Breaking the Habit of Overapologizing
Apologizing when we wrong someone is an important social skill, but overapologizing, when it isn't necessary, can actually put a strain on our relationships. My anxiety compelled me to say sorry any time I felt insecure, guilty, ashamed, or worried in a social situation, and people would become annoyed and frustrated with me because of it. I would then apologize for annoying them with my apologizing, which continued from there in n cycle that was exhausting for everyone involved.
I haven't completely broken this habit, but I have curbed it somewhat through self-reflection, mindfulness, and alternative actions. Maybe the strategies that worked for me can help those of you who relate to this problem.
Anxious Apologizing as a Way of Seeking Reassurance
It took me a long time to realize what was motivating me to needlessly apologize. If I worried that I was bothering someone, asked someone for help, asserted a need, or communicated a feeling, I would apologize. Friends and family would tell me not to be sorry for things that weren't my fault. I realized I wasn't motivated by sincere remorse but by a need for reassurance. I wasn't saying sorry as a real apology but as a backhanded way of asking the other person to comfort me and tell me I did nothing wrong. I realized this wasn't healthy or fair to others.
A true apology is about taking responsibility for oneself and acknowledging a true fault. When we apologize unnecessarily as a way to seek reassurance, we aren't taking responsibility for ourselves at all but instead are asking the recipient to take responsibility for our feelings by comforting us. Overapologizing also cheapens the significance of a true apology. When we say we're sorry mindlessly and meaninglessly, it means less when we actually have something to apologize for. Once I thought all of this through, it felt manipulative to continue the "I'm sorry" habit, and I felt motivated to change it.
Using Mindfulness to Stop Overapologizing
Mindfulness has been key for me in breaking this pattern. I started paying much closer attention to all of the times when I said sorry unnecessarily, and I would try to stop and think before I spoke to prevent saying sorry out of habit. With my closest friends and family, if I felt a compulsion to apologize because I was feeling insecure, worried, or anxious, I would communicate these feelings to them in a way that assumed responsibility for my own emotions without asking them to take care of me emotionally. Mindfulness helped me become more aware of both the times I said sorry out of force of habit and the feelings behind the apologies.
Replacing 'I'm Sorry' With 'Thank You'
Mental illness can make us feel like we have a lot to apologize for. Even if you don't experience anxiety as I do, I imagine most of us with a mental illness can relate to the feeling of burdening the people in our lives with our problems. One alternative that helped me break the pattern was to start replacing "I'm sorry" with "thank you" wherever it made sense. "I'm sorry I'm not good at this," became "Thank you for being patient with me." "I'm sorry for bothering you with my problems," became "Thank you for being there for me." Rethinking sorry as thank you helped me to express appreciation without putting pressure on the other person to reassure me and improved my relationships as a result.
Overapologizing may help us avoid negative feelings in the short term, but it can affect our relationships and get in the way of us taking an honest look at our own emotions. If you also find yourself apologizing too much, maybe these strategies can empower you to work on this habit, too.
What is your experience with overapologizing? Share your story in the comments.
Sabatello, J. (2021, April 12). Breaking the Habit of Overapologizing, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 13 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2021/4/breaking-the-habit-of-overapologizing
Author: Juliana Sabatello
Forgot to add that I really like the idea of replacing "I'm sorry" with "Thank you". When I can't figure something out, I apologize for being a little dense. I know I'm generally smart so I feel especially stupid when I don't understand something immediately. I think we're all smart at certain things and maybe a little dumb with others! :)
Being Canadian though, when is apologizing considered too much? :)
Seriously though, thanks for a helpful article. I might be guilty of doing this because I apologize a LOT although I'm not sure if I do it to get reassurance or because I feel it's mostly my fault when things go south.
It's wonderful that you make the connection between reassurance and over apologizing. This is such an important key to recognize and understand so that you can begin to do the work around breaking the habit. Excellent read.
Thank you! It took a long time to come to that realization, so I am happy to share it. Breaking longstanding habits takes so much work.