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Do You Find Yourself Apologizing Unnecessarily? Learn How to Identify Sorry Worthy Situations & Effective Ways to Approach Those that Aren’t.

Take 5-minutes to get the tools you need to stop saying I’m sorry unnecessarily and start modeling for your daughter empowering and respectful ways to communicate.

I never considered myself one of those people who apologizes for everything. You know the type. The ones who seem to sugar coat everything. The ones that wilt easily and/or don’t stand up for themselves. I have actually always thought of myself as the opposite — a strong and independent woman.

But one day my daughter unknowingly brought to my attention that my instinct was to apologize for things that I am not truly sorry about. You see, my daughter was feeling crappy. Naturally, I went into nurturing mommy mode. My knee-jerk reaction was to say, “I’m sorry that you’re not feeling well.”

When she responded with, “It’s okay Mom, it isn’t your fault,” I was dumbfounded. Of course it was not my fault. Did my daughter really believe that I thought I was responsible for her being sick? After taking a minute to ponder my unconscious pattern of chronic apologizing, I had an awakening. I came to realize how ridiculous my words must have sounded to her.

She heard the words “I’m sorry,” and thought I was accepting blame for the fact that she didn’t feel well. Who can blame her? Kids are often literal and take things at face value. So her reaction totally makes sense given the meaning of the phrase, and it’s intended use.

For days my daughter’s reply echoed in my head. It prompted me to think about just how many contexts in which I erroneously used these two small words. Here are a few:

Things that are simple: “I’m sorry I can’t meet you at the park. I have a meeting.”

Things outside of anyone’s control: “I’m sorry your game is canceled because of the rain.”

Things I shouldn’t apologize for in the first place: “I’m sorry I was one of the last cars in the pickup line.”

Recognizing this, I decided to pay careful attention to my apologies. The experience was insightful. I found the words “I’m sorry” rolling off my tongue more times than I care to admit. More times than I could even keep track of in a week.

On top of that, each time I unnecessarily said I’m sorry, I beat myself up. The little voice in my head asked, “Why would you say I’m sorry when you didn’t do anything wrong?” I began replaying the scenario and spending a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how I could have responded differently.

To make matters worse, I also started to think about how others perceive me as a result of my apologies — most importantly my daughters.  This habit made me appear as if I am a pushover. A person who lacks self-esteem. If my girls used this to gauge how I feel about myself, they would likely believe that I am not comfortable in my own skin…which I am.

Plus, if I continued apologizing unnecessarily, my daughters would probably start to follow in my footsteps. The last thing I want for them is to be perceived as weak. I was determined not to let this happen.

How could I put an end to my improper use (and overuse) of these two little words?

I had a fleeting thought about actually seeking therapy before coming up with my own plan. Acting as my own counselor, I decided to conduct my own behavioral experiment and log my “offenses.” Then I analyzed them.

The Result:  I identified 4 basic scenarios that prompted me to apologize.

Next came the hard part. Finding a viable solution. Was there some alternative go-to way of responding that I could use in place of my current go-to apology? It wasn’t easy to come up with a solution, but once I did it seemed so obvious.

The Answer: Rather than saying I’m sorry, in most cases it was appropriate to instead be straightforward and show my appreciation.

Here is a breakdown of the 4 different situations in which I tend to apologize, along with some examples, followed by the reasons I apologize. It also includes what I actually meant and how I can respond in the future.

1- When I am too timid to ask for what I need and/or I feel like I am imposing on others.

     Why do I apologize? It seems necessary to apologize for inconveniencing others.

      Example: When asking a friend for help, “I’m sorry, can you please help me carry this.”

      Example: When needing something from a complete stranger, “Sorry to bother you but can you please move your bag so I can sit.

      What did I really mean? I was trying to show my appreciation.

      What will I say next time? “I’m having trouble carrying this. I’d be grateful if could please help me.”

      OR “I would like to sit in this chair but your bag is there. I’d appreciate it if you could please move it over.”

2 – When I am trying to show compassion and empathy.

      Why do I apologize? This is my attempt to ease the pain that the situation caused.

      Example: “I’m sorry but your best friend can’t come to your party because she’s sick.”

      What did I really mean? I was trying to empathize and show compassion.

      What will I say next time? “Your best friend is sick. It really stinks that she can’t come to your party. She’s so disappointed as I’m sure you are.”

3 – When I feel that I am about to do something rude/wrong.

      Why do I apologize?  I want permission/acceptance for being impolite.

      Example: When at lunch with a friend, “I’m sorry, I just need a few minutes to check my email.”

      What did I really mean? By asking in advance for forgiveness/to be excused, I was

       trying not to feel bad about my actions.

      What will I say next time? “There’s a problem at work today and I’m afraid that if I don’t take a few minutes to check my emails I’ll be distracted. I know the timing is not ideal since we haven’t caught up in a long time.  But after this I promise to give you all of my attention. I hope you understand.

4- When someone else is actually the one who should apologize.

      Why do I apologize? I want to ensure I don’t come across as bitchy or rude.

      Example: When someone steps on my toe, “I’m sorry.”

      Example: “I’m sorry but it seems you’ve given me the wrong soup. I ordered chicken noodle.”

      What did I really mean? When someone else makes a mistake, it’s okay to point it out to them respectfully and politely.

      What will I say next time? If I feel compelled to say anything at all, I would say, “It seems you stepped on my toe.” OR “This is vegetable soup. I ordered chicken noodle. I’d appreciate if you could swap it out.”

What happened when I put this plan to the test?

By switching from a negative – an unnecessary apology – to a more positive and appropriate response – gratitude – I was able to move forward without over analyzing and obsessing about how I should have handled things differently. I didn’t waste time and energy, and I didn’t feel bad about myself.

With that said, there were of course situations where being straightforward meant that I still needed to say, “I’m sorry.”  For example:

  • When I was late.

  • When I made a mistake.

I owed it to myself, and the other person, to own up and apologize. However, I noticed that I tried to justify and rationalize things by saying the following:

→ I apologize for being late but my mom called when I was on my way to meet you.

→ I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you on time, but I thought you said you wanted it Friday.

By using the word “but,” it negated the apology.  I corrected myself by saying this instead:

→ I apologize for being late. My mom called and I got caught up. Thanks for being patient and waiting for me.

→ I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you on time. I got the dates mixed up and appreciate you pointing it out to me.

By being apologetic, straightforward, and appreciative, I showed true strength and maturity. I also demonstrated that I value the relationship, which made it easier for the other person to move past things (and in turn, I was able to look forward instead of back). As a result, we both felt better.

While reading these scenarios did you realize that you are guilty of over-apologizing? Are you wondering what to do next?

Start paying attention to when and why you apologize, as well as how it makes you feel. Once you are more aware, before spitting out the words “I’m sorry” ask yourself- is this situation sorry worthy? If it isn’t, try saying what you mean. And if it’s appropriate, express gratitude.

Willing to take it one step further? Join us in the #SorryWorthyChallenge.  Over the next week, jot down each time you catch yourself correcting an unnecessary apology. Then share it on social media or email info@GAALSusa.com about your success. We love to hear from you and are happy to show you our support.

Fun Fact: Compare yourself to a man with whom you spend a lot of time. Pay attention to how frequently – or should I say infrequently – he says I’m sorry when it is not needed. You might be surprised at the “I’m sorry disparity”. Do you find that men do the same?  The journal, Psychological Science, published a study that showed that women do indeed apologize more frequently than men. And, women seem to report more offenses. Interestingly, the research pointed out that a man’s threshold for thinking they have committed an offense is higher. That means women and men could easily disagree on whether or not a transgression has occurred at all. This gender difference in what is considered offensive in the first place, definitely has a bearing on female over-apology.

Suggested Reading: The Myth of the Nice Girl shares how to avoid undermining what you’re really trying to say, and provides strategies for speaking up with confidence.

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