I apologise too much. I think I’m getting better, but it’s a habit that I’m still working on. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s absolutely necessary to apologise when there’s a valid reason, but sometimes there isn’t a need at all. I think I apologise through habit and it’s pretty comical when I think about some of the things I find myself apologising for.
I’ve found myself apologising to my husband for forgetting to buy something that I didn’t even know we’d run out of, I’ve stopped myself mid-piece to apologise to my sax teacher because I’ve played a wrong note, I’ve apologised to the barista in Starbucks when I’ve paid for my latte in small change. When somebody reassures me or says “it’s ok”, I have been known to top it all off by apologising for saying sorry.
It’s not just me. I have a colleague who frequently starts sentences with “Sorry, but”, I’ve encountered people who apologise to me just because they walk through a door I’m about to walk the other way through, or people who bring a perfectly nice snack to a house party but apologise, “sorry, this is all I had”. Do we just do this out of habit? Where did the need to apologise from?
A couple of months ago I posted about accepting compliments. I said that some of us find it hard to accept compliments because we’ve been brought up to believe we should be polite. I think this form of apologising is linked, we might think that apologising is the polite thing to do in certain situations – and in certain situations it is, but in certain situations it isn’t and in those cases I think the bottom line is that this all comes down to confidence. We might be apologising because we feel inadequate, because we feel the need to apologise or make excuses for the way we do something, the way we look or dress, the way we speak or speak up, or the way we’re not something we think people think we should be. By doing that, we’re almost apologising for being alive. Annoying and frustrating, huh?
So, my mantra for the week is
stop saying sorry*
*unless there really is a very good reason – i.e. you’ve actually done something wrong. If you haven’t done anything wrong, don’t apologise. I think a lot of us think we should be a certain way, or we think people think we should be a certain way. We can’t be all things to all people, if we tried to be, we’d be exhausted, and actually some people do try all the time, and are exhausted. It’s just not fun, and it’s not worth it either.
In reality, other people are usually far too wrapped up in their own worlds to really care what you think they’re thinking or to really care if you slightly got in their way. People might view you as a brilliant person and by spending too much apologising you only draw attention to things you really don’t need to.
While I’ve been thinking about this I’ve noticed that there are a few things we use sorry for. Sometimes we use sorry when we actually mean “oops I got in your way”. Usually we walk away after saying sorry feeling pretty stupid, questioning whether it was actually the other person who got in the way of us and wondering why they weren’t the one to say sorry. This is the one where somebody opens the door, nobody really knows who should walk through first, you walk through it and then feel you should say sorry. I think in this situation we’re confusing sorry with excuse me which would achieve just the same but in a more confident way.
Then there’s the “I don’t think I’m good enough” sorry and this comes in many forms. This is where we’re feeling inadequate and want people to reassure us, we can end up apologising for anything from not looking a certain way to not taking the right snack to a party. I’ve been thinking about why we do this. Sorry isn’t really an apology, it’s almost as if we think that by apologising people will like us more, maybe it’s to do with coming across as more vulnerable. But why would anyone want to appear more vulnerable? Surely being confident is much more attractive and likeable?
I often experience the “I think you want me to do it a certain way and I don’t think I’m doing it to your standards” sorry. Here’s a great example of just how ridiculous this can get. My husband folds his t-shirts in a very specific way. It’s actually quite genius resulting in nicely folded t-shirts straight from the tumble dryer. Can I recreate this fold myself? No. I used to find myself folding things and saying sorry as he would need to refold them himself. Actually, he doesn’t expect me to fold them in any way, as a grown man, he’s perfectly capable of refolding his t-shirts to meet his specific requirements and if I’ve done the washing that day, he’s just pleased he has some clean shirts, no need for me to say sorry.
There’s also an “I don’t belong here” sorry. Think of my friend at a party. She turned up with some great dips but immediately on handing them over she apologised to her friend, the host that they weren’t home made. Her friend was delighted she had some dips and the idea of home made dips probably weren’t even on her radar until my friend mentioned it. I think with this type of sorry, especially where we really feel we need reassurance, we need to keep in mind how we’re making the other person feel. By apologising so much, we come across as needy which can not only be frustrating, but we can also become a real burden on other people. Imagine the host at the party having to reassure my friend of how kind it was for her to bring a snack at all thinking my friend was beating herself up for not making a snack herself. It looks a bit mad written down doesn’t it?
I find that trying to identify what’s causing me to feel the need to apologise and then re-framing the idea can be helpful. Here are some things I’d like us all to stop apologising for.
Some people aren’t happy and we can actually feel guilty in their presence when talking about how good our day has been or how we’re looking forward to something or how we’re just generally happy. Maybe they don’t feel they’re where they want to be in life or maybe they’ve had a really bad day whereas your life is going well. I’m not saying we should brag about how great our lives are, but being happy and satisfied is a great place to be, and being happy is a choice we’re entitled to make for ourselves. Your friend isn’t asking you to feel guilty and if your friend has had a bad day, you don’t need to apologise that yours wasn’t bad, what you can do is let your friend know that you’re there to listen if they want to talk.
Trying something new
Sometimes we feel uncomfortable when we try something new. Sorry I dyed my hair, I know you prefer it another colour, sorry I want to go to France on holiday this year instead of going to the place we go every year, sorry I got a different type of bread but I wanted to try this new one… need I go on? New experiences help us to learn more about ourselves so no matter how much our friends and family tell us the new us is different, don’t apologise.
Telling the truth
It’s important to tell the truth and be honest no matter how difficult it can feel. We should be kind with it, but we shouldn’t feel guilty for telling the truth or saying how we feel.
Saying yes all the time to please others is exhausting and sometimes doesn’t fit with our true selves. If saying no is the right option for you, stand your ground and say no, kindly. It might feel easier in the short run to say yes to something especially if you feel you are letting somebody down or you want to help them, but if in the long run saying yes will leave us overcommitted and exhausted, it is better to admit we haven’t got time to do something or that we don’t want to do something than to make excuses later or to resent saying yes to something we’ve agreed to do.
*If you are actually trying to lose weight. One of my friends has lost all of her baby weight through healthy diet and exercise and I think she’s just brilliant. Surprisingly she’s found people saying she shouldn’t feel the need to lose weight quickly. I truly believe some of her “friends” are jealous of her weight loss (yes, girls can be mean like this), and are trying to sabotage her success. Hearing people giving these weird messages could make my friend feel guilty that she’s lost weight and her friends haven’t. She shouldn’t have to deal with that. If you’re in this situation, just feel great about yourself, don’t feel guilty, you’re not responsible for other peoples’ decisions.
On the other side of this, if you want pudding, go for it. You haven’t sabotaged anybody else’s diet by having a slice of cake yourself. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want, you’re in control of your own life and everyone else is in control of theirs.
Changing your mind
Sometimes we realise we’ve made the wrong decision and we’re allowed to change our minds. Whether this is when buying clothes, changing your mind about a new class you signed up for, or just when you see the person behind you in the queue choose a much better slice of cake than yours. We’re not robots and we can’t get every decision right every single time.
If we don’t find time to look after ourselves properly, how can we possibly help other people or achieve all the other things we have going on in our lives. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself, and there’s no need to apologise. By finding time for yourself, you can be the best version of yourself.
Instead of saying sorry, say thank you
Finally, one great tip I’ve been given is instead of saying sorry, to look for opportunities to say thank you. Whether you’ve walked through a door someone’s holding open, say thank you instead of sorry, when you pay the coffee shop in small change thank the barista for taking all of that heavy change off of you, when you have a moan to a friend about your day at work, rather than saying sorry, thank them for listening to you.