Over-apologizing diminishes the significance of a sincere apology

Mackenzie Bill, asst. opinions editor


Someone ran into me in the hallway. I saw them coming, eyes glued to their phone. I attempted to move out of the way but there were people on both sides of me. Immediately after we bumped shoulders, I quickly sputtered out “I’m so sorry. Sorry about that”, even though it wasn’t really my fault.

This was the moment that I realized that “I’m sorry” had become my crutch. Apologies of every shape and size have woven their way into my conversations a little too often lately. Whether it is in public, in the hallway at school, or at home, it was something that I quickly turned to if I felt uncomfortable or felt I was at fault. 

It was almost like I longed to be at fault for something to take the blame from someone else. 

It took a while for me to notice my pattern of over-apologizing, but once I recognized it, I decided that I needed to stop. My go-to apology was often disingenuous, and it didn’t bring any meaning or resolution to the situation.

Often, I have apologized for saying “no” to something. This has been frequent in the time of Covid-19 when my family and I are trying to be cautious. When saying “no” to hanging out with friends, an “I’m sorry” always seemed to slip out. 

I am starting to learn to stop expressing regret and remorse for staying within my own limits, especially when some of the things that I am apologizing for are out of my control. 

And I have also apologized for simply being myself.

I have apologized for my personality. My morals. My interests. When I tear myself down like this, especially in the midst of a problem, I immediately feel that “me” as a whole needs to be excused. 

I have felt pressured at times to shrivel in the face of a problem. “I’m sorry” seems easier than dealing with something head-on or standing up for myself. When I stop over-apologizing, I find respect for myself. Self-respect is just as important as respect for others.

In the midst of my attempts to stop over-apologizing, I have asked myself, “Why does it matter?” Usually, when I apologize, it deescalates the situation and everyone is happier. I am able to keep everyone calm and it prevents others from becoming defensive and closed off. But I have found that over-apologizing decreases the value of a true apology. Apologizing for someone running into me in the hallway is vastly different from apologizing for hurting someone. When I would intermix my usage of “I’m sorry” between moments where I don’t mean it and when I do, the impact of a true apology is worn away.

It is valuable to recognize, though, that showing contrition is beneficial. Instead, I am focusing on the idea of apologizing when it isn’t reasonable considering the context that you are in. It is up to your own judgment to decipher when a true apology is needed, as one meaningful apology is more important than a dozen untruthful ones.

 I apologize when I hurt someone else’s feelings because of a genuine mistake. I apologize when I do something that is truly my fault, not someone else’s.

But now I don’t apologize for expressing my beliefs or opinions. I don’t apologize for being who I am.

Rather than apologizing for something like running late or not doing something on time, I thank the person for waiting for me. It is a more productive way of communicating, and less guilt is involved. If a friend is having a hard time, I empathize with them and let them know that I am there for them. Transforming an “I’m sorry” to “How can I help you?” can let them know that I really am there for them. Rephrasing “I’m sorry” for something more appropriate for the situation can help decrease over-apologies.

It can be hard to stop over-apologizing, especially in uncomfortable moments. But I encourage you to reflect and transform some of the “I’m sorry”s to meaningful conversations.