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An over apologiser’s guide to stop apologising

You may view apologising as empathetic, while others may view it as a sign of weakness. It’s time to change your apologetic vocabulary.

“Sorry,” I said to my husband as he looked annoyingly at the bunch of broccolini that was substituted for the out of stock broccoli in our online shopping order.

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry, it’s not your fault,” he replied to me. Because well…it wasn’t my fault. “Sorry,” I said back. And no this wasn’t said as a joke, I legitimately meant I was sorry. For saying sorry.

This wasn’t the first time he’d said that I apologise for things that aren’t my fault, or that I apologise way too much but it was the first time I actually began to realise how much I did it. I apologise when things are my fault, when they aren’t and for anything in between.

Over the next few days I paid attention to all the times I said sorry and I realised that my frequency of apologies was apologetically over the top.

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In fact, I documented a total of 32 “I’m sorry” or equivalents in three days. They were said in person, over the phone, or written in texts and emails, but precisely none of these apologies were actually warranted, I had no reason to apologise because I had not done anything wrong.

It was upon this realisation that it became crystal clear – I had an apology issue. So much so that when I told my husband of this number, I nearly apologised for them. But importantly, I didn’t. Instead, I wondered why I was an over apologiser and if there was anything I could do to help myself.

It really depends on the type of person you are

Clinical Psychologist Meredith Fuller says the need to apologise, or not, can come down to the type of person we are.

“There are two types of people,” fuller told Body+Soul, feeling preferred people and thinking preferred people. The feeling preferred are much more likely to apologise.

“Feeling preferred people are often more empathetic, sympathetic, caring and sensitive. They can apologise when they know something is not their fault because they dislike conflict and they are trying to appease the other person, to create a sense of harmony, or in other cases to show empathy.”

While on the other hand, thinking preferred people are less likely to apologise, they often don’t think to do it and even get irritated at people who do say sorry, finding it unnecessary or futile.

“Thinking preferred people can even associate characteristics of weakness, being too sensitive or giving away power and control to those who do apologise,” she says. To them, social niceties are a waste of time and apologising, especially for no reason is insincere and pointless.

Apologising can sometimes be a “confidence killer”

The other issue that can occur with over apologising is how it can negatively impact those that do it, often taking a real hit at their confidence levels.

Sociologist Maja Jovanovic terms apology-laden rhetoric “confidence killers”.

“Apologies matter, but if you are beginning and ending your sentences with sorry, don’t be surprised if there’s nothing left of your confidence at the end of the day,” she said in a TEDx Talk on the topic.

Jovanovic says there are the necessary “sorry”s like when you bump into somebody or you cancel plans with a friend but that other “sorry”s like suggesting an idea or expressing an opinion don’t actually warrant apologies, and it is these that can hurt us.

And as an over apologiser, I can see that these thinking preferred people and Jovanovic have a point, there are times where I have apologised unnecessarily and somehow convinced myself that it was my fault, when I hadn’t even remotely done anything wrong.

There was one time I even apologised for my friend being late to my house. In my mind it had to be my fault for not giving detailed enough instructions and nothing to do with the fact that she had slept in.

So, what do you do if you are like me and over apologise? Jovanovic suggests changing what you say to a simple “thank you.” For example, instead of saying: “I am sorry you had to hear me vent” when you offload to a friend, just say “thank you for listening.”

Fuller also suggests that it’s important to check yourself before apologising. Stop and ask yourself is this warranted? If it’s not, don’t apologise. Sometimes though over apologising can be a sign of something more serious Fuller says.

“Often it can be associated with those who have low self-esteem, or who are impacted by the idea of imposter syndrome, that they are somehow a fraud. If that sounds like you then seeing a psychologist for professional strategies is recommended.”

And sometimes, over apologisers are like me, saying sorry without realising, it’s an entrenched, automatic response. For these people, who often do this in written form, there is an app for that (of course). The app, Just Not Sorry removes apologetic language from emails so you can run it through your email before you send it off and it can be installed as a plug in to your Gmail as well.

Just Not Sorry looks for words and phrases like:

  • I think
  • I’m no expert
  • Actually
  • Does that make sense?
  • Try
  • And of course, ‘sorry’.

Making your journey to the world of unwarranted apologies a little easier, and I am definitely not sorry about that!

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. Shona is an animal welfare advocate with a strong interest in mental health and education. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.