What’s the point of saying anything if you undermine yourself with an apology?
The Primary Victim
When you apologize for something you had no control over, you put yourself at a mental disadvantage and aren’t as enjoyable to talk with. Like a human Zamboni machine – frantically erasing the tracks you made. Negating any potential effect or value to contribute. By apologizing for things that don’t require it — from talking for a while to someone else running into you at the grocery store — you’re burdening and criticizing yourself unnecessarily. The result is a burden shame and guilt built up over time. You lower your self-esteem and perception of self-efficacy by apologizing unnecessarily.
Juliana Breines, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Brandeis University says “Over-apologizing can stem from being too hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up for things, rather than recognizing everyone makes mistakes and no one expects you to be perfect.”
Not only do you cheat yourself when you needlessly apologize for things, you also cheat others of engaging with you in a free manner. It’s uncomfortable to be in a conversation with someone who ceaselessly apologizes for the things they say – it’s awkward to have to assure someone that “No, it’s fine, I understand. Really, don’t worry about it.” Eventually, it gets old and the easy assurances turn to internal pleading for this person to just stop apologizing already I get it you were late, stop making a bigger deal out of it than it is.
There can tangible professional costs as well. People who apologize constantly are usually viewed as less competent. If you’re an employer, are you more likely to assign a challenging project to an employee who shows up to their job and acts with confidence, or an employee who says sorry anytime someone else steps on their foot. Which are you more likely to take seriously, to give a raise, to promote. Obviously, a job performance doesn’t rely solely on outward confidence, but I know I do a better job when I’m in a peak state and owning my mental and physical space.
Exchange “Sorry” for “Thank you”
If you’re reading this and thinking “Okay, great to know. Apologizing needlessly is bad and harms everyone. What am I supposed to do about it?” here’s a suggestion.
When something you can or cannot control affects someone else or inconveniences them – you can thank them.
If you’re late to meet them, thank them for their patience rather than apologizing for the traffic.
If you’re having a conversation with someone and you recognize that you’ve spent a while talking, rather than cutting yourself off and apologizing for monopolizing the conversation, thank them for listening to you, and helping you process something. This mental switch forces you to operate with a gratitude mindset and makes your conversation partner feel valued.
Stuff happens. If you hurt someone, apologize. Otherwise, don’t. Simple as that.
A personal resource I found incredibly helpful is “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden. It was life-changing. If you’re looking for practical exercises, and to gain a deeper knowledge of yourself and how to become a more effective human, check out his work and try some sentences stems. They’re revealing.