Apologizing: When It’s Just a Sorry Excuse

What I Should Have, Could Have, Would Have Said.

I have a bad habit. I over-apologize. I apologize for everything, even when something doesn’t matter. Even when I’ve already apologized once for it. Even if the reason I’m apologizing is completely mundane and ridiculous. I’ve even apologized for over- apologizing. It’s such a bad habit.

Sometimes, “I’m sorry” means other things. Sometimes, I really mean, “Excuse me.” Sometimes, I mean, “Wow. I’m really a klutz.” Sometimes it’s something to say when I don’t have an excuse. Or when I don’t feel like explaining my excuses. I know I’m not the only person who does this. I know because I encounter women who have the exact same problem. We’ll be having a normal conversation, and suddenly, we are in a game of Apologize Red Rover. It’s a bit crazy. I especially notice it when other women keep over-apologizing to me. And I realize how annoying it is. Then, I remember I do the same thing. All the time.

I’ve tried kicking my apology habit, especially since my little four-year-old mimic has started his own version of apology on steroids. He’s taken to doing something he shouldn’t, like cutting his own hair, yelling at his sister, dumping over his water – normal four-year-old stuff, and saying, “Oops! Sorry. Sorry-sorry-sorry.” It’s almost a song. Or a chant. He says it while running to his next activity. Sometimes, I think I do the adult version.

So, what’s the takeaway? Why is saying, “I’m sorry” a bad habit? Aren’t I offering repentance? Aren’t I taking responsibility for my mistakes and actions?

Well, a true apology is remorseful. I offer contrition for a wrong doing. I offer repentance for injustice caused by my own hand. I don’t need to apologize for inconvenience. I really don’t. Why should I have to apologize, show contrition, offer repentance, just to get out of someone’s way?

Apologizing for everything cheapens true repentance. I’m learning to only say “I’m sorry” when it’s needed. By not having a quick apology in my back pocket, I have to start thinking more about my initial actions. Am I perpetually late? I can either get used to it and accept it, or I can start getting somewhere earlier. I can’t constantly make a commitment and then apologize for not following through.

In the same vein, I don’t need to apologize for my children misbehaving. Have you ever done this? My kids misbehave in public. A lady in the same aisle of the store makes a face. I offer a mumbled apology. In my vast six years of parenting, I’ve learned this particular situation rarely deserves apology to a stranger. Essentially, I have two choices: I can either redirect my children’s misbehavior, or I can leave the store if my children are that much of a disturbance. Rarely, do I need to apologize for my children (with the exception of a child throwing a dozen eggs in someone’s face or something). Just saying, “I’m sorry” to annoyed passersby says, “Hey, I know they are misbehaving, but I can’t do anything about it.” And that’s just not true.

I’m learning to apologize only when I know I’ve actually hurt someone’s feelings. If I apologize first, I might make something into an issue that may have never been a big deal in the first place. Wasted words often cause more damage than silence. Sometimes I don’t need to say anything at all. Using “I’m sorry” many times is just something to say when I don’t know what to say. When I feel an urge to apologize, even if I don’t know why, I’m usually better off keeping my mouth shut in the first place.

*photo credit


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  1. #1 by Laura on November 28, 2012 - 3:39 pm

    Over apologizing can also create an environtment in which another person will default to me always being wrong or at fault when that person should step up and take some of the responsibility. It can also lead me to believe the lie that I’m always wrong or bad. Both are pretty unhealthy, and I am healing from their long term affects.

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