It happened in a small, crowded office. I stood up, stepped backward, and nearly impaled myself on a protruding fire alarm box made of sharp steel and plastic. A shot of pain went through my back. To my own surprise, and before I could censor my thoughts, I heard myself apologizing to the box ... to the very thing (an inanimate object) that nearly took me down.
Since I couldn't pull the "I'm sorry" out of the air and back into my mouth, I could only laugh at myself. Why was I apologizing to a steel box?
This got me thinking. I started paying attention to my "sorry habit," making a mental note of all the things I apologized for daily. Do any of these sound familiar?
- I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you.
- I'm sorry, I just came from the gym and I'm all sweaty.
- I'm sorry, my house is a bit of a mess.
- I'm sorry, I think I forgot to add the salt to the vegetables.
Watching myself in action confirmed my suspicion. My "apology psychology" needed an intervention. And I wondered, Am I the only one? To answer this question, I began tuning into other people's conversations. I realized I wasn't alone. In particular, I noticed women saying sorry for all sorts of things that required neither remorse nor forgiveness.
We apologized for dropping things, for asking a question, for not understanding something immediately, for disagreeing, for not liking something ... and for liking something. We even used the apology to smooth things over or understate our intelligence (I'm sorry, I could be totally wrong here, but ...).
Our apologies can be habitual. According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of the Linehan Institute which focuses on behavioral research, "hypersensitive, superfluous apology can reflect a lack of self-respect and identity."
Moreover, it dawned on me that I never get texts from my husband that read "I'm so, soooo sorry ..." He doesn't even know there's a wide-eyed, guilty-looking emoji! So, do women apologize more than men?
Well, two studies by the University of Waterloo published in the journal of Psychological Science (2010) found that, although men apologized equally for perceived wrongdoing, men had a higher threshold for what they felt they needed to apologize for. In other words, men don't apologize for not apologizing.
It took a new leap in mindfulness and self-awareness to address my apology psychology. I'm happy to say it's 99% cured (I'm sorry, I might be a little off on my numbers).
Here are a few tips to nix your "sorry habit."
1. Track your apologies.
Make a mental note of all the things you apologize for and evaluate them. Ask yourself Was what I did truly intentional or harmful? Or, am I apologizing to sound nice, to avoid confrontation, or to appear humble?
Follow your apology-trail for a week, and consider why you say you're sorry. If you are trying to sound more understanding or polite, consider changing your language. For example, instead of apologizing for bland vegetables as you set a meal before your guests, simply say, "Salt and pepper are on the table, should you need them."
2. Address feelings of inadequacy.
Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy can be revealed through our tendency to over apologize. If you find yourself habitually apologizing for things you are not responsible for, this might be an invitation for self-growth.
Consider getting help from a coach or counselor. We can enjoy our own company so much more if we aren't constantly blaming ourselves for what goes wrong around us.
3. Laugh at yourself.
It takes more inner strength to laugh at our silly mistakes than to over-apologize for them. When I see a women who is able to chuckle at her coffee spills or wave off her messy house or occasional lateness, I immediately appreciate her confidence and security. Some things are more funny than they are embarrassing.
If we change our instinct, our knee-jerk reaction to find fault, we can embrace our mistakes more readily and become a better friend to ourselves.
4. Say "sorry" when you mean it.
Our words have a weight and when we use them indiscriminately, they can lose their deeper meaning. By saving our apologies for those special occasions when we really need to make amends and ask forgiveness, our words come from a truer place. They come from a place of sincerity and genuine remorse, and from our human need for reconciliation.
Whenever I'm about to say 'I'm sorry', I try to make sure the circumstance warrants the expression. At the very least, I make sure not to waste the precious gesture on inanimate objects ... like fire alarm boxes.
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