While cleaning a desk, a colleague of mine accidentally knocked over a price scanner to the floor. As I was sitting next to the incident, the words, “I’m sorry,” expelled from my mouth in an instant. My colleague stopped what she was doing, turned slowly to me, and asked, “Did you just apologize?” I turned to her, only semi-aware I had apologized to her. “Did I?”
The above scenario is 100% true. For as long as I’ve known, I’ve had an issue with over-apologizing, even apologizing for things that really weren’t my fault. Back in my days working at a call center, I received complaints that I apologized too much to the customers, that I put all of the blame on myself. Broken computer? I’m sorry. Unable to reset your password? I’m sorry. Need to order a new operating system? I’m sorry you have to go through the trouble. Need to know the best method to clean the smudges off your screen? I’m sorry your screen is dirty.
Countless people have told me I apologize too much, which I then apologize for…well, apologizing. It’s become a reflex, a shield I put up even when I’m not being attacked. I’ve been told by one friend that it comes off as disingenuous, that I throw apologizes out so much that they don’t mean anything. But it isn’t like an “um” or “er” to me. Well, yes and no. For the most part, I genuinely feel bad for whatever it is I have done; I feel bad for inconveniencing anyone physically or emotionally, however minute it may be. But then there are moments like the story I listed above. Another example:
I was home alone, preparing my breakfast. Cereal sounded pretty good. I grabbed the box and headed for the bowl. Before I could start pouring it in the bowl, I dropped the cereal box on my foot. “I’m sorry.” I paused, looked around to confirm that I was completely and utterly alone, and picked up the box to resume my morning ritual.
I’ve apologized for passing slow moving vehicles. I’ve apologized for having a different opinion than a friend. I’ve apologized for sneezing while alone. I’ve apologized for stepping on a bug. The list goes on, in length and level of embarrassment.
Studies have shown that a majority of over-apologizers are mostly women because of pressure from society. Amy Schumer recently made an amazing skit about it, though, even as a male, I couldn’t help but identify with it a little bit. But if it isn’t society’s pressure that makes me apologize constantly, why do I do it?
As a child, I was very obedient. The only time I was ever grounded I was sent to my room (the only place I really played to begin with), and I wasn’t allowed to play any video games. I was mortified! Enough for me to apologize for the rest of my life? Who knows.
I do remember one moment where I should have apologized and…well…I didn’t. I was at my grandparents’ house, spinning a glass candy dish on a table. It eventually spun over the edge, gravity shattering it to pieces. Instead of cleaning up or apologizing, I ran for dear life. Nothing was ever said about it, at least I didn’t hear from my parents or grandparents about the incident. I felt incredibly guilty, but I never did apologize. Sadly, it’s too late now. Did that one event traumatize me for my entire life? Eh, I don’t know.
I can’t say that I come from the same background as Audrey S. Lee, but I do relate to many of the aspects in her article. I honestly don’t like talking about myself. In one phone interview, the interviewer asked me, “What is the Tyler Trosper story?” I kept it basic because, well, talking about my accomplishments or things I’ve done almost feels like bragging. I felt like bringing anything like that up would be annoying and make me come across as arrogant, self-centered.
At times, I get the feeling that I am constantly apologizing for my own existence. On my deathbed, I’ll probably apologize for dying. I know this is unhealthy thinking. Apologies can be used to express remorse, guilt, and signs of learning, but overusing them removes all meaning. At my worst, my apologies shoot out like bullets from a machine gun, “sorry, sorry, sorry,” as if my mind knew that my apologies had become worthless with overuse and the next, logical step then being to increase the amount of apologies per incident.
But the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? With the two anecdotes I mentioned earlier, the apologies were out of my mouth before I even realized it. I’m trying to correct myself. As mentioned in this Psychology Today article, I try to give thanks more than apologies when people do things for me, otherwise I feel like a burden for not doing something I could have easily done myself. In interviews, I realize the process is about meand how I relate to whatever the topic is, so it isn’t a terrible thing to talk about myself; if anything, it is a necessity.
I’m not going to go cold turkey; apologies still have their place, but I need to pick and choose when to use them. Apologizing for meaningless incidents and not at all for the moments that truly deserve it ruins the very meaning of apologies. I feel as if I need to create a stack of cards, maybe five to ten of them, with the words, “I’m sorry,” on them and limit myself each day. Hmm, maybe I should try that.
I mean, I could have a worse habit. Hell, a study even showed that people who apologize a lot can come off as likeable and trustworthy. Granted, I’d like to think I’m a good person, but I can’t really guarantee that without sounding just a bit arrogant (oh hey, I mentioned this feeling earlier!).
But as the Bleachers song goes, “I want to get better.” I admit I have a problem, and I will tackle it head on. Once I understand and appreciate my own self-worth, I hope I can change. We will see, though. Habits are tough to kick.
I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry.