Sorry. I mean it. Sorry for breathing. Sorry for existing. Sorry for taking up space. Sorry for rocking the boat, winding you up, letting you down, raising the roof, all of it. Sorry about that.
Once, at a children’s birthday party when my kids were small, I apologised to a man who stepped on my toe.
I’m over this. Truly I am. I’m tired of being sorry all the time, of feeling less than anyone else and using apology as a way to soften situations, avoid conflict and put myself second, again and again.
Over-apologising feels like it’s part of my DNA. It goes on dates with my low self-esteem. Sometimes they meet up with my inner critic and have a big pity party, fuelled by regret.
There’s got to be more to life than this.
A study from the University of Waterloo in Canada found that women apologise more than men. Their findings are fascinating:
Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour.
So women are just harder on themselves. Full stop. We know this. And we’re sorry about that too.
There’s a lot to be unlearned from the many generations before us who taught us to be ‘good girls.’ I’m thinking of teachers, parents, mentors, the whole of the patriarchy: all those people, including those who spoke through books, films and media, who instilled this idea that we must be good all of the time.
I’m enjoying dipping into You’re Doing It Wrong – A History of Bad and Bonkers Advice to Women by Kaz Cooke. So much of the advice we’ve received over the years is contradictory (like those women’s magazines that contain both diet plans and cake recipes) and so much of it is designed to keep us in our place. Here’s a little snippet from the book that made me laugh out loud:
As women in Europe and its colonies became more literate, and the upper class of women were liberated from work, there was suddenly a huge number of etiquette books in the 19th century. (Obviously everyone had more time on their hands having burned all the witches by then.)
So it looks like there’s a lot to unpack, undo and then change if we’re going to stop saying sorry all the time. I’m not advocating rudeness. Of course I’m not. And I’m not saying that men can’t be over-apologisers too. I’m just saying that sorry can be well and truly overused.
What to do?
- Watch this short video. It’s an ad by Pantene from 2017 so yeah, it’s old, but gee it resonated with me.
- Get mindful. Awareness is always the key to change.
- Forgive ourselves for the myriad offenses that we think we commit.
- Examine our perfectionism and then go back to Step 3.
- Look for alternatives to the word ‘sorry’. I’ve listed a few ideas below.
Lately, I’ve also found myself saying sorry when someone I know is going through something awful. As in, ‘I’m sorry that’s happening to you.’ And a lot of the time, people respond with ‘It’s not your fault.’ So here are some alternatives to saying sorry in these situations too:
- That must have been hard.
- I know you’re hurting right now.
- Thank you for trusting me with this.
- What can I do to make this easier for you?
At this point, my inner critic chimes in. She wants to say: ‘Sorry in advance to all my family, friends and colleagues who might hate listening to me sound like I learn how to speak from blog posts.’ This is another thing I do all the time: pre-empt what someone might be feeling and start apologising in advance.
There are, of course, times when we do need to apologise. But what I’ve come to understand is that over-apologising weakens the genuine apology. I love this graphic from @doodlewellness:
So where to from here?
I’m going to get out into the world – even just from this chair, in meetings on Teams or on Zoom – with an ambition to be less sorry about the very fact that I’m here. I won’t be sorry for interrupting or having a question, that’s for sure. And I promise not to be sorry for contributing an idea. I’ve got a long way to go and it’s all part of my concerted effort to change.
Thanks for reading and being part of my journey!