How to stop constantly saying sorry

people saying sorry gif

We have all apologised for something unnecessarily.

Whether it’s before making a point in a meeting or as an automatic reaction when someone bumps into you, it is incredibly common to over-apologise in everyday life.

There are appropriate times to apologise, but many of us tend to do so more often without batting an eye.

Why do some of us apologise too much? How can we avoid doing so unnecessarily? 

Are there ways to change our language to give ourselves more power?

Why do we over apologise?

Many factors may cause someone to over-apologise; from trauma to abuse to childhood experience, the answer may look different for everyone.
Various psychological professionals agree that our peers can play a role in how we behave.

Carl R. Rogers suggests in his book On Becoming A Person that we are always surrounded by external judgements: ‘In almost every phase of our lives – at home, at school, at work – we find ourselves under the rewards and punishments of external judgements… Such judgements are a part of our lives from infancy to old age.’

This can validate or invalidate our behaviour, leading us to create ‘conditions of worth’. Acting outside of these rules for ourselves can lead us to feel distressed.

Mariam Iqbal, a HCPC-registered clinical psychologist, believes that being British can add to this conciliatory behaviour.

‘I feel that it is British culture,’ she tells ‘It is in our fabric to be very polite and have manners and I think there is a bias that apologising is in line with that in terms of not coming across as rude.

‘The socialisation of over-apologising is in line with British values.’ 

While culture can be a factor, there are plenty of other elements to consider depending on who you are.

Mariam suggests that gender and class could also cause someone to display more conciliatory behaviour: ‘Women tend to apologise more than men. Class is also a factor.’

‘I think it goes back to taking up space,’ she adds.

In other words, we want to fit in with our peers and make a good impression; apologising unnecessarily to avoid upsetting others is a common way to do this for British people.

If we are raised surrounded by British values and culture, is it any wonder over-apologising is so common? 

Why is over-apologising bad?

If apologising unnecessarily in everyday life is so common, why is it a bad thing? 

In a recent talk on asserting your voice, Kate Gigax, organisational psychologist and founder of Development Corps, suggested the following: ‘There are a certain set of behaviours that we can do to convey high power and low power [in society]… because of societal norms and expectations, displaying these behaviours makes it more likely that we are perceived as high power and low power regardless of our actual status.’

In other words, how we act makes us appear a certain way to those around us regardless of the truth. Kate went on to say: ‘We often just sprinkle in apologies into our language and that can really diminish our power.’

If apologising becomes habitual, it can affect not just how others see us but how we see ourselves.

‘Because over apologising becomes habitual, people underestimate the long-term impact it can have on your self-worth,’ Mariam says.

With over-apologising being rampant in UK society, it may seem impossible to avoid.

Luckily, it’s not as difficult as you might think.

How to break your over-apologising habit

If you want to break the apology habit, what can you do to get started?

Mariam suggests a two-step approach to reducing the number of times you apologise.

‘Psychologically, it is best to be cognitively aware of when you tend to apologise,’ she explains. ‘Is it at work? Is it in relationships? Part of this is habitual behaviour, so taking a step back is vital.’ 

Try to be present and notice when you tend to apologise without thinking. Make a note of it over time and see when it tends to happen.

Once you know, Mariam suggests that the next step is to take action.

She says: ‘Secondly, it is about challenging that behaviour. Be aware of your internal habits and cognitions and make that conscious effort to stop doing it when it would undermine you.’

Sounds like a plan. So, how do we get started?

Top tips for not saying an unneccessary ‘sorry’

Try a new perspective

‘When we focus on our weaknesses, we become what we focus on – we become weaker,’ Kate Gigax stated in her talk. ‘We become focused on the thing that is hard and that makes it harder. When we focus on our strengths, we become stronger.’

Instead of focusing on how awkward or unworthy we feel, Kate suggests challenging your internal dialogue and flipping it on its head: ‘If you don’t believe that you’re the one who should be speaking, then you need to ask yourself: “why not me?”‘

Embrace your strengths and remind yourself that your thoughts deserve to be heard.

Replace ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’

It is all too easy to apologise in emails and in real life, to feel like a bother or burden on others. However, Mariam suggests trying to change your thinking.

‘Give yourself permission to take up space, especially in a work setting,’ she recommends. ‘Over apologising can be detrimental as it can undermine your position and your work. Avoiding this can cause you to become a role model for your team, which can be helpful.’

Next time you catch yourself saying ‘sorry’ for voicing your thoughts, try saying ‘Thank you for listening.’ 

If you are running late on something and want to apologise in an email, try opening with ‘thank you for your patience.’ 

Ask for feedback

We all make mistakes, and it is easy to jump to apologies rather than take action. One way of fixing this issue is to try creating a resolution. After all, our actions often speak louder than our words.

Another alternative to saying ‘sorry’ can be to ask for feedback. Try asking ‘how can I do this differently next time?’ when you find yourself doing something wrong.

Just (don’t) do it

The toughest method is also the simplest – hold yourself back from saying ‘sorry’.

Mariam approves of this challenging method and uses a work-based example, ‘For example, instead of apologising before making a point in a meeting, stop yourself and see what unfolds.’

Letting ourselves state our thoughts without an apology buffer uses two incredible high-power behaviours that can empower us, according to Kate:

‘When we act more powerfully, we can actually use silence to our advantage; we can say something and punctuate it with silence.’ 

Let your words speak for themselves and see what happens.

Be kind to yourself

It can be tough to change a habit like this, especially for those who experience social anxiety at work or at home. However, avoiding unnecessary apologies and asserting yourself does not make you an entirely different person.

‘There is no one way to assert your voice. You get to design it based on your strengths, your preferences, and your goals. It is going to look different for everyone,’ Kate notes. ‘Authenticity is key. Authenticity is not just about speaking up – it’s also about how you speak and that you’re doing it in a way that feels true to you.’

According to Mariam, habits do not break overnight; there is no need to overwhelm yourself all at once.

‘It can be uncomfortable, so start small with your social experiments and build yourself up,’ Mariam suggests. ‘Take an introspective look at why you tend to apologise. What are the factors that lead you to over apologise and challenge them.’

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