Do you find yourself apologizing… for everything? Is “I’m sorry…” your default disclaimer? For many of us, the language of apology is all too familiar. We apologize our way through the day. We feel the need to excuse ourselves constantly. We get trapped in a cycle of over-apologizing.
I hear a lot of apologies in my office. Most often they are related to emotions—sadness, anger, frustration, grief—expressed through tears. There is nothing inherently wrong with our emotions. Emotions are neutral, neither good nor bad (some are certainly more comfortable than others to feel!). Expressing our emotions is part of the human experience. So, why must we apologize for being human?
Why are we over-apologizing?
Over-apologizing can be connected to shame. When we believe we are bad, we fear we are unworthy of connection, love, and belonging. Shame tells us that we are worthless and invalidates our needs. Then when someone acknowledges us, supports us, hears us, connects with us, we may feel the need to apologize since shame tells us we are undeserving.
Over-apologizing can also be connected to avoiding conflict. Many of us conflate communication with confrontation (“Can we talk?” evokes dread). If we feel terrified that someone will be mad at us, we might apologize to prevent it.
When we over-apologize we are assuming responsibility for something that may have nothing to do with us. We are taking on fault as if our very existence were somehow a burden. Over-apologizing can be self destructive: we may believe we are being socially attuned to others when in fact we are alienating ourselves by assuming responsibility for an offense that others don’t see or interpret that way. Over-apologizing also puts pressure on others to reassure us or feel guilty in turn for their actions.
I invite you to consider how you feel when someone apologizes to you for something they are not responsible for. Does the apology create connection and a genuine sense of belonging, or does it create distance, confusion, awkwardness, aversion? Does the apology draw you closer, or repel you away?
How do we work with over-apologizing?
When you recognize the urge to over-apologize, I invite you to be curious.
I invite you to ask yourself what may be at the root of the apology: fear, shame, guilt, avoidance.
When possible, I invite you to replace the apology with gratitude.
When approaching a coworker, colleague, or boss with a question, concern, or request:
Default: I’m sorry to bother you, but…
Gratitude: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.
When arriving late to a meeting/date.
Default: I’m so sorry I’m late.
Gratitude: Thank you for waiting.
When someone completes a task you had promised to complete.
Default: I’m sorry I didn’t ________ (take out the garbage, do the dishes, feed the pet, etc.)
Gratitude: Thank you for ________ (taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, feeding the pet, etc.). I really appreciate it.
When you cry in front of someone.
Default: I’m sorry I’m so upset.
Gratitude: Thank you for being here for me.
When you feel insecure.
Default: Sorry I’m such a mess.
Gratitude: Thank you for supporting me when I feel like a mess.
I hope replacing over-apologizing with expressing gratitude helps you embrace your worth and let go of taking the blame and fault for simply being human.
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