Apologizing Can Actually Make Things Worse. Here’s What To Say Instead

“Stop saying sorry!” “No worries,” “Babe, it’s fine,” “You don’t need to apologize,” and, “It’s not your fault.” These are just some of the things people have said to me this past week.

Hi, I’m Markey and I over-apologize for everything. Sorry. 

arrow

The Plague of Apologies 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by reflect | mental health (@allreflect)

I don’t know when this happened, but at some point in history, people started using the word ‘sorry’ to cover their butts. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. And yet, people (me) still over-apologize, think everything is their fault, and season their mistakes with apologies.


The Difference Between Being Sorry And Over-Apologizing

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Cultivate What Matters (@cultivatewithcris)

Admitting that you’re sorry is not a bad thing if you’re genuinely sorry or if you’ve done something wrong. Apologies are essential at certain moments in good relationships, and they shouldn’t be erased from our vocabulary. The problem comes when you lean on the word like a crutch as though it’s the answer to everything. Saying sorry will not solve anything, it’s just the first step.


Why We Over Apologize

Over apologizing is often caused by a lack of self-esteem. You put some pressure on yourself to be the best and not mess up. But when your innate humanness makes an appearance and you slip up, you can’t help but apologize. We try to hide behind our apologies and treat them like a magic bullet or a curtain to cover up our mess-ups. 

Forbes suggests that we might over apologize because we secretly want people to compliment us. It’s slightly the same as false modesty; we want to pretend we’re sorry, but we really want people to say we’re fine. And though this act of seeking approval might be subconscious, it’s something to look out for.

@mattphifercoaching

 

Do you struggle with over apologizing?

♬ Sunset Vibes – Lofi Network

People might also over apologize if they’ve been in toxic relationships where they have been made to feel small and less than the other. Some people are also more likely to apologize than others because we all have different thresholds of what we consider to be ‘offensive’. Culture and gender affect our apologies heavily. 

Women are more likely to apologize than men. The interesting bit about this is that both women and men will apologize when they think something needs to be apologized for. Men aren’t shirking off apologies, they don’t see the need for as many apologies as women do.


Why Over Apologizing Can Hurt You

People Might Think Less of You

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Klara | Mindset Coach (@fittingrightin)

We shouldn’t be people-pleasers, but we also should know that our actions dictate how people see us. Over-apologizing has the same effect as over-complimenting someone. While you might think you’re doing it to be polite, it often comes across as you lacking confidence. Be loud and proud of your mistakes!


It Takes Power From The Word

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Amy Tran | M.A. Psychology (@doodledwellness)

If you say one thing repeatedly, it seems more like a catchphrase than something meaningful. ‘Sorries’ can be like that. If you’re constantly apologizing for everything you do, there’s no difference between the apology you make when you accidentally interrupt someone versus when you do something legitimately detrimental to the person. Words will always have power, so stop and reflect on whether apologies are necessary before you overuse them.


It Can Be Annoying

Do you have a friend who constantly apologizes? I have a few (I might also be that friend sometimes). It’s hard because it seems like they walk into the room and they’re already apologizing for their existence. It makes others feel uncomfortable and it brings negative attention to the person.


It Highlights Your Faults

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 𝓞𝓵𝓰𝓪 (@olga_mindco)

When you apologize for something that isn’t even your fault or doesn’t need to be said, you’re drawing attention to the negative thing. Yes, own up to something if you messed up, but don’t harp or over-explain or apologize for something if it’s not on you. People don’t want to focus on the bad and if you keep bringing it up, they’ll associate you with that negative feeling.


It Hurts More

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alice Chera Life Coaching (@alicecheralifecoaching)

While most people over apologize to seem polite, some people feel even worse when they’re apologized to. A group of researchers conducted a study where they made their subjects receive rejections with and without an apology, then they recorded their subjects’ reactions. The people in the study who were ‘rejected’ from something saw the rejection with an apology as less sincere than the one without an apology. 

Freedman writes, “Although apologies are helpful in cases of unintentional transgressions (e.g., accidentally spilling your drink on someone) when individuals apologize for an intentional transgression…  the apology backfires…. When a person receives an apology, social norms of politeness and scripts constrain their response options… people who perceive apologies are more likely to express forgiveness but not more likely to feel forgiveness”. In other words, when you’re apologized to, you feel the need to ‘forgive’ someone, even if you don’t forgive them. It adds social pressure to you.


It Can Be Manipulative

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by David Ford (@david_ford_)

People who have been in toxic relationships are more likely to over apologize because their past relationships have often been peppered with false apologies. Apologies can be very sincere, but they can also be made into a kind of checklist. Kids are taught from a young age to apologize and move on. It doesn’t matter if they mean their apology or not, they simply apologize and go about their business. 

In toxic or abusive relationships, the abuser often apologizes so that they can point back to their apology when they reference how good of a person they are and how much they care about the other person. Meaningless apologies can also be seen as gaslighting. 


How to Stop Saying Sorry

Stop apologizing for everything by setting boundaries. That is a basic step for finding freedom and limitations. Stop apologizing for your family. Everyone has a crazy uncle and we don’t mind. Don’t apologize for your SO. More than likely, they are a grown adult and can take responsibility for their actions. If their actions make you feel the need to constantly apologize, then maybe you need to take a step back and evaluate how they make you feel. Don’t apologize when someone else makes a mistake. The waiter might give you the wrong order or someone might forget something you told them. This isn’t your fault, so there’s no need to apologize. 

More than likely, these people are all mature enough to know when to apologize for their mistakes. Apologizing for them can belittle them and make them feel less than when compared to you.


What to Say Instead

The average English speaker knows 15,000 – 20,000 words. So let’s use our vocabulary and eliminate sorry from them. 


Thank a Person

I apologize the most when someone notices a mistake I made and they correct it. It is a real ego-killer to be corrected on something, especially when it was a dumb mistake on your part. When you feel yourself spiraling and going to say sorry, stop and thank them instead. The person who corrected you isn’t doing it to be better than you, to flex their knowledge on you, or to belittle you. They saw a mistake you didn’t, and they simply helped you out. Thank them and move on. My favorite quote I’ve heard on this is, “When you over apologize, the exchange is rooted in guilt. When you say thank you, the exchange is rooted in gratitude”.


Make a Change

I always tell my partner that love is a verb. You can’t love someone without being loving. It’s an action. ‘Sorry’ is, too. You can say “Sorry” all day long, but if you don’t do something to change and grow from your actions, you aren’t sorry. This comes down to the power that words hold. ‘Sorry’ should be an action word, not your defining feature.


Ask Instead

I will often start a sentence or a request with sorry. I noticed this when my friend called me and he was working. I said, “Sorry, are you working?” even though he called me — I still felt like a burden for talking to him. If I had eliminated “sorry” from the situation, I would have been able to clearly say, “Hey, I love you, you called me, you can’t multitask. Why don’t you either hang up with me or pause work?” When we step out of the shadow that ‘Sorry’ puts us in and into the light of communication, we open up brand new paths and conversations that we couldn’t have if we were being buried in unnecessary apologies.


Nothing

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Just Girl Project Official (@justgirlproject)

Shockingly, you don’t always have to say something. If someone bumps into you or steps on your toes (literally or figuratively), you don’t always have to say anything. It’s not your fault something happened, so you don’t have to cover up for anything. 

If something more serious happened that isn’t your fault, hear the other person out, try to listen to them, and respect them enough not to put the attention on yourself with an apology. I don’t know where the reference comes from, but there was a TV show in which one character tells the other that they’re sorry a family member died. The grieving character responds, “Why, did you kill him?” It’s funny but so true. We are so quick to apologize for things so removed from ourselves and we don’t know why.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by level up (@levelup.mru)

Wrapping this up, I have a small challenge for you. In the next few days, try becoming aware of how many times you apologize. While you’re doing that, try counting how many times you apologized when you shouldn’t have and how people reacted. I’m sure that the results will be liberating to you.

LINE

How often do you over apologize? Do you have friends who do it often? Comment below!


For More Articles About Confidence, Read These

Here’s Why Women Being Labeled “High-Maintenance” Is Just Another Double Standard

Here’s Why Being A “Quitter” Is Actually A Positive Thing

Join the Conversation