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When ‘Sorry’ Seems To Be The Easiest Word

Posted 17 Jul '13 by Bay Whitaker

Are you somebody who says 'sorry' a lot, even when it wasn't your fault?

In our everyday lives we frequently find ourselves in minor misunderstandings with people, creating situations where someone is slightly inconvenienced.  Or we may find our own preferences are incompatible with someone else’s, and so a compromise has to be reached.  Frequently in these everyday situations, nobody is really to blame, no malice was intended.  However, some people  feel a strong drive to apologise in these sorts of situations.

If you often feel driven to apologise, even when it isn’t your fault, probably friends, family members, or colleagues will have mentioned this to you from time to time.  It may be because saying ‘sorry’ has some unconscious meaning for you. 

Here are three questions to ask yourself if you think you do this.

1. What am I defending myself against by saying ‘sorry’? 

If as kids we were often blamed or criticised in certain situations, we can sometimes develop an automatic ‘sorry’, as a way to protect ourselves.   This can continue in adult life, even with people who we have no reason to expect blame or criticism from.  Or we may have been frightened by angry people when we were younger, and found that saying ‘sorry’ calmed the situation down.  Or we may have wished someone gave us the apologies we felt we were owed, and so resolved to be different, freer with our own apologies.  Everybody’s story about ‘sorry’ is different.  What’s yours?

2. What response do I think saying ‘sorry’ will get for me? 

Some people have imaginary rule that ‘If I say ‘sorry’, then you have to be nice to me’…. Or an even stronger rule:  ‘if I apologise even when it isn’t my fault, then you have to be especially nice to me to reassure me and make me feel better.’  Think over a time when you said ‘sorry’ (when it wasn’t your fault) and afterwards you felt resentful.  If so, it may have been because the other person didn’t respond in accordance with your imaginary rule.

3. What is it like for the other person when I say ‘sorry’ for something that isn’t my fault? 

When we say ‘sorry’, especially when it wasn’t really our fault, we place ourselves in a submissive position.  This may be disconcerting for the other person who is automatically placed in a dominant position, whether they wanted to be or not.  It can feel as if the apologiser is expecting the other person to be nasty to them, casting them in the role of some sort of judge or critic.    If friends have mentioned to you that you often say ‘sorry’ when you don’t need to, you might even ask them what it’s like for them.

Apologies can be very important social rituals, and like any such rituals, they lose significance if over used.  It can be a very freeing experience to give yourself the challenge of not using the word ‘sorry’ for one week, or even one day.  If you are someone who says ‘sorry’ a lot, you might like to try this and see what happens.