Stop Apologizing: We’re Ending This Harmful Habit

  • Copy by: Lyndsay Rush

I’d like to consider myself a pretty accommodating person. Perhaps too accommodating (just ask my exes!) The upside of this tendency is I’m a fairly flexible gal. I can pivot quickly, reassess a situation; make everyone in the room comfortable. The downside? I tend to reflexively apologize or take blame for things that aren’t my fault.

Apologizing takes the place of expressing what we’re actually feeling or needing to express.

Just the other day, a guy was leaving a coffee shop at the same time as I was trying to go in. He wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing and he basically plowed right into me. My first reaction? “I’m sorry!” And while some may argue that that phrase is basically benign and is a filler expression everyone uses, I tend to think there’s a little more to it than that. At least for me.

In fact, when I googled “stop saying sorry,” several articles came up about people (mostly women) who had challenged themselves to give up that word for a week to see what would happen. Most notably, perhaps, was a recent Lena Dunham essay on the matter.

Titled, Sorry, Not Sorry: My Apology Addiction, Dunham discusses the ‘modern plague’ of apologizing, especially as it impacts women. She also talks about her own experience with ‘the sorries,’:

“I can distinctly remember apologizing profusely to a girl who didn’t invite me to her birthday party in second grade, after she publicly handed invitations out to the whole class in front of me. Sorry for my tears. Sorry you had to be mean. Sorry I’m not the kind of person you’d want to attend a Sunday afternoon romp at the YMCA. Sorry.”

A big point she makes is that for her (and for me and many women), apologizing takes the place of expressing what she’s actually feeling or needing to express. It’s a people-pleasing placeholder, and it’s toxic. Not only because it’s insincere, but because it continually places you in a submissive place; constantly apologizing for what you feel or want, the power you have; who you are.

What are a few ways we can put an end to this harmful habit? I’ve got some ideas:

1. Spend a day keeping track of your sorries.

This is a Dunham idea and I like it. She calls it an ‘apology log’ and it’s a great way to see how often you’re saying this word and how many times it is a sincere apology versus an awkward, reflex filler.

2. Ask yourself what you really want to express.

To quote the great philosopher, Beyonce, “Sorry, I ain’t sorry.” For me, saying a quick “sorry” keeps me disconnected from my true feelings or needs. Because authenticity takes guts, and it’s sometimes easier to apologize your way out of things or soothe a situation with those empty words. When it comes to people running into me, I now try and say “whoops!” Which, I know sounds silly, but at least I’m not taking odd ownership for their error. And when I am in someone’s way, I now try and say “excuse me.”

For bigger things like work issues or relationship stuff, I’ve been working on omitting that first “sorry to bug you…” or “sorry to be annoying but…” because am I really? Or am I saying that to get them in a better mood? To get them on my side? It can be difficult for me to just ask for what I want, or owning my power in situations and I’ve found that throwing meaningless “sorries” in the mix distances me from growth.

In that moment you’re wanting to apologize, ask yourself what you really want from the situation or person. Ask yourself what you really need to say, and how you can do it authentically and bravely.

3. Know when a real apology is warranted.

Of course sincere apologies are often needed—it’s humbling and powerful to know how to admit when you’re wrong and where you need to improve. But I’d argue that the less we’re throwing fake ones into the mix, the more powerful our true apologies will be.

This could be a powerful movement—women dropping this posture of apology. When we keep taking the blame for things, we’re not requiring other people to take ownership and responsibility for their own actions. I’ll end with Lena’s final thought because I feel the same way:

“When I replaced apologies with more fully formed and honest sentiments, a world of communication possibilities opened up to me. I’m just sorry it took me so long.”

  • Well, that is what being English is really like… 🙂 But on a serious note: every time we apologize for no reason, we take away a bit of meaning of our actual apologies! Why would anyone believe us that we feel really guilty if we keep saying sorry for the smallest things?

  • This is SO good! Yes!!!! I apologize all the time from a feeling of never-ending guilt. I recently decided I’m not going to let the guilty feeling ruin my life anymore. It feels SO good. <3

  • Liz

    Yes – this is me! In fact my high school yearbook photo as ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ as one of the comments underneath it (from friends in jest but they weren’t wrong).

  • I couldn’t agree more! Great tips and great .gifs.

  • Motunrayo Shafau

    This is so timely!

  • Samantha

    Love this, it can become such a reflex to just apologize when anything awkward or annoying happens and so often it’s not us who needs to apologize. I love the idea of breaking the cycle!

  • jillrosenwald

    Rules of etiquette state that “the person exiting the building or room should proceed through the door or doorway before the person entering comes through”. If the guy was leaving the coffee shop at the same time that you were entering, you should have held the door for him and waited for him to exit. Then you would never have needed to apologize.

  • This is a cycle I need to break. I have been catching myself lately but not enough. I really want to work on this. Thank you for the great tips and gifs.

  • Alef Bet Jewelry

    Agree! I tell people now, kids mostly, don’t say sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong! I say I was stuck in traffic, they say sorry. Why? You didn’t cause the traffic. Say that sucks! We need to stop, sorries are just overrated and when you really are sorry, it comes off as fake

  • Amy Schumer did a really funny skit on her show about women always apologizing. There were tons of articles written about it but I wasn’t able to find a link to the clip to post here.