Over-apologising is a trauma response!
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Are you always apologizing non-stop? Do you feel sorry for everything that doesn’t go right?
There are times when saying sorry is required and there are times when it makes absolute sense. You arrived late at the office. You yelled at someone. You bumped into someone. You said something hurtful. You missed your friend’s wedding.
But a lot of us tend to over apologize unnecessarily.
How to know if I am over apologizing?
Start noticing if you tend to apologize for needing space or wanting help. If you apologize for tiny things throughout the day regularly. If you apologize for crying or saying no. If you ever apologize for apologizing. If you maybe even apologize for existing.
It’s important to understand from where does this impulse to over apologize comes from.
Over-apologizing can also be a symptom of codependency, low self-esteem, and a tendency to avoid conflict even if it costs us repressing our true feelings and thoughts. It might have been rooted in a childhood trauma when, for example, avoiding the family fight in the case of domestic violence or an alcoholic parent was the only way to bring back the feeling of safety. Over apologizing for the sake of not making someone upset in this case became a learned survival mechanism from childhood that doesn't serve in adulthood anymore.
Over-apologizing can also be a sign of poor boundaries and enmeshment when we accept the blame for things we didn't do or take responsibility for solving other people's problems, excusing their behaviour as if it's our own. We're so afraid of abandonment and criticism that we'd go out of our way to focus on accommodating their needs and sacrificing our own.
When over-apologizing becomes a symptom of some underlying issue and does more harm than good, we can intentionally unlearn this bad habit & eventually get rid of it.
Over-apologizing dilutes our apologies when they're needed. And over-apologizing can make us look less confident. It can seem as though we're sorry for everything - for our actions and feelings, for taking up space, for our mere existence.
Understanding over-apologizing is important
There are so many different roots that over-apologizing can stem from. Let’s delve into some common and most likely reasons that might be the root behind your over apologizing.
Over-apologizing might originate from feeling inadequate and unworthy
Experiencing a difficult and traumatic childhood might lead you to believe you are the root cause of all the terrible things happening around you. Due to low self-esteem, you always think you are in the wrong or causing problems and asking for too much. You might end up believing you are unworthy of love or feel like a damaged person which ends up with you feeling not good enough about yourself.
Those who over-apologize often feel like a burden to others, as if their wants and needs are not important.
You are having a hard time, going through something difficult recently and your partner has been supportive throughout your struggle. They listen to you and support you as and when possible. Instead of feeling grateful and letting them know you appreciate their love and support. You apologize for making them go through the trouble and feel sorry for being needy. In short, you feel sorry for having any needs at all.
Over-apologizing also can stem from the self-worth that’s shackled to shame.
Shame says I am a bad person. Shame “pushes us to hide, our needs.” Because we believe at our core their badness. Sometimes, guilt can conceal shame, she said: “I did something bad because I am bad.” Because you feel like a bad person, or because you didn’t do something “perfectly” to cope with excessive feelings of guilt and to seek reassurance, you might end up over apologizing even without doing anything of actual harm. You can recognize there’s shame at the core if you feel guilty and over-apologize even after you have sincerely apologized earlier and adjusted your behaviour.
You might over-apologize because you want to be seen as a “good person,”
Like many people, you might have been always praised and rewarded for putting others first. You learned that it’s best to sacrifice yourself for others or to think less of yourself because being humble is being good. You might high likely also be a people pleaser. Being afraid of letting others down, so you want to be considered as nice always and don’t want to upset people.
You want to avoid conflict at all costs.
You fear “where that conflict can lead. Fears often have an understandable history behind them, and they make perfect sense if we understand the context.” For example, you apologize to your friends even before the conflict arises because you are worried they will get mad. Maybe you do this because you grew up in a household where conflict sparked harsh comments, yelling, broken objects or isolation, cold treatment which for a kid may lead to feelings of abandonment. In other words, instead of seeing conflict as an opportunity to understand each other’s perspective, work through the issue, and become closer, you see it as “being hurt, shamed, or emotionally abandoned.”
The need for perfectionism can also lead to over-apologizing.
We have such high standards for ourselves that we constantly feel inadequate and feel a need to apologize for every tiny thing that we do imperfectly.
Sometimes, we over-use, “I am sorry” because we’re afraid to own up to messing up.
This sort of apologizing usually says I am sorry so don’t be mad at me. This doesn’t come out of fear or a feeling of unworthiness, it’s more of a reflection of I keep apologizing to feel good about myself. For example, you apologize to your partner for missing dinner with their friends and family for the 5th time in 3 months. Instead of understanding your partner’s priorities and taking out time for them, you feel your apology should be enough. You can get mad at your partner when they say something like, “I am tired of hearing your apologies and I would instead really appreciate a change in your actions now.” In short, you use sorry as an escape.
Remember you don’t need to apologize for:
• Things you didn't do
• Things you can't control
• Things other adults do
• Asking a question or needing something
• Your appearance
• Your feelings
• Not having all the answers
• Not responding immediately
We should apologize when we've done something wrong - hurt someone's feelings, said or done something offensive, been disrespectful, or violated someone’s boundaries.
How to stop over apologizing?
Notice when, why, and with whom you're over-apologizing.
The first good step is to notice that you are apologizing without any reason. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings - they can be cues that you're feeling anxious or afraid or inadequate. You may also re-read written communication to find some of your unneeded apologies. Write down all the situations to get a good understanding of them
The question of whether an apology is necessary.
Did you do something wrong? How bad was it? Are you taking responsibility for someone else's mistake? Or are you feeling bad (or anxious or ashamed) when you didn't do anything wrong?
Replace "I'm sorry" with alternative phrases.
Write down what you usually say and try to find other phrases that do not include apologies.
Give yourself some time
Remember that it has become a habit already and you have been unconsciously doing it for a long time already. You won't change your habit in one day and that is ok. Taking small steps is progress too!
Working with a therapist can be invaluable in helping you gain a deeper understanding of why you over-apologize and do something about it.
Alternative phrases to over-apologizing
SAY THANK YOU
There are many times where a simple "Thank you" can replace "Sorry". When do you feel the urge to apologize, flip the script - what is the other person giving you that you might express gratitude for?