Over-Apologising: Why You Do It And How To Stop

Over-Apologising: Why You Do It And How To Stop

Pooja Maheshwary

Do you ever find yourself saying “sorry” when you don’t really need to? You could be over-apologising. Over-apologising refers to taking responsibility for another person’s mistake or a particular problem that you didn’t cause or control.

To understand the psychology behind saying “sorry” constantly, we reached out to Dishaa Desai, Psychologist & Outreach Associate at MpowerMinds. Dishaa shared her expert inputs on why we over-apologise, how it impacts our life, how we can stop doing it, and what can we say instead of “sorry”. Scroll down to read all that she had to say!

Why do we apologise constantly?

Apologies indicate a sense of empathy. It acknowledges the impact of one’s words or actions on another. It also is a verbal attempt to convey compassion and rebuild trust in the dynamic. However, over-apologising can stem from a number of different factors, and varies widely in each person. For some, this could stem from a difficult family and/or unhealthy relationship dynamic where apologising prevented the conflict from escalating or even avoiding conflict altogether. For instance, the unhealthy dynamic might have made the individual feel afraid of rejection and abandonment and that an apology is expected to prevent that.

This can cause the individual to internalise the injunction that it is ‘their fault’ constantly and lead them to over-apologise in different realms of their life. For others, it could stem from being quite hard on themselves for the perceived mistake and to elicit reassurance from others even if there isn’t a reason to apologise for it. Research has also shown that women engage in over-apologising far more than men which stems from the social conditioning of ‘feminine’ behaviour…that is, women “should be more deferential”. These are just a few factors that could lead to over-apologising.

How does over-apologising impact our life?

While apologies are necessary and express empathy, demonstrate caring and rebuild trust in the dynamic, over-apologising may not serve the same purpose. Unfortunately, it could possibly lead to internalising blame for something that could not be one’s fault. As a consequence, it could lead to the feeling of guilt which in turn leads to feeling inadequate and at fault, even in situations where that may not be the case.

How can we stop over-apologising? 

Limit over-apologising by taking a moment to reflect before apologising. Be aware and check in with yourself about why you want to apologise—is it for a mistake? Has someone been unintentionally or intentionally harmed as a result of your words or actions?  Where is it stemming from? This reflection can help you be more aware of the intentions behind the apology, and realise the difference between apologising and over-apologising.

What can we say instead of “sorry”? 

Express the sentiment differently.

  • Sometimes, we utter an apology when we want to convey compassion for someone’s experience. For example, “I’m sorry you went through this” can be rephrased to “I understand that must have been a very difficult experience for you”.
  • At other times, when we want to convey gratitude, it ends up in the form of an apology. For example, we might say, “I’m sorry that you had to do this for me” when we actually want to convey our gratitude for the help. It could be rephrased to “Thank you for helping me”.
  • Sometimes, we also apologise for asking questions to understand better. When we do this, we invalidate ourselves and our need to understand more clearly and internalise the notion that it is our fault for not understanding or that it is wrong to ask or learn.  Instead of saying “Sorry for asking”, we could say “Can you clarify this a bit more for me, please?”

Do you ever find yourself over-apologising? Please share it with us in the comments below!

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