Do you over-apologize?
Over-apologizing refers to saying “I’m sorry” when you don’t need to. This could be when you haven’t done anything wrong or you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake or a problem that you didn’t cause or control.
Here are a few examples of over-apologizing.
- The waiter brings you the wrong order and you say, “I’m sorry but this isn’t what I ordered.”
- You approach the receptionists at your doctor’s office by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you. I have a question.”
- While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier accidentally breaks your eggs and sends someone to get another carton for you. You apologize to the shoppers behind you in line, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long.”
- Your spouse makes a racist joke. “I’m sorry. S/he’s not usually like this,” you say to your friends.
- You’re in a meeting and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Can you repeat what you just said?”
Why we over-apologize and why it’s a problem
In each of these situations, it’s clear that you haven’t done anything wrong and there’s no need to apologize. So, why do so many of us over-apologize? Below are some possible reasons.
- People-pleasing. You want to be considered nice and polite. You’re overly concerned with what other people think and don’t want to upset or disappoint others.
- Low self-esteem. You think poorly of yourself and as a result, you worry that you’re doing something wrong, being difficult, causing problems, being unreasonable, asking too much.
- Perfectionism. You have such painfully high standards for yourself that you can never live up to them. Therefore, you constantly feel inadequate and feel a need to apologize for every tiny thing that you do imperfectly.
- You feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, we apologize because we feel uncomfortable or insecure and don’t know what to do or say. So, we apologize to try to make ourselves or others feel better.
- You feel responsible for other people’s mistakes or inappropriate behavior. One member of a couple, for example, may apologize for their partner’s behavior (being late or interrupting) as if they did something wrong themselves. This can be an issue of lack of differentiation – you act as a unit instead of as two separate people. Just because you’re dating or married to someone, doesn’t make you responsible for their actions. And taking ownership and apologizing for them, actually enables their problematic behavior because you’ve let them off the hook.
- It’s a bad habit. If you’ve been over-apologizing or listening to others over-apologize for a long time, you may be doing it unconsciously. It’s become an automatic response that you do without thinking about it.
More of a good thing isn’t always better. And this is true of apologizing. Over-apologizing dilutes your apologies when they’re really needed. And over-apologizing can make you look less confident. It can seem as though you’re sorry for everything – for your actions and feelings, for taking up space, for your mere existence. These types of inappropriate apologies are roundabout ways of criticizing ourselves because we’re essentially saying, “I’m wrong” or “I’m to blame” all the time. This doesn’t reflect self-confidence or self-worth.
Over-apologizing is a common problem for those of us with codependent tendencies. It’s a symptom of our low self-esteem, fear of conflicts, and laser-sharp focus on other people’s needs and feelings. We also tend to have poor boundaries, sometimes enmeshed with others, so we’ll accept blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. And we take responsibility for trying to fix or solve other people’s problems. We excuse their behavior as if it’s our own. We feel like everything is our fault – a belief that probably began in childhood. We’re very conscious of being a burden or problem. We’re afraid of rejection and criticism, so we go out of our way to be accommodating.
Know when to apologize
Of course, there are times when we all need to apologize. We should apologize when we’ve done something wrong – hurt someone’s feelings, said or done something offensive, been disrespectful, or violated someone’s boundaries.
You do not need to apologize for:
- Things you didn’t do
- Things you can’t control
- Things other adults do
- Asking a question or needing something
- Your appearance
- Your feelings
- Not having all the answers
- Not responding immediately
It’s okay for you to have needs. It’s okay for you to have preferences. It’s okay for you to want something different or have a special request. It’s okay for you to take up space. It’s okay for you to exist.
How to stop over-apologizing
1. Notice what you’re thinking, feeling, and saying. Awareness is the first step in making a change. Just bringing your intention to stop over-apologizing into your consciousness can help. Notice when, why, and with whom you’re over-apologizing. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, as well. They can be cues that you’re feeling anxious or afraid or inadequate.
2. Question whether an apology is necessary. Did you do something wrong? How bad was it? Are you taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake? Or are you feeling bad (or anxious or ashamed) when you didn’t do anything wrong? If you often think you’ve done something wrong, check out your belief with a trusted friend and try to challenge this idea to see if you’ve really done something wrong or perhaps, you’re expecting too much of yourself.
3. Rephrase. Instead of saying I’m sorry, try another phrase. Depending on the situation, you might try:
Thank you – Thanks for your patience.
Unfortunately – Unfortunately, this isn’t what I ordered. I asked for no cheese.
Excuse me – Excuse me, I need to get around you.
Be more assertive – I have a question.
For many of us, over-apologizing is a bad habit. And like any habit, it takes effort and practice to undo a bad habit and replace it with a new behavior. So, don’t be discouraged if you find that over-apologizing is a hard habit to break.
You may also find it helpful to read these related articles:
How Codependents Can Step into their Circle of Control
The Difference Between Codependency and Caring
©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Canva.com
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10 thoughts on “Why You Over-Apologize and How to Stop”
Over apologizing, this article is so good. When I came to these country I was baffled at folks who did it and tried analyzing why they do it. You have provided me with some insight. Thank you.
Thank you for your insight on this behavior. It was very helpful.
thanks for this article and the way to stop the bad habit. I’ve always been told to stop saying sorry and it isn’t my fault and this is helping me work on it
My problem is a little different. It’s not that I apologize too much to other people – it’s that I have a compulsion to internally apologize for every mistake I’ve ever made in life, and my brain constantly reminds of these errors. I am incompetent and have been fired from almost every job I’ve ever had. So when I am reminded of my constant failures, I am compelled to say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” constantly to myself out loud, unless others are present.
After having issue with anyone, I become restless and keep thinking about it even if am wrong or right. I keep pleasing people and end up displeasing myself.
Thank you for this!. I recently overreacted in front of a group of friends to something that was said because it hit a nerve. I feel bad because this is a caring friend who had good intentions so thought I should apologize. But not really sure what I felt I needed to apologize for. Found this gem which is helpful as I sort out how to better articulate my feelings sooner instead of holding it in & later overreacting.
Great article. Didn’t realize that over- apologizing is linked to low esteem or confidence. It is self- condemning and could lose its power when an apology is really needed. Very insightful. Keep up the fine research. I’d like to say more but unfortunately have to go. Thanks for your patience.😁
My favorite coworker sent me this link. I really needed this, and it really hits home. Thank you ♥️
I find that saying, “I’m sorry”, is a technique I use to feel and show connection. If I were the one who made the mistake, I would want the other person to “feel” towards me thusly: You did your best, and now it’s time to begin again, and try anew”. Anyone who knows I didn’t make a mistake on purpose will be kind and gentle, so I will assume the best effort on that person’s part as well. That’s my thinking, anyway. I don’t feel the need to be assertive, as a way of being confident.
“I’m very sorry to ask, but may I please have no ice in the water?” – Even if i previously asked for no ice. To me, it feels loving and confident. It feels like I assume good will from both people.
In the end, some people have strong charisms. Greater awareness of the individual can be positive. Self-hating deprecation is different than being aware of the need for connection.
I apologize too much and sometimes my friends and even random people are like, “You say sorry too much!” And I’m like, “Oh! Sorry!” and they’re like, “Don’t say sorry for saying sorry so much!” and I’m like, “I’m sorry!” and it just goes on like that! Also, sometimes my classmates or even random people I go to school with and have never met will ask me for some goldfish or seaweed and I give it to them! (I also have a hard time saying no.) I feel like it comes from a deep rooting of perfectionism and caring what other people think too much. I’m a big people-pleaser and that can come to my advantage when I’m meeting new people and I seem like such a catch! But not in circumstances like this! This article helped me but I just don’t know how to stop! (Literally when I was editing this, I was saying to myself, “I HAVE to change it to Georgia, the only good font, SORRY!” Noone even heard my comment! Who was I apologizing to? The Thought police?)