The Quick Report

The Dark Side of Saying “I’m Sorry”

It’s an automatic reaction for many of us to blurt out “I’m sorry” when something unplanned happens. We do it even when we are not at fault for anything… probably because we think it’s the polite thing to do. In reality, however, over-apologizing can come across in a much more negative way.

Let’s look at the effects of over-apologizing and what you should do instead.

The Effect of Over-Apologizing

Psychotherapist Beverly Engle, in her book, The Power of an Apology: Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships, writes that over-apologizing is similar to over-complementing. 

1. Over-Apologizing Shows a Lack of Confidence

Engle says that when we apologize too much we see ourselves as a caring and nice person. But the message we convey to others is that we lack confidence and are ineffectual.

“It can even give a certain kind of person permission to treat you poorly, or even abuse you,” Engle warns.

2. Over-Apologizing Diminishes Our Sincere Apologies

It’s a bit like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” If we are constantly apologizing for every little thing we do, it lessens the impact of our future apologies. When we offer a sincere apology in a situation that warrants one, it may not carry weight.

3. Over-Apologizing Can Make Someone Feel Worse

Because over-apologizing lessons the impact of our sincerity, they may not take it to heart in certain situations. In fact, we may make that person feel worse.

A study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology found that people who said “I’m sorry” when they intentionally gave someone a rejection, such as during a breakup, or counseling plans, it caused the other person to feel worse. By saying “I’m sorry,” they made the person being rejected feel as if they had to forgive them before they were ready to do so. 


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4. Over-Apologizing Is Annoying

As previously mentioned, when you apologize too often, especially over trivial things, your apologies become ineffectual. Worse, people can feel both irritated and exhausted by your apologizing.

Read More: 7 Ways to Be a Happier, Better Person

Don’t Say “I’m Sorry.” Do This Instead.

Here is a look at the way successful people manage how and when they say “I’m sorry.”

1. They’re Observant of Others and Self-Aware

Successful people have observed others who over-apologize and are aware of how other people observe them. As a result, they have studied their own behavior to learn how often they apologize, and for what reasons.

Because of all this, they are situation-aware, learning when an apology is appropriate, as well as when it is unnecessary.

2. They Know What They Should and Shouldn’t Apologize For

Successful people can differentiate between situations that require an apology and those that don’t. 

They are strong enough to realize that when they are wrong. No matter how difficult it might be to admit being at fault, they know when an apology is in order, and make it count.

Apologizing when appropriate is a sign of emotional intelligence. It can also strengthen your relationships.

However, when there is a situation they can’t control, or when they make an honest or trivial mistake, they recognize there is no need to apologize.

3. Use Positive Phrases Instead of “I’m Sorry”

There are many situations in which people offer an ineffectual “I’m sorry,” instead of a more positive, honest phrase that projects more self-confidence and strength.

For example, a colleague catches a minor error in your written work. Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” you could say: “Thank you for catching that.”

Or you are in a crowded room and blocking someone’s way who is pushing through. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” you could say: “Let me get out of your way.”

4. Successful People Master Saying “No”

Many people have difficulty saying “no.” They might say “I’m sorry,” then make some excuse.

For example, a colleague at work might need help, but you’re swamped. Rather than say, “I’m sorry,” tell them you’re swamped.

Or if a colleague invites you to happy hour, but you already have plans. Don’t say, “I’m sorry.” Simply say: I can’t make it. Maybe next time.”

Being transparent shows strength, where “I’m sorry” might give an air of low self-confidence.