Stop Over-Apologizing: Tips To Help You Quit!


The other day I was waiting on the subway platform in Brooklyn to take the F train to work, when a stranger abruptly bumped into me. The person responsible kept walking (no apology was given). I wasn't hurt. But, I noticed that my immediate reaction was to apologize to the man who bumped into me, even though I did nothing wrong! Upon reflection, I wasn’t sorry at all, I was annoyed. I know that I'm not alone in my apology abuse. Have you ever found yourself saying or feeling, “sorry” for things that don’t require an apology in the first place?

It can feel almost like a reflex reaction to feel guilty and then immediately apologize for any conflict or awkward moment that we encounter. In situations that we are responsible for making a mistake or hurting someone we absolutely should take responsibility and appropriately apologize. But for those who apologize excessively, please recognize that it is a destructive habit to feel overly responsible for everything. If you apologize too often your apology actually loses it's power and credibility. Additionally, apology abuse can give a message that you are guilty, looking for reassurance and/or would rather be polite and keep the peace vs. being honest.

Are you curious why you or someone you care about struggles with over-apologizing? Beverly Engel, a psychotherapist and the author of The Power of Apology identifies a few factors in her book that contribute to the tendency to over-apologize:

  1. Children of parents who expect them to be overly responsible for any problems or issues that come up in the family often become over-apologizers, as do children whose parents teach them that apologizing is a form of politeness (regardless of if the situation calls for an apology).

  2. A fear of conflict is a big reason why many people, especially women, apologize inappropriately. “Women are hardwired to focus on cooperation and community, versus competition and confrontation, the way men are,” Engel says. That’s why female over-apologizers tend to outnumber male ones.

  3. Victims of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual or otherwise) can also over-apologize out of guilt from past traumatic experiences or fear of making others angry.

To those who struggle with apology abuse and feeling excessive guilt, please k

eep in mind that no one has it all figured out. You aren't alone, I am also actively working on stopping the over apologizing. I invite you to join me in my commitment to stop the over-apologizing habit. Here's your challenge: Look in the mirror and say out loud, ‘I will stop apologizing when it isn’t necessary.’ If you would like ideas on what to do instead of over-apologizing please find 3 tips below.

Instead of over-apologizing try these tips:

1. Say ‘Thank You’ instead of ‘I'm Sorry.’ My favorite tip for those who over-apologize is to say thank you instead of I'm sorry. Artist Yao Xiao (who is currently based in Queens, New York) has created a series of poignant cartoons that shows how the best replacement for "sorry" might be "thank you."

2. Make new commitments. It has been said that, "Actions speak louder than words.We can apologize over and over, but if our actions don’t change…the words become meaningless." – Life Lessons. When you are at fault for something, be honest about it and come clean. Offer your sincere apology—just once—and then immediately take actions steps to recover from your mistake.

3. Be mindful of how your past might be contributing to your automatic tendency to over-apologize. Identify and do some self-inquiry when the need to apologize is feeling constant and impulsive. Some important triggers to look at include: people, certain contexts, moods or times of the day. Maybe that pushy colleague who is constantly asking you to help out on more projects then you can manage is reminding you of one (or both) of your parents. Go deeper, sometimes we aren't upset about the things we think we are upset about. Notice if the need to over-apologize might be connected with a past situation that is unresolved.

Can you relate to this post? If yes, please send me an email and let's set up a complimentary phone call.

Sending bright energy to you this spring. And as always, don't forget to be kind to yourself.


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