It’s a seemingly sincere sentiment that can easily lose its meaning when overused. However, people often subconsciously implement over-apologizing as a means of managing their anxiety and reducing outside criticism of their self-perceived flaws. It can be a form of self-deprecation, as an individual apologizing for his or her appearance or skills typically signifies a lack of confidence in that area. Though not typically used with malintent, it can also be a form of manipulation to avoid confrontation by preemptively assuming responsibility for mistakes or inconveniences that are not the apologizer’s fault. Regardless of the reasons for an individual’s tendency to over-apologize, there are alternatives that can aid communication, reduce anxiety and improve self-confidence.
Over-apologizers are often people-pleasers or perfectionists. They do not want to ruffle any feathers so, at the first sign of trouble ahead, they pull out the “I’m sorry” card. However, this card holds much less weight when used so liberally, often when the apologizer is the one who has been wronged. It is common for over-apologizers to apologize when someone lets them down, bumps into them or hurts their feelings. This kind of behavior has an expiration date, as taking responsibility for such actions often leads to self-blame and the internalization of pain, which can lead to the development of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Children are often taught to apologize when they are at fault. Emmy-nominated producer and blogger Natalie Thomas suggests that society has a way of conditioning people into over-apologizing in childhood through the student-teacher paradigm, making its way into the workplace and interpersonal relationships. Thomas explains, “In order to be respectful, appropriate and professional, I erred on the side of culpability no matter who was at fault.” A 2010 study conducted by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross of the University of Waterloo found that women apologize more frequently than men do. Participants in the study were asked to keep a diary of offenses they committed and apologies they doled out. Women, on average, reported more of both on a daily basis. As the study explains, “This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”
There are alternatives to over-apologizing that can reduce anxiety and improve self-awareness. Being mindful of apologies and thinking before saying those two little words can help individuals determine when an apology is genuinely warranted. Dr. Juliana Breines of Brandeis University suggests expressing gratitude as a healthy alternative. For instance, if someone drives to a friend’s side of town to meet for coffee and ends up hitting traffic on the way, the friend can thank him or her for making the drive instead of apologizing for the traffic, which was in no way either person’s fault.
If an individual truly does something warranting an apology, it can be a powerful statement, but the general nature of over-apologizing has turned “I’m sorry” into a throw-away figure of speech. Over-apologizers often implement the tool as a means of reducing mental health issues. If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety or any other mental health issue, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer