4 Ways to Stop Apologizing for Apologizing (And Why It’s Harmful)

4 Ways to Stop Apologizing for Apologizing (And Why It's Harmful)
While apologizing is often necessary to maintain healthy relationships, over-apologizing can actually be harmful, as “I’m sorry” can lose its meaning when it is overused. Over-apologizing is a people-pleasing behavior, often indicating that you struggle with the idea of simply taking up space. 

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What is Apologizing? 

I’m sorry.  

“I’m sorry.” This is a simple phrase that allows us to express remorse and take accountability, when we believe that our words or behaviors may have hurt someone. When used sincerely, apologizing opens up the lines of communication during conflicts. This, in turn, allows us to consider the point of view of others and to come up with a solution that works for everyone. 

While apologizing is often necessary to maintain healthy relationships, over-apologizing can actually be harmful, as “I’m sorry” can lose its meaning when it is overused. Over-apologizing is a people-pleasing behavior, often indicating that you struggle with the idea of simply taking up space. 

Why Do I Over Apologize?

Over-apologizing often stems from guilt, shame, or lack of self-confidence. It’s also linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which apologizing can become a compulsion. Additionally, people may over-apologize as a trauma or distress response, which stems from a personal history of going to great lengths to avoid conflicts (Finch, 2019). 

If you struggle with over-apologizing, you likely say “sorry” before your mind even gets a chance to process a situation and recognize if an apology was needed. You may feel compelled to apologize when asking for clarification on an assignment, when someone bumps into you, or for taking a few hours to respond to a loved one because you were busy. You may believe that you’re inconveniencing or being a nuisance to others with your actions (or lack of actions), or that your needs are less important than the needs of others. 

Learning to apologize at more appropriate moments can be difficult and uncomfortable at first. However, learning to save your apologies, for when they actually are justified, can help you to feel more empowered and authentic when interacting with others. 

4 Ways to Stop Apologizing for Apologizing

4 Ways to Stop Apologizing for Apologizing

If you find yourself frequently apologizing without even stopping to think about what you’re apologizing for, don’t get down on yourself! It can be a hard habit to break, but you can work to become more mindful of when an apology actually is needed from you. 

Talk to a Therapist:

If you believe your over-apologizing stems from trauma or a mental health condition, then seeking therapy may be the right step for you. A therapist can help you to identify coping strategies that lessen your discomfort with forgoing an unnecessary apology. They also can provide you with very valuable resources, including recommendations for self-help books/articles and information about support groups. 

Say “Thank You” Instead:

If you are feeling as though you may have inconvenienced someone, replacing “I’m sorry” with “thank you” may be appropriate. For example, if you’re venting to a friend, you may be inclined to say, “Sorry to dump all my feelings on you.” Replace that with “Thank you for being there for me. I really needed this time with you to talk.”  

Practice Asking Questions:

It can be difficult to speak up, especially in a classroom or group setting. Over-apologizers may believe that their thoughts and questions are unworthy of consideration from others, so they’ll say things like, “I apologize. I just want to ask a question.” Questions and thoughts are normal; they allow us to grow and better navigate our environment. Do your best to remember that your voice is just as important as the voices of others. 

Try Affirmations:

Daily affirmations may help you to build confidence. Select affirmations that are related to self-empowerment and that show self-compassion, such as “I trust my inner self,” “I am enough exactly as I am,” and “I am worthy.” By practicing daily affirmations, you may begin to feel more comfortable with holding back those unnecessary apologies. 

Scholarly Sources 

Finch, S.D. (2019, September 30). 7 subtle signs your trauma response is people-pleasing. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/7-subtle-signs-your-trauma-response-is-people-pleasing 

Ferguson, S. (2021, June 25). When excessive apologizing may be a sign of OCD. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/lib/ocd-and-apologizing 

Pettigrove, G. & Collins, J. (2011). Apologizing for who I am. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 28(2), 137-150. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5930.2011.00519.x 

Schuman, K. (2018). The psychology of offering an apology: Understanding the barriers to apologizing and how to overcome them. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(2), 74-78. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417741709 

Scott, E. (2020, April 20). Why it’s important to apologize. VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-apologizing-3144986 

Wilding, M. (2021, October 7). How to stop over-apologizing. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/trust-yourself/202110/how-stop-over-apologizing 

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