My M.O. is just do what you do and don’t feel like you have to make apologies for it. I’m sure there will come a point when I have to apologize for something, but not yet.
~ Adam Lambert
So often I hear my clients apologizing for things unnecessarily. Usually the things are completely out of their control.
So why the apology?
Sometimes I think it’s just a bad habit on their part. Often they’re not even aware what they’ve said. After I point out how they’ve misused an apology, they laugh self-deprecatingly and acknowledge that they do this all the time.
Far too many of us took to heart the early lessons about being responsible. In fact, we willingly became overly responsible. Which we then translated into taking responsibility for everybody and everything. And, seriously, are we really responsible for everything?!
I’m sorry. Oops, sorry. I’m soooooo sorry.
Sometimes we use these phrases to avoid conflict and offset potential anger. As in, “I’m sorry to bother you but…” We think this helps us keep the peace and ensures that people will continue to like us. But it really creates an imbalance in our relationships. We’ve put ourselves in a “one down”, submissive position.
Then there may be times when we’re so eager to foster cooperation and community that we apologize just so we can move on. But what message are we really sending about ourselves? It’s that our honesty takes a back seat to getting along.
What’s the common denominator in all of these situations? We’re giving away our power, freely and willingly, although we may not be aware that we are. What’s up with that?
When we apologize inappropriately the implicit message is that there’s something wrong with us and that we don’t know what we need. We somehow don’t measure up. When we do this often enough it becomes our truth.
And is that what we truly want to believe about ourselves?
So how do we hang onto our power? Simple. We say what we mean, without apology. Instead of “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you”, we can say, “Would you repeat that, please?” We can replace, “I’m sorry to bother you but…” with “I need a few minutes of your time.”
Can you feel the difference? Each alternative states what we need without denigrating ourselves.
So, what’s the lesson for us? We need to learn to apologize only when it is appropriate. Like when we hurt or disappoint someone. Note that I’m not talking about imagined hurts, here. We’ll know it’s time for an apology when we feel regret, remorse or sorrow for causing pain to someone else. Then it’s our responsibility to make amends—honestly. But not before. And not when we have no control over what happened. And certainly not when we use “Sorry” as a conversational filler.
And, there are great gifts waiting when we stop over-apologizing: improved self-respect and self-awareness, and more honest relationships with others.
Your Call to Action
Pay particular attention to how often you apologize this week. Stop and reflect on why you’ve said, “I’m sorry” or any of its variations. Have you caused hurt or pain to someone else? If not, how can you rephrase the apology so that you make it a statement of what you need?