Stop Saying Sorry! Signs You’re an Over-Apologizer
Someone bumps into you at the grocery store: “Sorry!”
Your boss says you need to fix a report at work: “Sorry!”
Your best friend got the date wrong for your coffee catch-up: “Sorry!”
Your husband thinks you’re overreacting to something he said: “Sorry!”
If this sounds familiar, you might be an over-apologizer.
Surprisingly, overusing the word “sorry” can do the exact opposite of what you intended, hurting your personal and professional relationships. It diminishes your credibility by conveying uncertainty at work and makes it harder to show you’re genuinely remorseful for something. The word loses its meaning since you say it all the time.
Here to help is Dr. Joel Young, medical director at the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine and clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Check out this Q&A with him to find out why people tend to apologize so much and, more importantly, how to break the habit for good.
What are the different types of apologizers?
On one side of the spectrum are individuals who never apologize for their words and actions. They tend to say or do as they please and are pretty insensitive to others’ feelings. Then there’s the middle range, where people have normal apology habits. If you need to speak with your pediatrician in the middle of the night, it’s appropriate to say, “I’m sorry to have woken you up, doctor, but I need your advice.” Finally, there are those who over-apologize, repeatedly saying they’re sorry even when it’s not necessary.
Why do they do that?
People who over-apologize are often anxious and worry about offending everyone around them. They tend to have poor self-esteem and lack the confidence to let their words and actions speak for themselves. They also may view their relationships as fragile, to the point that one misstep would mean the end of them.
So how can you tell the difference between an apology you should give and one that isn’t needed?
When your actions impact someone else negatively, like you’ve forgotten a good friend’s birthday, you should apologize. But don’t throw out an apology if you’re just making a simple request or asking a question. Instead of approaching someone with “Sorry to bother you…” get right into the matter at hand (politely, of course). And you don’t need to be the one apologizing if a situation isn’t your fault or is out of your control.
How can over-apologizers break the habit?
Talking to a psychiatrist or therapist can often help you figure out the underlying reasons why you do it. A professional can also help you recognize that most people forgive and move on and that relationships are usually resilient. Many over-apologizers could also benefit from doing things to improve their self-esteem (whether it’s reading self-help books, meditating, talking to a therapist or trying self-affirmations). The ultimate goal is to find an appropriate balance between addressing your own needs and feelings and being considerate of the people around you.
The next time you feel like an unneeded apology is coming on, try to change your tone to reflect gratitude over remorse. For example, if you have to change plans with a friend because of a busy week, avoid saying “So sorry—I’m the worst, I know!” and instead try “Thank you for understanding” or “I appreciate your flexibility.” Soon enough, taking a more positive, appreciative approach will be your automatic reaction.