Are You An Over-Apologizer?

A few years ago, I apologized to a chair.

I was walking through the living room with a basket-ful of baby toys/blankets to clean up at day’s end and I tripped over the side of our ottoman, knocking into the armchair and sending it into the wall.

Gah! Sorry, I muttered under my breath, re-positioning the chair, surveying the nick in the wall’s paint, up-righting the toppled basket with my other hand. Ken hears from the kitchen, looks up from his soggy cereal and says:

Did you just say Sorry to the furniture?

I did.

This has always been a storyline of mine. In a long practiced habit of twisted empathy, I can’t not acknowledge when my actions affect someone (or clearly something) else, and the best way to do that, it had seemed, was to apologize for it.

I’m sorry, I’m confused.
I’m sorry, I don’t agree.
I’m sorry, I don’t understand.

I’m sorry, chair.

What I’m learning, currently, is that small things are sometimes just small things. Random. Personality tics, idiosyncrasies, quirky mannerisms.

And sometimes small things are bigger.

Last month, one of my girlfriends – a fellow over-apologizer – pointed me to a small piece of advice:

Don’t say I’m sorry when you really mean to say Thank you.

I’m sorry I’m late accepts fault for things you may or may not have been able to control, not entirely at least. Your kid’s last-minute skinned knee. A (real) traffic jam. The weather.

Thanks for your patience acknowledges that you’re late, and that being late isn’t ideal, and that as a result of your late-ness, the other person has (hopefully) granted you patience by waiting.

And that requires a Thank you.

I’m sorry is an apology for your shortcomings.
Thank you is an acknowledgement of others’ virtues.

I am very frequently saying ‘Sorry’ when I mean to say ‘Thank you’, and my girlfriend is very frequently, very gently, reminding me to knock it off.

Don’t apologize for your feelings. Don’t apologize for being a human. Accept it, thank others, move on.

I’ve been practicing. Just last week, I’d been feeling like this – sad, gloomy, blah – and typically, I’d begin the barrage of apologies to Ken, to Bee, to family, to friends. Gah! I’m sorry, I’m just in a terrible mood. I’m working on it.

But instead, this: Thanks for bearing with me. I know I’m kind of a grump today. I totally appreciate you giving me grace.

Ken smiled, said he was happy to, kind of quizzically scratched his head a little, undoubtedly wondering where his little apologizer had gone.

It’s a small thing.
It’s a big thing.

I’ll probably continue to mix up apologies with acknowledgements. I’ll probably twist the two together and bend toward the apology time and time again, succumbing to the default, saying Sorry to the furniture.

But.

It’s nice to practice a different way, too. It’s nice to save the Sorrys for the times I need it, for the times that matter, for the hearts I hurt, for the marks I miss.

And for all of the other times, it’s nice to say Thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing this post. I needed this advice. Appreciate your gentle, kind voice and beautiful blog space too. Feeling gloomy and blah right now myself, so I will use the “thank you” tip!!!!

    • Ah, thank you Melissa!!!! Hope the sun reaches your gloomy days soon. I’ve been in a funk as well!

  • This is SO me. Thanks for providing that new perspective…”Thank You” versus “I’m Sorry”. I feel this is going to be a game changer :)

  • I totally get this. I am always apologizing, and recently I realized that sometimes when I apologize for voicing my opinion it sorta sounds like I think my opinion is wrong…and it’s neither wrong or right, but it’s mine and I probably shouldn’t apologize for it. SO I like this idea of thanking instead for those instances when an apology is maybe not quite right. Something to practice. THanks for the insight!

  • I love this post! Especially replacing “I’m sorry” with “thank you”. Such a great idea! I am an over apologizer too. It’s something my sister and I made a pact to try and overcome during a visit several years ago where we found ourselves incessantly apologizing. I am doing better, but I still sometimes find myself unnecessarily apologizing.

  • I do this too. I never realized just how much until I was dating someone new who pointed it out to me. I’m SO GLAD that he did!

    I LOVE the tidbit about being thankful instead of sorry, as now I’m overwhelmingly conscious of the “S” word and deliberately try to minimize my use of it.

    • I can’t wait to hear how it works for you, Gloria! It’s been a nice, small change for me lately.

  • I, like SO many women, have this same bad habit. Apologizing for being human. It’s one of the things I hope to not pass on to my daughter.

    • I’m working on that, too, Marisa! There’s such a difference between apologizing for your actions and apologizing for your humanity, isn’t there?

  • This is an awesome perspective. I always know I’m reading something good when I feel uncomfortable, because I identify something (or many things) of myself in your words. Thanks for this post!

  • Gah, I’m part of the club! Thank you for bearing with me! Seriously, while trying to teach a small person about manners and empathy and right and wrong I’m learning where I say sorry at the incorrect times for sure. Sometimes he says sorry for something unnecessary so I say “You don’t have to say Sorry for doing (xyz)…” so now that’s what he tells me- “it’s okay mom, that’s not a sorry one.” = )

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