Confessions Of A Serial ‘Sorry-er’

I found myself apologizing yesterday for not reaching out to a friend in a while.

I had felt so guilty because life had gotten a little hectic. My heart told me that was no excuse though. However, when I finished my call, my husband asked why I was apologizing? It takes two to try to make contact and this person hadn’t ever been the one to call me.

It made me think for a while and I realized that most of the time when I reach out to people, there is a ‘sorry’ in the conversation somewhere. For the length of time since we last spoke. For my unkempt appearance.  For the fact I’m in a noisy spot…the list goes on.

I do often jump to ‘sorry’, as default but I hadn’t ever given it a second thought until now.

My unnecessary apology to friends is, of course, skimmed over. Sometimes though, if we are at work or just life in general, the act of apologizing unnecessarily (and it’s important to note the word unnecessarily here because we all know the power of an apology when it is warranted) doesn’t do us any favors. We are allowing residual guilt to nestle below the surface of our emotions, where it doesn’t belong.

In certain exchanges, what’s even more interesting is a strange and sometimes very subtle power shift that comes into play.

Apologizing to someone when it isn’t necessary is like handing control to them. It’s a sign of being submissive, or not wanting anyone to think negatively of you. When in fact by doing so, you are allowing that very thing to happen!

How often have you said sorry when you shouldn’t have?

“Sorry,” when you’re a minute late for the meeting,

“Sorry,” when someone bumps into you,

“Sorry,” when you are referring to how you look (tired, stressed, etc.),

“Sorry,” when you are asking a question

Being from the UK, we tend to be known for apologizing far more than our American counterparts but the truth is, it happens everywhere!

Could it be our confidence? Wanting to please everyone? Our humility? Our avoidance of conflict?

In her book, “The Power of an Apology,” Psychotherapist Beverly Engel, says over-apologizing isn’t so different from over-complimenting. It may be that you believe you are portraying yourself as a caring person, when in fact you’re actually displaying a lack of confidence.  Engel says, “It can even give a certain kind of person permission to treat you poorly.”

If you feel you fall into this category it could be an interesting exercise to conduct a ‘sorry audit’ on yourself.

How many times and when do you typically say it? Could the act of saying sorry when it isn’t warranted be a contributor to low self-esteem or a lack of confidence?


Here are a few alternatives you might consider using:

“Thanks for your patience,” when you’re a minute late for the meeting,

“How are you?” instead of referring to your own appearance (tired, stressed, etc.), show more interest in the person you are speaking to, “You look great, I love that color on you…”

“Is now a suitable time to run something by you?”, when you are asking a question.

After conducting your audit, try thinking of different reactions or words you could use as an alternative to using sorry. Both you and the person you are talking to may feel a whole lot better about it!

Still stuck on how to take action? Try this Chrome plug-in stop saying sorry

It actually detects and highlights areas where you could use alternative and more empowering options in written examples.