Are you the type of person who apologizes multiple times a day or even before your second cup of coffee?
Do you apologize to a chair if you bump into it (I’ve done that!) or apologize for winning a race or getting a promotion? Do you apologize because you bought the last copy of a book someone else wanted or because someone bumped into you (Excuse me for being in the way of your mad dash to get to the coffee)?
Apologizing can be a dialectic. It can be great and it can be not so great.
Apologizing when indicated, when the offense warrants an apology, is part of living in a kind and considerate way. We can use more kindness in the world. It’s part of being a polite resident of the planet who respects other people. Apologizing when necessary can build and maintain relationships.
On the other hand, apologizing when it’s not indicated may not be so helpful. If you spend your day saying, “I’m sorry,” what do you imagine the results will be?
Think about someone you know who sees herself or himself at fault for all mishaps, such as the restaurant not getting your order correct. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the steak you ordered.”
I imagine that for some it’s a choice of words and what they really mean is, “What a bummer.” But words are powerful. If you apologize for all things that go wrong in your general vicinity, then you are essentially lowering your self-confidence. It’s like looking for ways that you are “less than” and perhaps unconsciously gathering evidence to support a negative view of yourself.
Another possibility to consider is that you may be, unconsciously, looking for reassurance that someone isn’t upset with you. Perhaps upset that you have been successful. Maybe you want to be liked by others and thus are apologizing to be accommodating, to put them first, and perhaps be submissive (not a threat in any way to anyone). Trying to not be a “threat” is a way of saying, “please be my friend” (keep me in the tribe). Think what message that stance actually conveys to others and to yourself.
If you over-apologize, perhaps you are evaluating too many situations as being offensive. It’s probably no surprise that men apologize less than women. Researchers found that men see fewer situations as needing an apology. Women apologized more and found many more situations as warranting an apology. Be mindful of whether an apology is truly indicated.
Another idea is to consider whether “I’m sorry” is really what you want to communicate. Maybe you want to say thank you. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so disorganized,” you might say, “Thank you for helping me find my papers.” Yao Xiao created a cartoon that shows the many ways you might be saying “sorry” when you really mean thank you. Perhaps you want to communicate congratulations. Instead of saying “I’m sorry you didn’t win,” you might say, “Congrats on completing the race.”
Finally, you might consider if your over-apologizing is an effort to be liked. In my experience it doesn’t work well in terms of enhancing relationships, so consider if it is truly a behavior that is working for you.
The results of the study on emotional sensitivity have been published. My sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this study. This is the first study of the ways emotional sensitivity affects individuals and it couldn’t have been completed without your contributions.
If you live in the Houston area, we will be holding a DBT training starting October 12. Please contact Anjel ([email protected]) if you are interested. Also, I will be giving a brief overview of RO DBT at the NAPPP conference in March 2019, and would love to see you there.
Photo by Toa Heftiba