And that includes me.
If I counted the number of times I apologize over the course of a single day, would the tally surprise me? I suspect it would. And that’s a shame, because excessive apologies undermine our authority, come off as disingenuous, and diminish the perception of our confidence and competence.
Worse – we erode something in ourselves in the process.
Sorry State of Affairs
I was thinking about this subject after sending an “apology for the delay” email (due to a computer crash), an “apology for taking your time” email (over a complex financial matter), and extending apologies to my kids and my Significant Other for what seems like weeks. There were several other apologies for expressing myself angrily with two other individuals who hadn’t performed as they should, in a matter with potentially dramatic consequences.
But here’s what I realize: My anger was legitimate, my voicing what was wrong about the unacceptable behavior even more so, and I had no reason to say I was sorry.
Men get angry all the time. Do they apologize profusely afterward?
Only if the response was truly unfounded.
My “sorry” in the instances I mention was to smooth things over, which served a purpose. However, I should have found a different way to accomplish that without weakening my own position.
Why We Apologize
The reasons we apologize are many and varied. The reasons we’re more likely to apologize as well. My reasons these past weeks may be traced to my generally cranky mood, my unavailability, my fatigue, my work priorities, my lack of sleep – all of which are, of course, interrelated.
There has also been a brief dip into post-divorce muck and mire, as aforementioned financial matters tend to trigger specific recollections and resentment that are less than pleasant.
Apologies can be helpful – for clearing the air, for improving communication, or as a matter of proper etiquette.
Listen. I’m all for apologizing when appropriate. But when my man responded to the latest “I’m sorry” from yours truly, he simply replied: “No need.” And then he elaborated, citing my legitimate reasons for being irritated, tired, and resentful. And it occurred to me just how often I’m saying “sorry” these days.
I really need to stop.
The Sense in Sorry: When and Why to Apologize
The hollow apology?
Sure, it serves its social purpose, its professional purpose, and it’s certainly part of the mea culpa political landscape. It may be used to manage ruffled feathers, and it’s part of female conditioning, certainly for some of us, when it comes to avoiding conflict or unpleasantness.
The sincere apology is a vital element in relationships. When you know you’ve misinterpreted, miscalculated, or generally messed up, not only do you have to speak words of remorse, but you need to mean them and if possible, to set things right.
Still, an apology is, on some level, an admission of doing wrong or being wrong. At the very least, it expresses a feeling of being in the wrong. In some cultures, to admit any wrong-doing is less acceptable than in American society where our “sorry” verbiage has become automatic. And that leads me to our over-apologizing – and the necessity of cutting it out.
The Psychology of Apologizing… Too Much
Psychology Today has a thing or two to say about this phenomenon. According to “When I’m Sorry is Too Much,” research suggests that women perceive that they commit more offenses that warrant an apology than men.
… women may be more prone to over-apology than men. A recent set of studies… found that female participants apologized more in their daily lives than male participants.
Another study focuses on social differences between the genders:
… men might simply be less attuned to social offenses in general, while women may be more socially attuned. Another way to interpret the results is that women may sometimes be over-attuned, apologizing for perceived offenses that other people do not find offensive or even notice.
Ah. Light bulb.
Can You Ever Be Too Sorry?
Thinking back, I recognize that in the years following divorce, I apologized constantly – for everything and anything. I internalized the sense of defeat in the end of my marriage, and those feelings spilled over in my language.
In fact, I recall an especially stressful time a few years back when I was apologizing so often to one of my kids that he finally had enough.
“Mom, please stop apologizing,” he said.
Noting how uncomfortable I was making him – my apologies masking guilt over feeling I wasn’t doing enough – I saw that my distress was making him feel like he was the cause. And he definitely was not.
Habit, Self-Esteem, Career Impacts
The trouble with apologizing too much is that it becomes mechanical, false, self-sabotaging. It may replace necessary changes that would replace the need to apologize in the first place. Or, as in my case over the past few weeks, it’s a reflection of a state of mind, frustration, and also my upbringing. It took the man in my life calling me on it for me to realize that I’ve been subconsciously beating myself up over what I perceive as not giving enough, not accomplishing enough, not performing to my own preferred standard.
The result? I apologize – too often – and unnecessarily. And apparently I’m typical of a gender gap in saying sorry.
I came across this article at Levo League mentions recent research that confirms the “sorry gap.” Referring to her own “auto-apology” problem, Meredith Lepore writes:
… I have a problem: I apologize all the time. I apologize when waiters screw up my order, I apologize when I trip and hurt myself, I apologize when someone else’s dog yaps at my dog…
Own Responsibility, Disown Defeat
Excessive apologizing has been part of my stock and trade. Moreover, “sorry” can become a linguistic habit. But my own sorry state of affairs is cyclical, and I’m aware of my periodic lapses. I’m also aware that there’s a difference between owning responsibility for a mistake or an uncomfortable moment, and slipping into a self-defeating position of weakness by deflecting real issues with “sorry,” or always absorbing blame.
Like Ms. Lepore, I’m uncertain when it began but aware that it’s something I need to address. I am guilty as charged when I’m tired, when confidence is lagging, when it’s easier than facing confrontation, when I’m feeling somehow inadequate.
I intend to take note of when and why I’m saying it, writing it, thinking it or feeling it. I need to eliminate the words when they are not required, be especially attentive in the professional arena, and as a woman – stop the Sorry Express – in. its. tracks.
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