Stop Apologizing Already!
You’re not responsible for other people’s mistakes and problems.
Ever apologize for someone else’s mistake? Many people do it out of habit or as a filler because they find themselves at a loss for words in an awkward situation.
I was helping my best friend with a gardening project recently and she ran out of mulch. I turned, looked at her, and said, “Sorry.”
Of course, she gave me a strange look and laughed. “Well, get more mulch next time,” she teased. I immediately understood how ridiculous I was for apologizing.
‘I’m sorry’ is a bad habit of mine that I’m determined to change.
Many of us use ‘I’m sorry’ as a subconscious way to diffuse tension between us and someone else regardless of whether or not it’s actually worthy of an apology.
As individuals, we don’t need to apologize for the quirks and happenings of the universe. Not everything is our fault.
After digging in mulch for an afternoon with my friend, I realized just how often I say, “I’m sorry.”
It’s not that I’m going around punching people in the face constantly, or scratching random cars in parking lots with my keys, or purposefully tripping old ladies trying to cross the street. Can you imagine how many apologies I’d need to express after such chaos?
At least in those instances, I can see how an apology would be necessary though. But I seem to be stuck in a hamster wheel of apologizing for things I have no hand in doing.
Oh, you didn’t like the spaghetti sauce because you’ve never liked spaghetti in your life? I’m sorry you don’t like spaghetti.
Oh, you’re upset and grouchy because you didn’t get enough sleep last night because your spouse snores like a grizzly bear, and your dog was barking at random noises? I’m sorry about that.
Oh, you cut in front of me for the cashier because you’re in a hurry because it just hasn’t been your day so far? I’m sorry.
Why, the hell, am I apologizing for things that I have no causal connection with? Why do I apologize when my kid forgets to do his own laundry? Why am I apologizing when my neighbor has to clean up the mess his dog made?
It goes beyond wanting everyone to be happy in their lives. And why am I taking on the responsibility of everyone else’s personal happiness anyways?
I think most of us — women in particular — are often raised to always be polite to others, to put others’ needs ahead of our own, to diffuse those uncomfortable interactions between friends and family. Unfortunately, “I’m sorry” can turn into an easy solution we don’t realize is more deprecating to ourselves in these situations than helpful to anyone at all.
‘I’m sorry’ Alternatives
I’m trying to change my speech patterns in order to live more confidently and joyfully. What we say aloud starts as thoughts and feelings inside our heads. So, it’s important to only use “I’m sorry” when actually necessary.
After doing some research here are my go-to alternatives for different situations.
Have you missed a deadline, come up short on a project, or let down a friend? Skip the apologetic sob story and simply thank them for having patience while you finish what you promised.
Instead of “Sorry I’m late,” say, “Thanks for waiting for me.”
Is now a good time?
Do I think I’m such a boring, irritating, pathetic human being that in order to speak to anyone I need to apologize first? This is the message I was sending myself every time I said, “Sorry for bothering you” before engaging in conversation, or at the beginning of an email.
Stop apologizing for ‘bothering’ people. This is a ridiculous habit. “Is now a good time to talk?” or simply, “Excuse me” are much better choices.
Empathy is better than sympathy.
My go-to has always been, “I’m so sorry” when a friend confides in me about a loss or mistake they made. But it would mean so much more if I practiced empathy instead and said something like, “That must be so hard on you right now.”
Practicing active listening in this way will make your friends feel heard not simply pitied. It’s a better alternative that benefits both you and them.
Is there a way to improve this or do better?
If you mess up and make a mistake, rather than jumping on the ‘I’m sorry’ train, why not actually learn how to do a better job? Thank the person for their feedback and ask for more suggestions. No apology is necessary.
I really don’t like what you did with this part here.
Oh, okay. Is there a way I can change it that will be more appealing or functional?
Of course, there will be times when an apology will be necessary. We all have those moments in life, but apologizing with an ‘I’m sorry’ needs to be used when you’ve personally hurt someone physically or emotionally. It doesn’t need to be your go-to for every slightly uncomfortable situation.
The things we say to others are reflective of how we think and feel about ourselves. In order to improve our inner dialogue, we need to pay more attention to those words that cross our lips.
Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story. Wipe the slate clean. And rewrite it.
― Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person