If you’ve done something wrong, it is natural to apologise. But, whilst some people find it hard to say sorry, others get into the habit of saying sorry too much.
It’s easy to make assumptions about people who never say sorry when they are wrong. We assume they are arrogant, or perhaps they are narcissistic. Maybe they are over-confident and don’t believe they are in the wrong.
But what about people who say sorry all the time? They can’t always be wrong, can they? Are they the polar opposite of those who never say sorry? Is the reason a lack of self-esteem? Or is there something else going on?
Here are some examples of saying sorry too much:
- A neighbour is blasting out music at 2 am. You knock on their door and say: “I’m sorry, would you mind turning that down a bit?”
- A stranger bumps into you in the street, and you say sorry to them.
- The supermarket is empty, but all the shop assistants are chatting and laughing together. You approach them and say: “I’m sorry to bother you…”
- A friend visiting someone across the street has blocked your drive. You go over to their house and say: “I’m sorry, could you possibly move your car so I can get out?”
- Your pizza delivery man has dropped off the wrong order. You call the takeaway: “Sorry, but I think you have given me the wrong pizza.”
In all the above scenarios you are not to blame, but you have apologised anyway. So why do we do it? Is it because the word sorry is just a convenient word? Does it make us sound polite and well-mannered?
Let’s find out.
5 things saying sorry too much reveals about you
- You are afraid of confrontation
Saying sorry is a quick and easy way to exit from an argument or situation. It immediately placates an aggressor. People who are afraid of confrontation will say sorry to avoid conflict. They accept responsibility for something they didn’t do rather than directly address the issue.
Often, children who have grown up in hostile environments where violence was the norm will learn behaviours to minimise further escalation. One way to do this as an adult is saying sorry too often.
- You lack the confidence to stand up for yourself.
If, as a child, you were not good enough or punished when you made mistakes, you may now lack the confidence as an adult to speak up. You think that you cannot possibly be right about the discussion, or the argument.
So, instead of adding your viewpoint, you apologise. You are submissive in your behaviour because you lack faith in your abilities. You automatically assume that you are in the wrong and the other person is right.
- You don’t want to cause offence.
Having empathy towards others is a good character trait. However, bending so far over backwards to hide your feelings is not healthy. We all want people to like us. Having opinions and beliefs is what attracts us to other like-minded people.
But we can’t like everyone, and we cannot expect everyone to like us back. Get your sense of value from within, not by keeping people around you happy all the time.
- You have to apologise to excuse your behaviour.
Of course, certain people get into the habit of saying sorry too much because their behaviour is atrocious. Perhaps they have to apologise to excuse their drunken behaviour. Or maybe they have got into the habit of saying sorry after a violent outburst.
If you say sorry too much, you disown your behaviour. You think that by saying sorry the episode is forgotten; it is over. It is not. Victims of abuse don’t remember the apology. It is the violence or the harsh words that stick with them. Owning up to your anger is the only way to salvage your relationship.
- You are easy-going and don’t have an ego.
Some people are just not that bothered about being right. All they want is an easy life, but not because they are afraid of confrontation. They will stand up for themselves if they feel the situation is serious enough.
But for silly little matters that have no consequence to them, they are happy to say sorry and move on. Their ego is big enough to shoulder whatever issues the next person has. It’s not that they don’t have an ego. It is that they have evolved enough to know what matters and what does not.
The Psychology of Apologizing
We might assume that saying sorry too much is purely a character trait. While it is true, the habit of apologising all the time links to certain behaviours, this is not the full story.
Studies show that we have developed an adaptive reason for saying sorry.
I’ll demonstrate what I mean. Imagine a stranger has approached you and asked to use your phone.
Consider the following requests:
- “Can I borrow your phone?”
- “I’m sorry, but can I borrow your phone?”
Which request would elicit a favourable response from you?
Research suggests under 10% of people gave their phone when asked without the prefix of an apology. But 50% did give up their phone when the stranger apologised beforehand.
This research indicates that we use superfluous apologies to build a rapport of trust with others.
How to Stop Saying Sorry Too Much
Once a habit is formed, it is hard to break it. But by learning the triggers and situations that prompt this behaviour, you can bring it under control.
Stop before you say sorry.
Before you apologise, say to yourself ‘Am I in the wrong here?’ If you didn’t do anything to warrant an apology, then don’t say sorry.
Be prepared with alternatives to an apology.
Sometimes the word ‘sorry’ is easy to say. For example, you’re in a bar, and you can’t get served. You catch the bartender’s eye – ‘Sorry, can I get a drink?’
There’s no need for you to say you are sorry. That’s their job to serve you. Think of alternatives such as ‘excuse me’, ‘pardon me’, ‘thank you for waiting’, ‘would you mind speaking up’, ‘could you clarify that please?’, ‘after you’, ‘go ahead’, ‘thank you for clarifying’, ‘I’d like to add’.
Learn your triggers.
Some people apologise in certain situations. It can be something simple such as always turning up late and then apologising profusely. Instead of using your apology to dismiss your behaviour, why not address the real issue of your lateness?
Learning why you are saying sorry all the time is important because it can reveal something you don’t want to deal with.
Be grateful instead of sorry.
Apologising because someone helped you or did you a favour or did their job is not healthy for you or that person. Instead of saying
‘I’m really sorry I needed you to work late this evening’,
why not show that person gratitude by saying
‘Thank you so much for helping me out by working late tonight.’
Not only will it make you feel better about asking the favour, but showing gratitude boosts the other person’s self-esteem when you thank them. Think about whether you would prefer an apology or a thank you from someone. It does make a difference.
It’s easy to get into the habit of saying sorry too much. It is much harder to break out of it. Learn to recognise your triggers and try to choose different words. These simple things will help to build your self-esteem. Only then can you stop apologising when it’s not your fault.