How To Stop Saying "I'm Sorry" Too Much And Nurture Your Self-Confidence

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated June 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The ability to apologize when we're wrong or if we've hurt someone is an admired trait, and the fact that we're comfortable admitting when we're wrong can convey self-confidence and a willingness to take accountability and make amends to the people around us. 

But sometimes, saying "I'm sorry" isn't appropriate or necessary. We might apologize out of habit without even realizing we've done so. There are many potential reasons why this might be, including underlying issues with low self-esteem, mental health, and well-being.

In this post, we'll explore potential reasons why people over-apologize and provide tips on how to become comfortable enough to stop saying you're sorry when you aren't. 

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Over-apologizing can harm your self-confidence

Why we over apologize

While everyone has unique external circumstances that contribute to behavior, there are a few potential reasons why people over-apologize that may have more to do with mental state. Some of these include:

A desire for people-pleasing. 

While a desire to please others isn't necessarily harmful under balanced, appropriate conditions, some individuals sacrifice their own wants or needs while pleasing others.

Fear of conflict.

Most people are inclined to avoid unnecessary conflict whenever possible— but fear of conflict may lead us to focus more on placation than resolution. Unnecessary apologies are sometimes a form of avoidance during times when facing conflict might be a healthier choice. 

Feelings of false guilt. 

Sometimes, people who over-apologize might feel guilty about factors that aren't in their control. This is sometimes referred to as false guilt.  

Feelings of carried guilt.

This type of guilt refers to the kind of guilt that is passed down to us through outside influences in our lives, like parents and family members. 

Societal, familial, and cultural influences. 

Some experts suggest that young girls living in patriarchal cultures are more likely to feel less confident about asserting themselves, leading to excessive apologizing. Our self-consciousness about how others perceive us can also impact why we over-apologize. For example, a decades-old study from the University of Waterloo asked participants to record any offenses they committed and whether they did or didn't apologize in a daily journal. 

The results revealed that women in the study apologized more than their male counterparts because they felt they had committed more offensive behaviors when, in reality, there was no difference in the proportion of offenses committed by gender. 

Children of parents with overinflated standards or excessive expectations around responsibility may become over-apologizers later in life. In some cases, children are taught that over-apologizing is a form of politeness. 

Excessive apologizing and your mental health

Repeatedly saying you're sorry when it isn't necessary may emerge as a compulsive behavior due to a number of mental health conditions. For example, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might compulsively apologize to (temporarily) placate specific obsessive thoughts and urges. Excessive apologizing may also be a symptom of social anxiety disorder as a response to fears about what other people think.

People might over-apologize when experiencing symptoms of depression, such as feeling "unworthy" of others' attention, shame, insecurity, and self-doubt. In extreme situations, it might be an indicator of self-hatred or disdain. 

Excessive apologizing may also be used as a sort of survival mechanism for people experiencing trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by essentially making them appear more submissive in order to avoid altercations with an abuser and keep themselves safe. This process might be conscious or unconscious. 

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How to stop saying "I'm sorry" when you're not

Unlike issuing a "token" apology or saying sorry to appease someone, an unnecessary apology can feel sincere to an over-apologizer. They may genuinely feel sorry, even though they haven't done anything wrong. These circumstances can make it challenging to stop— but there are techniques one can use to stop compulsive apologizing and start feeling more empowered.

Pause and be mindful

Learning to be mindful of our feelings and behaviors in daily life can be a helpful first step toward avoiding over-apologizing. Pay attention and try to identify situations where you tend to apologize unnecessarily. 

Do you apologize profusely out of habit, to fill a silence, or because you feel insecure about "taking up space" in the environment? Does it make you feel better psychologically or more secure when interacting with others?

Before automatically saying sorry, take a moment to assess the situation. Ask yourself if an apology is truly necessary or if it's a reflex reaction to a more significant issue. 

Use alternative phrases

Instead of saying sorry, try expressing empathy or understanding. For example, say "Thank you for your patience" or "I appreciate your understanding" when appropriate. Also, avoid substituting an explanation with an apology. If you're late to a meeting, consider offering the reason ("The bus was running late") rather than an apology ("I'm sorry I'm late").

Practice self-compassion

When we over-apologize due to self-criticism, it can continue diminishing our self-esteem. Be sure to treat yourself as you'd treat a friend: with kindness and compassion. Remind yourself that mistakes are human, and you don't deserve to be judged or criticized by anyone, including yourself. 

Set boundaries

People who apologize compulsively tend to have difficulty setting boundaries around their comfort zone, including saying "no" when someone asks you to sacrifice your own needs to accommodate theirs. If you feel obligated to meet someone's expectations and then feel guilty when you don't, it may be time to set some personal boundaries. 

Challenge negative thoughts

Once you become mindful of your thoughts, you might begin to notice when they're negative or self-deprecating. When negative thoughts arise, try to reframe them into something more positive. For example, instead of "I make too many mistakes," consider "I make mistakes sometimes, but I learn from them." This type of reframing can help you build self-confidence and develop more resilience to overcome challenges. 

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Over-apologizing can harm your self-confidence

How online therapy can help

What motivates one to over-apologize depends upon the individual, but in some cases, it may stem from a more significant mental health issue. Over-apologizers may do so because they fear stirring conflict or difficult feelings in others. One may over-apologize because they feel unworthy of others' consideration and respect, pointing to severe issues around self-worth and self-value. 

Those experiencing challenges due to mental health issues may benefit from speaking to a professional. A licensed therapist can evaluate, diagnose, and develop a treatment plan tailored to the individual's needs. Despite its importance, getting help isn't always easy or accessible. Some common obstacles people face when seeking therapy include geographical location or time restraints. Others don't feel comfortable talking to a therapist in person due to the stigma associated with mental health conditions, or they may have concerns.

Therapy platforms like BetterHelp can remove many of these obstacles by matching individuals with licensed, trained mental health professionals who provide online treatment for a variety of mental health concerns. Online therapy eliminates geographical barriers, allowing you access to treatment from the comfort of your home or anywhere with a reliable internet connection. You can speak with a therapist on a schedule that fits your lifestyle or time zone from the comfort of home via video chat, online messaging, text, and phone calls.

Online therapy through BetterHelp is often more cost-effective than traditional therapy without insurance, and a growing body of research suggests it's just as effective. For example, authors of a 2022 study published in the Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews compared patient and clinician satisfaction, program attendance, and completion rates with telehealth sessions versus in-person treatment. They found that "both behavioral health patients and clinicians perceived virtual treatment as appealing and effective. Importantly, virtual care had better attendance outcomes compared to in-person care, suggesting that virtual behavioral health treatments may be superior for some patients."

Takeaway

A willingness to offer a sincere apology is a valuable part of human interaction, as it enables us to build understanding and connection with others. However, when we apologize compulsively without a reason, it can have a significant impact on our self-confidence. We can strike a balance by recognizing when a heartfelt apology is needed and when an apology results from unnecessary self-blame.  

If you find yourself constantly apologizing when you aren’t at fault or in the wrong, you can speak with someone who can help you get to the root of why and give you the tools you need to set boundaries, stop over-apologizing, and strengthen your confidence. Reach out to a BetterHelp therapist and begin cultivating healthy relationships with yourself and others.

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