How to Stop Saying Sorry So Much (And Why You Do It)

How often do you apologize when you didn’t actually do something wrong? For many of us, saying “I’m sorry” becomes a way to smooth over an awkward situation or soften a hard truth. Although a well-timed apology has its place, do it too often and you may see impacts to your relationships, health and job.

Career experts recommend trying to break the “I’m sorry” habit ASAP because it can negatively affect the way people perceive you at work. If you find yourself apologizing frequently, the first step to breaking the habit may be to understand why you do it.

You May Be Avoiding Conflict

People often apologize because they’re trying to smooth over disagreements and avoid conflict. If this becomes a habit at work or in personal relationships, your mental health - and your reputation - can suffer.

If you regularly apologize to your close friends and family instead of voicing your opinions, you may fall into a dangerous pattern. Over time, suppressing your true feelings could lead to resentment and anger.

Although sometimes it is important to apologize to your significant other, even if you don’t feel you did something wrong, try not to do this every single time you disagree. Some disagreements are important enough that they need to be discussed and resolved instead of smoothed over.

The same is true at work. A workplace without healthy conflict can lead to complacency. Rather than being the one who always tries to keep the peace, choose things that are important to you and make sure that your opinion is heard. The most effective workplaces make space for discussion and disagreement.

You Might Have Anxiety

If you find yourself re-thinking every situation and apologizing excessively, it may be a symptom of anxiety. People who are anxious tend to create issues where there are none. Then they apologize for these perceived mistakes or slights, even when the other person doesn’t feel wronged.

The AI Therapy site observes, “Many people with social anxiety have very high standards for their own social performance.” If you are anxious in social settings, you may often break your own rules and feel the need to right the situation by apologizing.

In this case, you are actually apologizing for a mistake that you feel you made - even though the person you are apologizing to might not see it that way.

You Might Be You Socially Adept

Apologizing in social settings actually makes people like us more. In an experiment conducted by Harvard Business School and Wharton, study participants asked to borrow a stranger’s phone on a rainy day. When the borrower prefaced the request with an apology for the weather, the phone-lending rate was 47%. Without the apology, the loan rate was just 9%!

Apologizing can be a good way to show that you have empathy for the other person, and that in turn makes people feel good about you. Apologizing can actually be a very good tool for social situations, and it makes sense that people use it. The trick is to avoid over-using this tool!

If your apologies aren’t making you feel unheard or resentful, you’re probably in the healthy zone. Just make sure that saying “I’m sorry” isn’t taking away from a more important message that you should be communicating clearly.

Gender & Social Expectations Might Be At Play

Studies show that women are more sensitive than men to situations where there is perceived wrongdoing. In one study, women and men were asked to determine whether three different hypothetical scenarios deserved an apology. Women perceived the scenarios as requiring an apology more frequently than men did.

Another study showed that women apologize more often. They report more apology-worthy offenses relative to men. There’s no assessment of right or wrong in these studies. Men and women simply have different thresholds for apologizing.

How To Apologize Less

If you are uncomfortable with how much you apologize, first consider the underlying reason. If you are simply avoiding conflict, you may be able to address this on your own by taking a stand on low-stakes situations. Then you can progress to bigger disagreements.

If you have low-level social anxiety, you might consider the “spotlight effect” - that is, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to pay too much attention to what you’re doing! This might help you be easier on yourself and apologize less.

There are some conditions for which you’ll need to seek more assistance. If you feel that you can’t do what you’d like to do because of anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very effective treatment.