An apology is a powerful tool when used correctly.
The problem is that people can fall into a pattern of over-apologizing, which creates a negative perception of the person saying, “I’m sorry.”
Changing that habit can be a powerful tool to help build self-esteem, confidence, and strengthen our relationships with other people.
There have been several studies on both apologies and over-apologizing that have shown some interesting facts.
Women tend to apologize more often than men, not because men are hesitant to say “I’m sorry,” but because men don’t think they have done anything wrong more often than women.
It turns out that women generally have a lower threshold for what they consider to be offensive behavior.
That behavior is not accounting for life circumstances that can precipitate the compulsion or need to say, “I’m sorry.”
Domestic abuse survivors, child abuse survivors, people with anxiety disorders, and trauma survivors may also over-apologize as a coping mechanism to avoid harm or uncomfortable feelings.
Behavior that served that survivor while they were in a bad position can have negative effects on their personal and professional life outside of those situations.
At that point, it becomes an unwanted habit that should be changed so they can continue to heal and grow.
The Negative Perceptions Of People Who Apologize Too Much
Apologizing for things that you have no responsibility for, control over, or the small things in life creates negative perceptions in the minds of others.
1. It undermines genuine apologies that matter.
We all make mistakes in life. An apology with changed behavior is one of the surest ways to help mend damaged bridges.
A person who offers too many superficial apologies undermines their genuine apologies.
The person who is being apologized to may not think the apology giver is genuine since they say “I’m sorry” for so many superficial things.
It damages the weight of one’s word and their credibility.
2. It affects the person’s self-esteem.
The act of apologizing too often has an indirect effect on a person’s subconscious.
They are consistently and constantly telling themselves that they are in the way or a bother, particularly if they are doing things like apologizing for existing.
3. Other people lose respect for the apology giver.
Frankly, it’s annoying to listen to someone constantly apologize for nothing.
It can elicit reactions of annoyance, disgust, or contempt because the person apologizing is coming off as fragile or weak.
People view over-apologizing almost like they view over-confidence. It’s annoying, not genuine, and they may not feel like they can trust the person to be forthright and honest.
4. It can fuel a perception of incompetence.
People don’t necessarily look deeply into those around them. A person who apologizes too much may be seen as incompetent, because why would they be apologizing so often if they weren’t constantly messing things up?
That’s a perception that can have serious negative consequences in one’s personal and professional life.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Apologize Sincerely And Properly
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry
- How To Forgive Someone: 2 Science-Based Models Of Forgiveness
4 Tips To Stop Saying Sorry So Much
Changing the habit of apologizing too much comes down to why the person is over-apologizing in the first place.
If it’s coming from a place of soothing anxiety or unhealed harm from traumatic experiences, the person may need to visit a certified mental health professional to work on the underlying issues that are causing it.
Just changing the behavior associated with the harm won’t heal the harm that’s still there, which can cause those patterns to reemerge later.
Changing the habit may require therapy to address the issues that are causing it.
That aside, how can we work on changing the habit?
1. Be mindful of the times you are saying, “I’m sorry.”
Assess when you are actually apologizing. Ask yourself, “Was there a reason for me to apologize? Was I responsible for what I was apologizing for?”
Armed with that knowledge, you can now be mindful of future moments like it that will inevitably come.
2. Be silent and think before you speak.
Try not to apologize when you find yourself in moments where you normally would.
Be silent and think about what it is that you are trying to convey, whether or not you are responsible, and how serious of an issue it is and whether or not you need to apologize.
Stop and reflect on the situation and whether or not you caused a problem or harm that needs an apology.
3. Consider what you’re actually trying to communicate.
The words, “I’m sorry” are often a stand in for more complex thoughts and emotions.
Consider whether or not these two words accurately reflect what you want to communicate to the other person.
Are there other thoughts or emotions that are actually trying to come to the surface?
If there are, now is the time to voice those feelings instead of apologizing.
Doing so will help build your own self-confidence, self-esteem, and build respect with your peers.
4. Repeat until it becomes a habit.
Three little steps!? It surely can’t be that easy!
Changing a habit is a process that is simple, but not easy.
It requires interrupting the previous habit and replacing that habit with a different behavior, and doing that multiple times over until it becomes automatic.
It’s all about what actions you practice and are willing to commit to practicing until they become second nature.
It’s a commitment, because it takes about two months to form a new habit.
What To Say Instead Of “I’m Sorry”
Improving your mindfulness when you are saying “I’m sorry” is helpful, but choosing what words to replace them with, if any, is also an important part of changing the habit.
What words you choose will come down to what scenario you find yourself in and their relevance.
Don’t apologize for existing. Replace “I’m sorry” with statements like excuse me, after you, go ahead, and let me get out of your way.
Or just simply move out of the way without saying anything. It’s not something you can or should be apologizing for.
Use thanks and other forms of gratitude as a way to change the perception of the conversation.
Instead of, “I’m sorry to take up your time.” use, “Thank you for your time.”
Instead of, “I’m sorry about that mistake.” use, “I appreciate that you caught that error.”
Instead of, “I’m sorry I’m late.” use, “Thank you for your patience and waiting for me!”
The impulsive “I’m sorry” is a bit more challenging, because you don’t necessarily want to replace it with anything.
There are some people who just say it as a matter of reflex and just need to work on not saying it so often or at inappropriate times.
Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your responsibility or that you’re not sorry for. That boundary is an important one that helps to separate respectful and disrespectful people.
Respectful people will be understanding and willing to accommodate that boundary, as it as an important part of your mental and emotional health.