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Don’t over-apologize: Say this instead

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When it comes to relationships, the sincere apology is an indispensable part of the problem-solving toolkit. If you can’t admit when you’re wrong and seek the forgiveness of others, it’s nigh-on impossible to grow or maintain healthy relationships.

But sometimes, an apology becomes something different.

For various reasons such as low self-esteem, a fear of conflict, or just a desire not to rock the boat, over-apologizing can be a way to resolve tension at all costs, even if it means accepting blame when we did nothing wrong or weren’t even involved.

Does this sound familiar? Are you trying to kick the sorry habit? Here’s a quick dive into the concept and then things to say instead of over-apologizing.

Why are apologies overdone?

Apologies are a way of breaking down walls that build up when another party has been wronged. Saying you’re sorry helps to acknowledge the error, offer respect to the other party, and re-balance the scales of the relationship. It shows you care and want the relationship to return to a healthy state.

However, many people find themselves apologizing for actions that don’t rise to that level — that, in other words, do not justify an apology. As just a few examples, it’s inappropriate but not uncommon to apologize before taking a turn speaking in a group, after accidentally bumping into someone (or they bump into you), or in the wake of a reasonable disagreement.

Writing in Forbes, psychologist Jay Rai explained the reasons behind the phenomenon:

By saying ‘sorry if’ or ‘sorry to,’ this shows that you’re subconsciously seeking reassurance…you’re also sending a message to those you’re speaking to that often undermines the validity of your statements or implies that you lack confidence in expressing yourself or asserting your own needs.

Why it can be problematic

Although there’s no evidence that over-apologizing directly causes any health problems, it could be a sign of deeper psychological stress or trauma.

In Forbes, Rai writes:

Over-apologizing is a common symptom amongst individuals with low self-esteem, fear of conflict and a fear of what others think. This goes hand in hand with poor boundaries, perhaps accepting blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. We instantly feel guilty, like everything is our fault — a belief that probably began in childhood. When someone is afraid of rejection and criticism, they will go out of their way to be accommodating.

That’s a problem because you are essentially putting yourself on the back burner, rather than stepping forward to be yourself and share your ideas, feelings, and experiences with those around you.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

What to say instead

There are many variations on when and how the over-apology is used, so there’s not one silver-bullet response that will always work in its place. However, here are a few ideas for things to say in some common situations.

  • Try replacing “I’m sorry” with “excuse me,” which is a bit more assertive.
  • Instead of “sorry I’m late,” try “thanks for your patience.”
  • Don’t over-apologize for your presence or absence, or for asserting yourself. For example, instead of saying “sorry to interrupt,” try “do you have a free moment?”
  • Replace “sorry I can’t make it” with “I won’t be able to make it this time.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry for criticizing you” (which can also put the other party on the defensive), try “I have a few thoughts to share.”

Overuse of just about anything can lead to problems or difficulties. Even the apology, which is full of nothing but good intentions, can have a negative effect if used in excess.

If you believe you may over-apologize, it might be worth examining the real potential reasons why you do this. For example, do you think you may have low self-esteem? If so, talking to someone about the issue, be it a family member, friend, or a care professional such as a therapist, can be a great first step.

Although the wording changes offered above may seem superficial, they can not only break the habit of over-apology but help you change your mindset. It’s not hard to move from being a more subservient or reserved person to one who is more self-assured and more prepared to stand on equal footing with others.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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Scott Harris
Scott Harris is a freelance writer based near Washington, DC, with more than a decade of experience covering health…
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