Sorry I Keep Apologizing: How to End the Habit of Sorry Syndrome and be More Impactful with Your Words

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August 21, 2020

Have you ever said “I’m sorry” for something that didn’t necessarily warrant an apology? For example, if someone accidentally bumps into you, or tacking it onto the end of a request like, “Could you also add bananas to the grocery list? Sorry…” 

This verbal reaction doesn’t always serve us, others, our relationships, or our work. Without realizing it, we may have gotten into a continuous cycle of apologizing for almost everything.  

Developing habits or behavior patterns is natural. We do it with everything from the way we tie our shoes to the way we drive to work. These habits reduce the mental effort required to complete regular activities. 

The same is true for our speech. Take the typical conversation starter, “Hi, how are you?” Verbal patterns like this can become mindless purely out of habit. Fortunately, mindfulness enables us to become increasingly aware of our verbal tendencies and to notice whether they are helpful or not.

Learn how a mindfulness practice can help you develop healthier, more positive, and more effective relationships with your friends, family, and coworkers with our 7 Days of Mindful Relationships on-demand content

How Over Apologizing Can Do More Harm Than Good

Have you been in situations or relationships where you were faced with a barrage of undue apologies to accept? It can feel annoying and exhausting – not to mention distracting. It can drag us into feeling the need to apologize to the apologizers because they feel bad — even though the forgiveness sinkhole was something they created on their own.

Having someone over apologize can feel even more disingenuous than when someone over-compliments. “Wow, this peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the best meal I’ve ever tasted!” Even though apologizing may have been well-intended, just like the boy who cried wolf, it becomes less impactful. The “sorry, it’s okay … no, I’m really sorry … but it’s okay …” cycle can broaden the sense of separation when we are trying to close it. A previous eM Life article shares tips for mindfully reflecting upon and redirecting frustrating interactions in a more positive direction for both parties and the outcome.  

Potential Damage to Ourselves

The negative impact to ourselves of delivering a rapid overflow of mindless apologies is equally harmful. As Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author of The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life states,

“Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” 

Others may no longer take your words at face value. But what happens if your mind does? Imagine the ramifications of relentless downpour of negative messages you are sending yourself. “Wow, I can’t do anything right. I’m messing up all the time.“  Sounds like a powerful way to bury your confidence, energy and enthusiasm doesn’t it? 

At this point, more theory than science, psychologists and communication experts call this widespread tendency the Sorry Syndrome

Why So Much Over Apologizing?

First, because this behavior is prevalent in countries around the world. We witness it, we do it. Still, each of us have our own triggers and reasons for the Sorry Syndrome that are worth exploring. 

What Is the Sorry Syndrome?

The over apologizing ritual, like so many habits in life, often happens at a subconscious level — this is what’s known as the Sorry Syndrome. Fortunately, mindfully noticing this tendency frees us to create more intentional, accurate responses.

Consider which of the factors might be playing into the “I’m sorry” pattern for you:

·   Are you averting a potential conflict?

·   Is it filling uncomfortable silence?

·   Does it feel obligatory? Why?

·   Is it because you feel unsure of yourself or anxious?

·   Does it happen:

o   in particular situations?

o   while performing certain activities?

o   with specific people?

o   with other common factors?

PAUSING to Mindfully Choose When to Apologize

As with other habits that go under the radar, we can deliberately bring our attention to our apologies with curiosity and kindness.

Take a moment to pause and learn how a mindfulness practice can help you control these insecure thoughts and feelings with our Why Do They Think That About Me? on-demand content!

 Below are some practices to increase awareness:

1)    Set aside some time and space to explore this habit pattern. Remind yourself that we all have verbal patterns of communication.

2)    Review emails, texts and other written correspondence for times you’ve unnecessarily apologized. 

3)    When you speak during the day, notice how many times you say it.  Reflect on whether an apology was necessary or helpful in these situations.

4)  Brainstorm other words that could be used to reduce the Sorry Syndrome.

A Brief Practice to Slow Down

In today’s world, we may feel pressure to address everything now. Often there is value for ourselves, others and situations when we pause and reflect before choosing to say anything at all. What communication would be most beneficial for everyone and the situation at hand?

A simple mindfulness tool that can be helpful in these situations is the 4-step STOP practice:

S – Stop: Give yourself permission to pause deliberately. This could be as brief a matter of seconds.

T – Take a Breath (or more): Narrow the focus of your attention to your body naturally breathing. Follow its rhythm. Become attuned to how in its own wisdom the body brings in what it needs and lets go of what it doesn’t.

O – Observe: Notice what is happening inside yourself. What sensations are present? What thoughts? Do the physical sensations and thoughts provide clues to how you’re feeling? Do you have an urge to respond in a specific way?

P – Proceed: Having taken the time and space to check in with yourself, you are better equipped to determine what would be the most beneficial next step to take or not take. 

When heart-felt and well-timed, apologies are a tremendous act of humility, courage and compassion that can positively impact situations and relationships. When not, they can produce dramatically different results. 

Mindfulness is a way to notice our habitual verbal responses, see if they really mean what we want to say, and if they don’t, choose another response. Be kind to yourself, this takes practice but more than likely will be well worth it to you and others.

See how you can build habits to being kinder to yourself (and others!) by registering for a live, expert-led Mindful Daily

Written by Ninette Hupp, eM Life Teacher.