We are natural apologizers. It’s in our DNA. And it’s time to knock that crap off. We say “I’m sorry” at the drop of a hat. We are terrified of hurting people’s feelings, we want to make everyone happy, we are sympathetic, we want people to like us. Are any of these qualities bad in and of themselves? Not at all. But throwing “I’m sorry” around is the worst thing you can do for yourself, and for the recipient. It becomes a cheap sentiment and it strips your power away. Men do not apologize as often as women do: it’s just a fact. There are times when you should absolutely say you’re sorry, but we’re saying it too much, and it is often completely inappropriate. Let’s discuss this unpopular opinion: saying you’re sorry is bad.
But why is it bad?
Let’s look at some realistic examples.
Imaginary Scenario A: You have a client who wants to schedule a meeting on Friday, and you’ve already scheduled to take a half day off so you can go out of town for the weekend. You reply, “I’m sorry, I can’t on that day.” Ask yourself this question: Are you really sorry? Why are you sorry? You have a fabulous weekend planned, and you’ve worked hard! You deserve it! So why are you sorry, exactly? You AREN’T. But you’ve conditioned yourself to automatically say it. There are other ways to answer a situation like this, ways that are much more empowering. Better answer: “I’m not available that day. Do you have any availability next week?” This solution is great, because it’s it’s pure fact, and it also leads in to other options in a positive way for the client to not feel put off. You retain your power, because your time is just as important as the client’s. You can substitute client with just about any other person who wants you to do something, and you can’t.
Imaginary Scenario B: Someone bumps into you at the grocery store. You immediately say “I’m sorry,” and it wasn’t your fault. You and the person who bumped into you go your separate ways, no harm done. But what you don’t realize is that you just assumed, and are carrying, a small amount of guilt, even though you weren’t at fault. Why would you do that to yourself? Better answer: “Pardon/excuse me.” Even better answer: Just nod and move on. People bump into each other all the time; it’s no big deal, you’re never going to see this person again, and it isn’t anything to be sorry about.
Imaginary Scenario C: A co-worker gets in trouble at work and vents to you about it. Maybe it was justified, maybe it wasn’t; doesn’t matter. You politely listen, and when they pause, you say “I am so sorry, that’s terrible.” Guess what? You don’t have to be sorry because someone else has troubles. Better answer: “That’s a tough situation. Are you okay?” If you know this person really well, you might even ask if you can help (if you really want to help, that is; if you don’t want to help, you can stop there). Sometimes people just need someone to listen and acknowledge them. You are not obligated to give them more than that.
Imaginary Scenario D: A friend offers you tickets to a play this weekend, but you’ve had a rough week and you really just want to not leave your house, wear pajamas alllllll weekend, water your plants, pet your animals, and eat ice cream. You say: “I’m sorry, but I’m staying in this weekend.” Are you really sorry? Why are you sorry? You’re looking forward to this and it will help you recharge! Better answer: “Thanks so much for inviting me. I have a busy weekend though, and I really need some me time. Have a great time!” Even that is probably too much; you really don’t owe anyone an explanation! Even better answer: “I appreciate it, but I can’t go.” Period. If they prod you, then maybe you can give some additional information, but you still don’t have to say sorry. Because you aren’t sorry.
Imaginary Scenario E: You go to the grocery store with a big list, and when you get home, your partner says, “You forgot to buy butter. It was on the list.” You immediately say, “Oh, I am so sorry, I forgot.” Better answer: “Oops! We can stop next time we’re out.” Look. People make mistakes all the time; it’s part of being human. You don’t have to be sorry you forgot the butter. It could happen to anyone. It isn’t the end of the world. Acknowledge your mistake, but don’t be sorry about it.
I could go on and on with examples, but what we’re talking about here is a re-evaluation of needing to say you’re sorry, when you aren’t.
You have to rewire your brain
I know this isn’t easy. I was a serial sorry-sayer myself, until about 4 years ago, when I heard a woman talking about this very topic on a TV show. Her basic theory was, stop saying sorry unless you really mean it. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I began paying attention to how much I was saying “I’m sorry.” It was a LOT. I spent some time thinking about things I could say instead of “I’m sorry,” or a quick “Sorry.” It strengthened me to stop. It took awhile…I really had to force myself to think about it every time I said it, and when one slipped out, I would tell myself to immediately think of an alternative for the future. But now, I never say I am sorry unless I am truly sorry.
So when is it okay to say “I’m sorry”?
If this comes off as callous, it isn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to harden you or make you a less sympathetic person. It just to make you think about WHY you’re saying sorry, if you really mean it, and if it’s even necessary. There are plenty of times when you can say “I’m sorry”; just really mean it when you say it, and try to be aware of how and why you’re saying it. If you think long and hard about how much you say it, it will get easier to use it appropriately.
Releasing yourself from being “sorry” for every situation and person is very freeing. Don’t diminish yourself and give up your power. Learning to adjust your language and think carefully about what you say makes you a stronger person. When you’ve adjusted your language, you’ll find that your “sorry”, when you give it, it is genuine and real. And that’s good.
by Stacie Herndon
Stacie is a writer, graphic designer, and web developer. Legend has it that she was born old. She has always loved outrageous older ladies, often befriending them over people her own age. She is a devoted Francophile, loves a good Sauvignon Blanc and can mix a mean cocktail. She will have red hair until the day she departs this earth.