptable vs. nonacceptable behavior. But over apologizing can also be a sign of insecurity and often has little to do with actually feeling remorseful for whatever the seemingly offensive action was. For some, apologizing is almost reflexive.

If you are constantly worried about saying, doing, or even wearing the right thing, then you may be persistently apologizing for things that only you see as being a problem. This behavior can reveal an issue with anxiety and potentially depression. It can also be a sign of more serious personal problems such as a history of verbal or emotional abuse.

Unfortunately, once you have developed the habit of over apologizing it can be very hard to break. And it’s continuance can serve to reinforce the negative feeling that created the habit in the first place. Not only that, but socially speaking over apologizing is a clear sign of lack of confidence and low self-esteem. This can mean that others may begin to think less of you and take you less seriously. Yet another part of what can become a vicious circle that increases feelings of inadequacy, potentially leading to worsening anxiety and/or deepening depression.

How To Stop Apologizing

If you’re a chronic apologizer and find that yourself apologizing for everything from your shoes to your mere presence, it’s time to make a change. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy change to make. It will take time, patience, and practice. There are few ways to begin, however.

• Recognize what you are sorry for before you apologize. Many times, “I’m sorry” is out of our mouths before we’ve even realized it. It may be hard to do, but before you apologize take a minute to think about what you’re sorry for and if you really are sorry for it. You don’t need to be sorry for wearing the wrong shoes, but you do for interrupting someone. One way to distinguish the difference is to ask yourself is there a significant, negative impact on someone else? If what you’re about to apologize for something that doesn’t really deserve an apology, it’s simple – don’t offer one.

• Know when you’re the one who deserves the apology. Too often we apologize for things that weren’t our fault. If someone runs into you and causes you to spill your coffee, you’re the one that deserves the apology, not the one who should be apologizing. If that’s the case, give things a minute and allow the other person the opportunity to do the right thing.

• When apologizing say the reason out loud. One way to start training yourself to recognize when you need to apologize and when you don’t is to say the reason out loud. Rather than just saying, “I’m sorry,” say “I’m sorry for….” If you find that what you’re sorry for isn’t significant or hasn’t affected someone else, then you will hear it. There’s a big difference between saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” and “I’m sorry that I wore this shirt today.”

• Never apologize for who you are or how you feel. Accepting who you are and asserting your feelings can be particularly hard to do. But by letting people know how you feel you are helping them understand you and there is no need to apologize for that. And you are entitled to have your own thoughts, opinions, and personality without being apologetic for them.

Bottom line is that apologizing when you are in the wrong or hurt someone is important. But saying sorry for things that are out of our control, or things that are simply part of who we are, trivializes not only the apology, but also ourselves. It’s not easy to change our behaviors, especially if there are deeper feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt driving them but getting away from useless and toxic apologetic behavior is a good place to start.

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