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STOP Saying You’re Sorry – Break the Compulsive Apologizing Habit

Any other compulsive apologizers out there? The Sorry habit is a tough one to kick.

This is a problem I still struggle with at times since it goes hand in hand with people pleasing and perfectionism. I have apologized when I did nothing wrong and often in lieu of other polite phrases such as “Excuse me?” I said it countless times every single day, if not every single hour. It was like a nervous tick that desperately screamed “please like me because I hate me.”

I first had this habit drawn to my attention by a former boss and mentor. She sat me down in her office and said “If you keep saying you’re sorry, no one will respect you.” I was a bit taken aback by her candor but I noticed how many times I said I was sorry the next day. The counting stopped at 20 when it set in that this was a legitimate problem.

This habit portrayed a lack of confidence and a submissive doormat status in the work place and in my personal relationships.

Sorry made me smaller in my own eyes and the eyes of those around me.

It was as if my externally validated confidence was a giant tree, branches extending out with lush leaves… degrees, job titles, awards… and every time I apologized unnecessarily, I was taking a swing at my base with an axe.  It was completely self-sabotaging and defeating, and it needed to stop.

I apologized when an issue was another individual’s fault and even when an apology was in no way warranted by anyone. I said it as often as some people say “uh” or “um”. Case in point: My response to my mentor’s comment was to apologize! She shook her head and said, “You see what I mean then.” I left her office with my tail between my legs not knowing what to do or say since my go-to reaction was the issue itself.

It occurred to me after a lot of thought, and way too much coffee, that I was taking the power away from my words. This was a small piece to the giant puzzle of learning to respect myself and KNOW that I am enough. I don’t need to apologize for who I am, and my words should mean something. I didn’t want to spout fluff that I don’t stand behind.

Sorry loses all meaning if you do not limit its use to when it’s warranted

It’s warranted when you did something wrong and apologize unconditionally to the person (or people) who were hurt. I wanted my apologies to mean something, not be a terrible habit rooted in the fear that someone might not like me (gag!).

The following practices helped me to keep Sorry in its rightful place:

  • When declining an invitation or a request, I said “No” and did not offer further explanation. This will cause you to momentarily panic the first few times, but you will be amazed at the lack of reaction you get from the other party. In fact, each time you will likely gain a little bit more of their respect.
  • I actively practiced saying “Excuse me” when bumping into someone or having to squeeze past people standing in the hallway. The key is to say it assertively, but not aggressively. Toss that passive tone out of the window, especially at the office!
  • When having an argument with a significant other or anyone close to me, I refused to give conditional apologies. I determined that I was either in the wrong and wholeheartedly apologized or, I expressed that I didn’t want to fight, I didn’t need to win, I just care about you so I believe we should talk through this issue. The expression “I’m sorry YOU felt that way” or “I am sorry, BUT…” were no longer on the table. You will be amazed how much more productive moments of conflict can be. Also, you will start to get warranted apologies from others when in the past you would have just said you were sorry in an effort to avoid a fight.
  • When I was made to feel guilty for something that was not my fault or was in violation of an emotional boundary, I took a moment to breathe. I connected with my breath and reminded myself that just because someone may be upset with you, it does NOT mean you are a bad person. If you know that you acted with good character and in line with your values, you do not need to say you are sorry. You have every right to explain where you were coming from, hear the other person out, and practice tact and understanding. In some cases, the result will be agreeing to disagree. And that is completely ok.

You will experience some push back if you have individuals who engage in emotional blackmail in your life. This can be difficult to work through, but stand your ground. Your confidence, your respect for yourself and others’ respect for you, and your overall badass-ness will grow exponentially. Be honest, be in line with your values, and be tactful. If you embody those 3 things you can walk away knowing you did not stoop to the level of emotional immaturity, letting your insecurities and people pleasing tendencies get the best of you. You conquered them.

A yoga instructor that I have studied under shared a golden phrase with me. I had a moment of weakness and apologized for needing to take a break during a particularly challenging hot yoga class. Her head snapped towards me and she yelled:

 “You’re not SORRY, you’re SEXY!”

I try to remind myself of that every time the self-limiting S words escapes my mouth. You should too!


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