It’s [Too Easy] to Say I’m Sorry
When it comes to family therapy and working with the dynamics of couples, one of the key elements of our work is cultivating a sense of connection through communication skills. Demonstrating an effort at empathy and concern can come through how we apologize – or not.
Of course some individuals trend toward the side of being unable to effectively apologize for moments that cause harm to a person or relationship. Either the lack of verbal recognition or failure to attempt a change in behavior in the future can leave another person feeling unimportant or disrespected.
However, more often in our Sensible Midwestern Culture, and particularly among women – some people tend to default toward apologies when they aren’t necessary or warranted. What’s wrong with saying “I’m sorry” when you see someone experiencing anguish, or even slight discomfort, even when you didn’t cause it?
“I call them serial apologizers,” says Nicole Flores-McCune, LISW-S. “They actually lesson the power of a good apology when they use them all the time. It takes away from the moments when they need to call upon the words “I’m sorry” and causes them to feel inauthentic.”
Apologizing for taking up space in public places like a grocery store aisle or being late when held up by traffic doesn’t convey a sense of sorrow, the true weight the words of an apology were meant to carry. Over time receivers find the phrase hollow and when circumstances require a true apology, you find it hard to convey your true sentiment.
Often we find our Serial Apologizers using hollow expressions of regret as a symptom of perfectionism, which exacerbates the sense of not enough they feel. This is why they feel compelled to apologize for saying no and drawing healthy boundaries, or even taking time, energy and resources to take care of themselves. They use “I’m sorry” as a way of softening the blow of “no.”
If you’re a Serial Apologizer, here are a few things to remember:
- You are entitled to “no.” You don’t have to be sorry for saying it.
- Recognize that errors happen to everyone. Not all errors cause sorrow.
- Express your actual feelings rather than your expected feelings. If you trying to move through a physical space and you bump someone, it would be a fine to say “pardon me.” If running late, express gratitude for someone’s patience in waiting for you rather than overextending sorrow.
- Elevate your own worthiness to the level you place others’. If you would cheer on a friend who took time for herself or put distance in a toxic relationship, then do the same for yourself – without apology.
- Find new ways to convey your attempts to do better without using blame statements: I’ll do better next time or that didn’t go the way I planned or even how could I improve this? are statements that allow you connect with someone without the weight of shame that Serial Apologizers often carry.
Over-apologizing is usually a sign we are taking on more responsibility than is truly ours to carry. Pausing to acknowledge this and then asking ourselves “what do I really what to convey?” can help identify what we really mean.
“I’m here for you.”
“I feel for you.”
“I wish I could make it better.”
“This is so painful.”
“I feel powerless.”