I’m so sorry to bother you… I’m sorry I got upset… I’m sorry I was so emotional… Do these sound familiar to you? We often over apologize as HSPs, saying sorry for things when we haven’t done anything wrong or things that aren’t within our control.
How often do you apologize? This may seem harmless on the surface but if we dig a little deeper we start to see that frequently saying sorry begins to affect our confidence and undermine our authority. And saying sorry too often it can make the necessary apologies we need to make seem insincere.
Not to brag but I used to be a professional over-apologizer. It took many years of introspection and the experience of being in a healthy relationship, to understand that it was directly related to how I was raised, but just because I now recognize it doesn’t meant that breaking the habit is any easier.
If we were raised in homes where it was unacceptable to share our thoughts or opinions or we were criticized or punished for trying to be assertive, creative, or just our beautifully flawed selves , we can often adopt apologizing as a way to be the peacemaker. When we’re scolded by parents and others in authority who have complete control over us as kids we can not only shut down but also be made to feel guilty, when we’re told that we’re wrong for every small thing we do or say that may displease, annoy, or make someone uncomfortable. So we apologize.
Over-apologizing can be a common problem for those of us with codependent tendencies. We can have a fear of conflicts so we focus on other people’s needs and feelings. As HSPs we might also struggle with boundaries so we’ll accept blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control or take responsibility for trying to fix or solve other people’s problems.
But by doing this we excuse their behavior as if it’s our own. If we do feel as if everything is our fault it might be from stories we were told about ourselves as kids so we often see ourselves as being a burden or problem.
Over apologizing doesn’t have to stem from childhood experiences or traumas, as highly sensitive people we can easily turn into people pleasers. Maybe we’re trying to connect with other people to feel accepted or we worry about what others think of us. Subconsciously we may be depending on external validation because we want reassurance that we’re liked or that we’re doing a good job. We may feel somehow responsible for someone else’s behavior and feel the need to apologize FOR them, or maybe we’re afraid of rejection and criticism, so we go out of our way to be accommodating.
Many of us can suffer from a lack of confidence and self-esteem because we’re taught that our sensitivity is wrong, that we’re being difficult and unreasonable and that our sensitivity is causing problems for others, so we fall into the habit of apologizing for things when it’s completely unnecessary.
And this is especially true for women and marginalized and disenfranchised people. When you’re excluded from the mainstream because of your race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, language, or immigration status you may feel more pressure to apologize for things that you have no control over in an attempt to maintain your job security, your personal safety or to just keep the peace.
So how do we start to stop over-apologizing?
1. Develop Awareness.
Awareness is a key first step to making positive change. Try to notice and even better keep a journal or a small notebook of the whens, whys, and who’s you’re apologizing to. Write down your thoughts and feelings around these events and what may be triggering you to over-apologize. Are you feeling anxious? Maybe inadequate or self-conscious? Remember there are no right or wrong answers, just how you’re feeling and why without assigning any judgment or blame to it. We’re on a research mission here… nothing more.
2. Was the apology necessary?
Did you actually do something or say something that hurt another person or living creature? Or did you make a simple mistake with no ill intentions? Or Are you taking responsibility for something that someone else said or did? Try to remember that you only really need to apologize when you’ve done something that hurt another person, and not just because someone is upset with you or because you feel the need to take the blame for someone else or simply to make peace.
When we apologize from a place of fear we’re taking on the responsibility of another person’s feelings and emotions, and unless we’ve done something truly and purposely hurtful, compulsive apologies will only undermine genuine ones that we may need to make in the future. What we can do is express compassion that someone is feeling hurt and offer to help them get to the root of why they feel upset.
3. Choose different words.
Once we’re more self-aware of our apologizing we can begin to change the words we use. Just by making a few small changes to our language we start to change our perspective and become more confident.
Try these words instead:
- Instead of: Sorry I’m late
- Try: Thanks for waiting.
- Instead of: Sorry to bother you
- Try: Do you have a minute?
- Instead of: Sorry I’m upset or sorry I’m such a burden
- Try: Thank you for listening
- Instead of: Sorry I have a question
- Try: Can I ask a question?
And the most important one for us as HSPs?
- Instead of: Sorry I’m so sensitive Try: Thanks for understanding / Yes, I’m sensitive to (x, y, or z) and I appreciate your patience. / Thanks for your flexibility.
As HSPs we can have a strong empathy for others, but sometimes we can too easily put ourselves in their shoes and even though this can be a wonderful trait for many reasons we do need to seek out a healthy balance, recognizing that this will look a little bit different for everyone.
Like any other habit, overcoming unnecessary apologizing takes practice. The more you notice the habit, the more you’ll begin to avoid the words “I’m sorry”. If you tend to say I’m sorry often be prepared that it might not be easy to let go of as you seek out new ways to communicate.
Remember to be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate and patient on your journey as you learn, grow and embrace the experience of not apologizing for who you are.