Apologizing has gotten a bad rap these days—and for good reason, too. For example, if you often find yourself using apologetic language at work, this might get in the way of your assertiveness. In other words, people may see you as weak and take advantage of you.
Even worse, over-apologizing can be harmful for your relationships. Think about it this way: if all you do is say you’re sorry, it can take away the sincerity when you actually want to give the person you love a heartfelt apology.
Um, when the hell did we all start saying I’m sorry for everything? Maybe it’s because of our desire to end an argument faster. If so, I’m calling bullshit. “Sorry” isn’t a magical word you use to solve all of your problems.
On the other hand, there’s the opposite problem: never apologizing. And let me tell you, deliberately withholding all apologies is never good—period. If you’re prone to this, it could be for a number of reasons: maybe you were raised in a family or culture that didn’t apologize. Maybe your parents never apologized to each other. Maybe you were once shamed into apologizing often, and now the thought of doing so feels like you’re betraying yourself.
Or maybe we just don’t know what a healthy version of apologizing looks like.
The truth? Apologizing isn’t as black and white as everyone’s making it these days. In fact, it’s pretty murky, and it all has to do with this little thing we like to call context.
Let me explain.
By definition, an apology is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. But here’s where things get sticky: we don’t always use words by their definition. For example, apologies are used in a lot of different scenarios, like showing respect or empathy, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe your best friend’s aunt just passed away. “I’m so sorry about your aunt,” you say, “I’m here for you if you need anything at all.”
In this example, saying you’re sorry isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows empathy and compassion.
The bottom line? Apologizing has a time and a place, and while it’s tricky to navigate, here are a couple helpful steps you can take to avoid over apologizing, or worse, not apologizing at all.
1. Evaluate Your Apologies
For the next week, focus less time on cutting down or ramping up your apologies and, instead, focus more time on evaluating the situations surrounding them. To start, notice how you feel when you say you’re sorry. Do you feel confident? Scared? Weak? It’s better to understand why you feel compelled to apologize—or not apologize—versus changing your behaviors in a day.
Next, notice how people react once you apologize. Do they ignore you? Do they take advantage of you? Do they reprimand you? Do they reward you? Once you gauge their reactions, ask yourself if the interaction was worth it. You might find that saying sorry did nothing at all. Or, if you’re one to avoid apologizing, you might find a genuine response from your peers or significant other when you choose to say you’re sorry. Again, the point here is to focus less on changing and more on observing. No need to fix any behaviors just yet. Remember: self-awareness is half the battle.
2. Identify Your Unnecessary Apologies
For the apologists: As you’re taking notes on your apologies throughout the week, write down all the things that compel you to say you’re sorry. Do you say it when you accidentally bump into someone? Do you say it when your spouse tries to start an argument with you? Once you write these down, see which ones are necessary and which ones are not. Again, a great way to do this is to ask yourself: “Have I done anything wrong in this situation?” Obviously, if the answer is no, then there’s no need to say you’re sorry!
Here’s a fun little graphic to help you get started:
If you’re feeling compelled to say you’re sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong, try to rephrase it by saying “thank you” instead. For example, if you’re a couple minutes late to a meeting, resist rushing in throwing your sorrys left and right. Instead, express gratitude: “Thank you for patiently waiting!” A couple minutes late is nothing to apologize for, however, if you’re super-duper late—aka, leaving the other person sitting for nearly an hour—you most definitely owe that person an apology.
To give you a little boost, here are just a few scenarios when you should never apologize:
– Saying no
– Asking your boss for a raise or a promotion
– Crying, or feeling any emotion
– Taking care of yourself
For the apology-averse: If you have a hard time apologizing, write down all the ways in which you think it would be acceptable to apologize. Here are some examples to get you started:
– You actually did something hurtful
– You embarrassed someone in public
– You lied
– You didn’t keep your promise
Next, I want you to repeat this to yourself at least three times or more:
“Apologizing for something I did wrong does not make me weak.”
We all know what it feels like to resist apologizing in the moments we need to most. But the key is to recognize why we’re feeling that resistance in the first place. In those moments, ask yourself this: “Why am I feeling so defensive?” Answer your question, and then own it for you and the other person to see. There’s no need to feel shame—we’re all human, after all! There’s no need to put yourself down or allow someone to take advantage of your apology. Saying you’re sorry just means you admit your mistake, and you’re making steps to not do it again. This can mean everything to the person who was wronged (psst…just make sure you actually follow through!).
Oh, and for all my apology-averse people out there, here’s a quick refresher on what a real apology actually sounds like:
Whether you’re an over-apologizer or afraid to even mutter the words “I’m sorry,” the most important thing to remember is vulnerability. If you’re ever struggling to recognize if the situation calls for an apology, there’s nothing wrong with vocalizing this confusion to the other person. The next time you find yourself in a scenario like this, let the other person know you’re having trouble. This will create a much healthier environment for open communication, allowing both of you to share your feelings in a raw, honest way.
Apologies are tough, especially when it comes to relationships. If you and your loved one are struggling to take ownership (or maybe taking too much ownership), contact me and we’ll schedule a low-key, no-pressure, no-commitment phone call to to see if I’m a good fit for you and to answer any questions you might have.