Do you over-apologize or know someone who does?

Over-apologizing refers to saying Im sorry when you dont need to. This could be when you havent done anything wrong or youre taking responsibility for someone elses mistake or a problem that you didnt cause or couldn’t control.

Here are a few examples of over-apologizing.

  • The waiter brings you the wrong order and you say, Im sorry but this isnt what I ordered.
  • You approach the receptionists at your doctors office by saying, Im sorry to bother you. I have a question.
  • While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier accidentally breaks your eggs and sends someone to get another carton for you. You apologize to the shoppers behind you in line, Im sorry its taking so long.
  • Your spouse makes a racist joke. Im sorry. S/hes not usually like this, you say to your friends.
  • Youre in a meeting and say, Im sorry. I didnt hear you. Could you repeat what you just said?”

In each of these situations, its clear that you havent done anything wrong and theres no need to apologize. So, why do so many of us over-apologize? Below are some possible reasons.

  • People-pleasing. You want to be considered nice and polite. Youre overly concerned with what other people think and dont want to upset or disappoint others.
  • Low self-esteem. You think poorly of yourself and as a result, you worry that youre doing something wrong, being difficult, causing problems, being unreasonable, asking too much.
  • Perfectionism. You have such painfully high standards for yourself that you can never live up to them. Therefore, you constantly feel inadequate and feel a need to apologize for every tiny thing that you do imperfectly.
  • You feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, we apologize because we feel uncomfortable or insecure and dont know what to do or say. So, we apologize to try to make ourselves or others feel better.
  • You feel responsible for other peoples mistakes or inappropriate behavior. One member of a couple, for example, may apologize for their partners behavior (being late or interrupting) as if they did something wrong themselves. This can be an issue of lack of differentiation you act as a unit instead of as two separate people. Just because youre dating or married to someone, doesnt make you responsible for their actions. And taking ownership and apologizing for them, actually enables their problematic behavior because youve let them off the hook.
  • Its a bad habit. If youve been over-apologizing or listening to others over-apologize for a long time, you may be doing it unconsciously. Its become an automatic response that you do without thinking about it.

More of a good thing isnt always better. And this is true of apologizing. Over-apologizing dilutes your apologies when theyre really needed. And over-apologizing can make you look less confident. It can seem as though youre sorry for everything for your actions and feelings, for taking up space, for your mere existence. These types of inappropriate apologies are roundabout ways of criticizing ourselves because were essentially saying, Im wrong or Im to blame all the time. This doesnt reflect self-confidence or self-worth.

Over-apologizing is a common problem for those of us with codependent tendencies. Its a symptom of our low self-esteem, fear of conflicts, and laser-sharp focus on other peoples needs and feelings. We also tend to have poor boundaries, sometimes enmeshed with others, so well accept blame for things we didnt do or couldnt control. And we take responsibility for trying to fix or solve other peoples problems. We excuse their behavior as if its our own. We feel like everything is our fault a belief that probably began in childhood. Were very conscious of being a burden or problem. Were afraid of rejection and criticism, so we go out of our way to be accommodating.

Of course, there are times when we all need to apologize. We should apologize when weve done something wrong hurt someones feelings, said or done something offensive, been disrespectful, or violated someones boundaries.

You dont need to apologize for:

  • Things you didnt do
  • Things you cant control
  • Things other adults do
  • Asking a question or needing something
  • Your appearance
  • Your feelings
  • Not having all the answers
  • Not responding immediately

Its okay for you to have needs. Its okay for you to have preferences. Its okay for you to want something different or have a special request. Its okay for you to take up space. Its okay for you to exist.

  1. Notice what youre thinking, feeling, and saying. Awareness is the first step in making a change. Just bringing your intention to stop over-apologizing into your consciousness can help. Notice when, why, and with whom youre over-apologizing. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, as well. They can be cues that youre feeling anxious or afraid or inadequate.
  2. Question whether an apology is necessary. Did you do something wrong? How bad was it? Are you taking responsibility for someone elses mistake? Or are you feeling bad (or anxious or ashamed) when you didnt do anything wrong? If you often think youve done something wrong, check out your belief with a trusted friend and try to challenge this idea to see if youve really done something wrong or perhaps, youre expecting too much of yourself.
  3. Rephrase. Instead of saying Im sorry, try another phrase. Depending on the situation, you might try:

Thank you Thanks for your patience.

Unfortunately Unfortunately, this isnt what I ordered. I asked for no cheese.

Excuse me Excuse me, I need to get around you.

Be more assertive I have a question.

For many of us, over-apologizing is a bad habit. And like any habit, it takes effort and practice to undo a bad habit and replace it with a new behavior. So, dont be discouraged if you find that over-apologizing is a hard habit to break. You may also find it helpful to read these related articles:

Boundaries, Blaming, and Enabling in Codependent Relationships

Recognizing What You Can Control and Accepting What You Cant

Stop Being a Doormat and Reclaim Your Self-Worth

2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photo byPriscilla Du PreezonUnsplash