People that say sorry alot

Why You Over-Apologize and How to Stop

By Sharon Martin / February 21, 2020 September 18, 2021

Do you over-apologize?

Over-apologizing refers to saying “I’m sorry” when you don’t need to. This could be when you haven’t done anything wrong or you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake or a problem that you didn’t cause or control.

Here are a few examples of over-apologizing.

  • The waiter brings you the wrong order and you say, “I’m sorry but this isn’t what I ordered.”
  • You approach the receptionists at your doctor’s office by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you. I have a question.”
  • While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier accidentally breaks your eggs and sends someone to get another carton for you. You apologize to the shoppers behind you in line, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long.”
  • Your spouse makes a racist joke. “I’m sorry. S/he’s not usually like this,” you say to your friends.
  • You’re in a meeting and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Could you repeat what you just said?

Why we over-apologize and why it’s a problem

In each of these situations, it’s clear that you haven’t done anything wrong and there’s no need to apologize. So, why do so many of us over-apologize? Below are some possible reasons.

  •  People-pleasing. You want to be considered nice and polite. You’re overly concerned with what other people think and don’t want to upset or disappoint others.
  • Low self-esteem. You think poorly of yourself and as a result, you worry that you’re doing something wrong, being difficult, causing problems, being unreasonable, asking too much.
  • Perfectionism. You have such painfully high standards for yourself that you can never live up to them. Therefore, you constantly feel inadequate and feel a need to apologize for every tiny thing that you do imperfectly.
  • You feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, we apologize because we feel uncomfortable or insecure and don’t know what to do or say. So, we apologize to try to make ourselves or others feel better.
  • You feel responsible for other people’s mistakes or inappropriate behavior. One member of a couple, for example, may apologize for their partner’s behavior (being late or interrupting) as if they did something wrong themselves. This can be an issue of lack of differentiation – you act as a unit instead of as two separate people. Just because you’re dating or married to someone, doesn’t make you responsible for their actions. And taking ownership and apologizing for them, actually enables their problematic behavior because you’ve let them off the hook.
  • It’s a bad habit. If you’ve been over-apologizing or listening to others over-apologize for a long time, you may be doing it unconsciously. It’s become an automatic response that you do without thinking about it.

More of a good thing isn’t always better. And this is true of apologizing. Over-apologizing dilutes your apologies when they’re really needed. And over-apologizing can make you look less confident. It can seem as though you’re sorry for everything – for your actions and feelings, for taking up space, for your mere existence. These types of inappropriate apologies are roundabout ways of criticizing ourselves because we’re essentially saying, “I’m wrong” or “I’m to blame” all the time. This doesn’t reflect self-confidence or self-worth.

Over-apologizing is a common problem for those of us with codependent tendencies. It’s a symptom of our low self-esteem, fear of conflicts, and laser-sharp focus on other people’s needs and feelings. We also tend to have poor boundaries, sometimes enmeshed with others, so we’ll accept blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. And we take responsibility for trying to fix or solve other people’s problems. We excuse their behavior as if it’s our own. We feel like everything is our fault – a belief that probably began in childhood. We’re very conscious of being a burden or problem. We’re afraid of rejection and criticism, so we go out of our way to be accommodating.

Know when to apologize

Of course, there are times when we all need to apologize. We should apologize when we’ve done something wrong – hurt someone’s feelings, said or done something offensive, been disrespectful, or violated someone’s boundaries.

You do not need to apologize for:

  • Things you didn’t do
  • Things you can’t control
  • Things other adults do
  • Asking a question or needing something
  • Your appearance
  • Your feelings
  • Not having all the answers
  • Not responding immediately

It’s okay for you to have needs. It’s okay for you to have preferences. It’s okay for you to want something different or have a special request. It’s okay for you to take up space. It’s okay for you to exist.

How to stop over-apologizing

1. Notice what you’re thinking, feeling, and saying. Awareness is the first step in making a change. Just bringing your intention to stop over-apologizing into your consciousness can help. Notice when, why, and with whom you’re over-apologizing. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, as well. They can be cues that you’re feeling anxious or afraid or inadequate.

2. Question whether an apology is necessary. Did you do something wrong? How bad was it? Are you taking responsibility for someone else’s mistake? Or are you feeling bad (or anxious or ashamed) when you didn’t do anything wrong? If you often think you’ve done something wrong, check out your belief with a trusted friend and try to challenge this idea to see if you’ve really done something wrong or perhaps, you’re expecting too much of yourself.

3. Rephrase. Instead of saying I’m sorry, try another phrase. Depending on the situation, you might try:

Thank you – Thanks for your patience.

Unfortunately – Unfortunately, this isn’t what I ordered. I asked for no cheese.

Excuse me – Excuse me, I need to get around you.

Be more assertive – I have a question.

For many of us, over-apologizing is a bad habit. And like any habit, it takes effort and practice to undo a bad habit and replace it with a new behavior. So, don’t be discouraged if you find that over-apologizing is a hard habit to break.

You may also find it helpful to read these related articles:

How Codependents Can Step into their Circle of Control

The Difference Between Codependency and Caring

©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of

Ditch perfectionism and let your true self shine

Do you have impossibly high standards for yourself? Do you berate yourself for even the tiniest mistakes? Are you perfectionistic and never satisfied with your performance? Do you feel inadequate or unworthy? Are you unsure of how to love yourself? With this digital guide, learn to ditch perfectionism and accept yourself – flaws and all! For more info, click HERE.

Sharon Martin

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

Why You Over-Apologize: 3 Tips to Stop

People may constantly apologize for many reasons, such as people pleasing or feelings of guilt. But excessive apologizing may also be associated with a mental health condition.

Have you ever apologized when someone else bumped into you or apologized for not responding to an email in the middle of the night while you were sleeping?

While there are many times when saying “sorry” is the right thing to do, there are times when saying “sorry” isn’t helping you. If you find yourself constantly apologizing, it might be useful to take a moment to consider if you’re really at fault or over-apologizing.

Language matters

Gendered terms like “women” and “men” are used throughout this article. But we understand gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body. So, when we use this language, we’re referring to all people who identify as a woman or a man.

Over-apologizing can happen for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons, according to Jocelyn Hamsher, a therapist in Arizona, include:

  • false guilt (feeling responsible for something you are not responsible for)
  • carried guilt (feeling guilt for someone else’s behavior because they don’t feel guilt)
  • people-pleasing (wanting others’ approval)

“With people pleasing, over-apologizing is motivated by trying to manage the other person’s emotions and make them feel better,” explains Hamsher. “Even if you weren’t the one to cause harm because you’re uncomfortable when other people aren’t happy.

Another reason someone might over-apologize is because of low self-esteem.

“When someone has low self-esteem, they may feel they’re taking up too much space, asking too much, or being disruptive,” says Shahar Lawrence, LCSW, in Utah and Nevada. “In this case, they often apologize profusely as they feel they aren’t worthy of time, space, or attention.”

Excessive apologizing could be tied to mental health conditions like:

  • depression
  • social anxiety
  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Alternatively, Yara Heary, a psychologist in Perth, Australia, offers a different view that over-apologizing could relate to the society you live in or the community you belong to. “When we look across genders, we see that women tend to engage in this behavior more often than men, especially in patriarchal societies,” says Heary.

“Women [who live in or belong to] patriarchal cultures are more likely to doubt their abilities, their value, their behavior, and their validity to take up space in their environments,” Heary explains, “and one of the ways this manifests behaviourally is through over-apologizing.”

To Heary’s point, a decade-old study suggests that women tend to apologize more than men. And you may even recall the viral 2017 commercial from Pantene that brought this phenomenon to light.

Is excessive apologizing a trauma response?

Not always, but it can be, says Dr. Cynthia King, a clinical psychologist and the co-founder of FemFwd.

“In my clinical practice, I see excessive apologizing more often in trauma survivors whose abuse started young, was prolonged, and the perpetrator was in the family,” explains King. “As a survival mechanism, they learned to make themselves small and cause as few problems as possible. Keeping themselves as safe as possible can manifest as being overly submissive and apologetic to keep the peace and thus avoid further traumatization.

King also notes that over-apologizing may be present in adults experiencing prolonged trauma in partnerships. For example, with intimate partner violence, “you may feel the need to make a habit out of trying to keep the peace to experience less violence,” King explains.

If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence, you can:

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day at 800-799-7233
  • Contact by texting LOVEIS to 22522 or calling 866-331-9474
  • Visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for a list of resources

You have several options that don’t include automatically saying you’re sorry.

Say thank you instead

“A great way to change the perspective on ‘I’m sorry’ is saying ‘thank you’ instead,” suggests Lawrence — who provided this helpful chart of examples.

I’m Sorry Thank you
“I’m sorry I’m late.“Thank you for your patience with me getting here.”
“I’m sorry. Can I ask a favor?”“Thank you for being willing to help.”
“Sorry I can’t come.” ” Thank you for inviting me; I can’t make it.”
“I’m sorry. Am I bugging you?”“Thank you for your patience with XYZ thing.” (This is if the “thing” is something out of their control.)
“I’m sorry I forgot.”“Thank you for reminding me.”
“I’m sorry to bother you.”“Thank you for your time.”
“I’m sorry I’m so bad at this.” “Thank you for helping me.”

Consider if you need to say anything

“There is power in pausing before reacting,” says King.

She suggests asking yourself, “did I even do anything wrong?” If the answer is “yes,” perhaps you ask yourself how big the mistake actually was.

“It’s important that the magnitude of what happens accurately matches how we apologize or repair with the other person,” explains King. “If the answer is “no,” then it’s important to resist the urge to say sorry and use it as an opportunity to retrain your brain and learn a new habit based on the facts of the situation.”

Tell yourself it’s OK to take up space

“If you suspect that over-apologizing is a trauma response, but you are now in a safe environment, remind yourself the context in which you needed to over-apologize to remain safe is no longer your reality,” suggests Heary. “Remind yourself that it’s safe for you to take up space and that you’re not responsible for managing the emotions of others.”

The right people will still love you, respect you, and want to know you without you apologizing for everything.

Know that it’s completely OK to say sorry when you need to, and it’s OK to skip taking the blame when you don’t. Not everything is your fault — including why you sometimes might feel like it is.

It may take time to stop apologizing. Try to be patient with yourself, as it can take time to stop over-apologizing, and that’s OK.

If you believe you over-apologize and would like support, consider visiting Psych Central’s directory to find a therapist to help you cope with excessive apologizing.

7 hidden problems that the habit of constantly apologizing speaks of / Bright Side

People apologize so often that the words “forgive” and “sorry” have actually lost their meaning and no one perceives them as evidence of real remorse. For example, in a restaurant they brought you the wrong dish. What will you say to the waiter? Most likely, "Sorry, but I ordered something else." The phrase "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you" at the beginning of a telephone conversation is another example of how we devalue words.

ADME figured out what internal problems the habit of constantly apologizing can indicate. And at the end of the article, we will list the things for which no one, under any circumstances, should ask for forgiveness.

Low self-esteem

In the eyes of others, a constantly apologetic person looks extremely well-mannered. However, this medal also has a downside: probably, such a person is afraid of the negative reaction of others, and therefore tries to warn her with the help of apologies. In other words, we are talking about low self-esteem. And people around notice it very well.

For example, instead of a timid “Excuse me, can I ask you please?” it is worth saying: "I have a question." Firstly, this way you can raise your own self-esteem. And secondly, the reaction will follow this phrase faster than the first one.

Desire to manipulate

We are talking about people with various forms of narcissistic disorder and other emotional abusers. Apologies in this case are fake, insincere. One of the most obvious signs is wording like "sorry, but ...". For example, "I'm sorry I lied to you, but you would have reacted too violently" or "I'm sorry I yelled, but you yourself provoked me."

The main goal is to get what you want. The abuser understands that only by apologizing can he get what he wants from the victim. This is a kind of mimicry: a person wants something from you and pretends that his requests are disinterested.

Of course, isolated cases do not yet indicate the presence of psychological problems. But if situations are repeated from time to time, it makes sense to think.

Excessive perfectionism

This applies primarily to those people whose “quality standards” are too high for anyone (including themselves) to meet them, and violation of these standards causes them mental suffering . Therefore, whenever even a minor event happens, such a person has a strong desire to apologize. This is not a normal reaction. A healthy person will not pay attention to a slight discrepancy between someone's behavior and personal ideas about how this very behavior should be.

Inability to get out of awkward situations

In moments when a person is ashamed or embarrassed, he often gets lost and does not know what to say. In this case, “sorry” and “sorry” come to the rescue.

Inability to manage anger

There is a type of people who often lose their temper, say a lot of nasty things to their loved ones, and then apologize. They may not make scandals as such, but because of the constant and abrupt change of mood, they spoil the lives of those around them. This is nothing more than problems with controlling one's own emotions, in a scientific way - emotional dysregulation. Here you need to consult a specialist.

Fear of conflict

It is much easier to apologize, even if you are not to blame, than to get into a potentially conflict situation. Such behavior may be a direct consequence of unresolved psychological problems from childhood. If a child grew up in a dysfunctional family, where he was thrashed for every wrongdoing, he is likely to turn into an adult, apologizing for every action that may cause inconvenience to others.

This is a kind of attempt to adapt to the environment. If people do not know how to resolve conflicts, they will avoid them in any way, for example, at the cost of losing self-esteem. Others feel this insecurity and can take advantage of it.

Dependence on a partner or other close person

This refers rather to those people who often ask for forgiveness for the behavior of loved ones. Usually this happens in pairs. This means that the person in the couple who apologizes does not feel like a whole "I". He acts as if he and his partner are one.

Another scenario is also possible. Some elevate their partners to the rank of deity. For them, life partners are ideal from top to toe. Refusal to understand that people cannot be perfect is associated with the fear of making a mistake and experiencing pain. That is why it turns out that a woman or a man, in response to the slightest mistake of his soulmate, says something like "Sorry, but he (she) usually does not behave like that." Such behavior may be a sign of borderline personality disorder, the roots of which, again, lie in childhood: if parents punish a child for everything for which he can and cannot be punished, he learns to "block" reality, not to notice it.

Bonus: no need to apologize for...

  • you can't instantly give a person what he wants from you;
  • cannot control;
  • you didn't;
  • have a question or need help;
  • someone does not like your appearance;
  • you experience emotions and feelings that are unpleasant for others for some reason;
  • do not have the information that someone requires from you.

Confess in your heart: how often do you say "sorry" and "sorry"?

Bright Side/Psychology/7 hidden problems that the habit of constantly apologizing speaks of

Stop apologizing at every turn!


Man among men Know thyself

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“I wish you could hear a recording of a conversation of a former colleague of mine,” my niece, Amy, once said. She constantly apologizes for everything, even when she doesn't need to. As a result, her interlocutor must repeat like a parrot: “Yes, everything is fine, never mind,” and a normal conversation does not work out.

I know this. I have a friend in California who apologizes so often that I want to kick her under the table. The last time we were in a restaurant with a small group, she apologized five times (yes, I counted!) Even before the waiter brought snacks.

  • “Oh, sorry, did you want to sit by the window?”
  • “Oh, sorry, I interrupted you. Please continue".
  • “Oh, is this your menu? Forgive me please".
  • “Oh, sorry, were you going to order too?”

When we walk along a narrow street with her, sometimes we collide if one of us takes an awkward step to the side or loses balance for a second. Most often this happens to me (alas, I can be clumsy) - but she immediately blurts out her "Oh, I'm sorry" with alacrity. If I had knocked her to the floor at all, I'm sure she would have looked up at me and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. "

Maybe this annoys me so much because I'm from Brooklyn and she's from the South, where she was taught all sorts of good manners, like leaving food on her plate after every meal. She apologizes so politely and deliberately, as if she received a diploma in apology from the school of good manners.

Some are impressed by her tact, courtesy and demeanor, but there are still too many apologies. What is the cause of this "sorry-sorry" fever?

We felt guilty if, for some reason, we didn't function as an emotional service station.

This is how the women of my generation were brought up. We felt responsible for everything that happened. As comedian and writer Amy Poehler said, "It takes a woman years to forget everything she's been taught to apologize for."

I have been studying this phenomenon for more than ten years, it affects many different aspects. The need to apologize too often may be due to low self-esteem, lack of confidence in one's own rights, a subconscious desire to avoid any manifestation of criticism or disapproval, a desire to appease others and be useful to them, some hidden sense of shame, or the need to show how polite and courteous you are.

Or all this "sorry-sorry" is just a verbal tic, that little girlish thing that came along a long time ago and now just became something like a completely automatic hiccup.

But you don't need to know the exact reason to stop it. If you find yourself apologizing too often, try to do it less frequently. That is: you don't have to apologize a hundred times for forgetting to return your friend's food container, as if you ran over her kitten.

The sorry-sorry avalanche creates distance and interrupts the normal flow of conversation. This is very annoying for your friends, and it will also be more difficult for them to accept your remorse if the situation really requires it.

Only truly sincere, heartfelt words are important. When psychological defense mechanisms come into play, it is difficult for both men and women to express apologies normally.

5 ways to stop apologizing for everything

  1. Pause before you apologize. Stop and ask yourself, "Did I really do something wrong?" If the answer is "no", no need to apologize! To make this decision easier, ask a second question: “If I really am not guilty of anything, do I want people to think differently?”
  2. Express compassion in other ways. If you find it difficult to share your feelings, consider other ways to express regret, compassion, and empathy. Instead of constantly apologizing to your partner, say, "I know this is hard to hear" or "You can always talk to me if something upsets you."
  3. Learn your triggers. Analyze situations where you feel compelled to apologize and write down the 10 things that most often provoke this behavior (for example, you accidentally bumped into a stranger on the street or you want to ask someone for a favor). Come up with a replacement for the words of apology. Practice with one of these situations for a week, trying to completely eradicate "I'm sorry" from your list of reactions to it.
  4. A Formulate your questions carefully. No need to apologize when you just want to clear things up for yourself. Try to ask questions like “Could you tell me more about this?” or “Please help me understand this better. Let's say, on live examples?
  5. Turn apologies into expressions of gratitude.

    Learn more