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Have you ever noticed yourself over apologising or saying sorry for something that’s not your fault?

During the Christmas sales, a young man bumped into me at the payment counter as I reached for my credit card. He looked tired and annoyed so I said sorry. Satisfied with my apology he nodded and walked away.

Why did I do that? It was so natural for me to take the blame, like an instant reflex. I decided to do some investigation around it.

Why do women say sorry so much?

Whilst I can’t give you one specific reason, because there can be a number of factors; I can say for certain it’s due to our family of origin, cultural or societal expectations.

As young girls we can feel obliged to being more accommodating, polite and helpful to others. That’s because saying sorry can keep the peace, and diffuse a potential disagreement into an argument.

That’s my reason! I was trying to keep the peace, avoid an altercation in the middle of David Jones department store.

Women that overuse the word “sorry” tend to have similar personality traits. They may suffer from physical or emotional abuse, anxiety, or have a desire to please people due to their low self-esteem and submissiveness in personal relationships.

However, Karina Schumann, Social Psychology doctoral student, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, found that women do not apologise more than men. It’s just that women have a lower threshold for what requires an apology. Many women would agree with her findings that we are more concerned with the emotional experiences of others and want to prevent disharmony in their relationships.

What do you think?

Do you find yourself apologising for things that aren’t even offensive or noticed to be offensive?

If you’ve noticed yourself saying sorry because you’re late, you don’t understand, or you have to ask for something then in all honesty you’re lowering your self worth.

Mandy (not her real name), a coaching client of mine, was in her thirties and had very low self-esteem and self-worth. I noticed in our first session that she said sorry an exorbitant number of times. She was very sweet and nice, but was so fearful of hurting my feelings that she lacked any range of personality. She wanted to be good and needed to control herself.

Mandy had suffered anxiety attacks for ten years. Although she said she felt okay, she came to see me because she was lost in her career and unsure about what she was meant to do with her life.

She had what she thought was a good business idea, but felt inadequate. Consequently, procrastination and a fear of success had debilitated her. She experienced constant guilt for not being as successful as she felt she ought to be and said sometimes friends took her ideas and made successful businesses out of them. She wanted to feel worthy.

To help Mandy increase her feelings of self-worth, we did a little experiment around saying sorry. I suggested she become mindful about saying it, encouraging her to notice the number of times she said it and to look at her thoughts and feelings behind it. Mandy noted that she would say sorry to avoid getting hurt whenever she felt uncomfortable. She had a very controlling mother whom apologising seemed to appease. Mandy said she felt rejected by her mother and considered herself a burden. She wasn’t the favourite daughter and could never match the success of her sibling, who was a lawyer.

I suggested Mandy try gently tapping her trolley into another while shopping and not apologise for it. This was tough for her because she felt at fault, but she still gave it a go.

In order to create these trolley collections, she had to scheme and plan. What surprised Mandy was the sheer delight from being mischievous. She then thought of ways she could not say sorry, like bumping into someone or dropping cans off the shelf. She thought of many silly scenarios. It was naughty and playful at the same time. She wondered how many people she could annoy by making a mess and getting away with it.

Mandy said her big moment came when she realised at the checkout that she’d forgotten butter and so held up the entire queue to go and find it. She said that upon returning, she smiled sweetly but didn’t say sorry. Mandy said it brought back happy memories of playing practical jokes on her dad. As she spoke, I could see tears rolling down her cheeks. Mandy’s “aha” moment came when she stopped trying to be like her sister and gave herself permission to be herself.

How you can stop over apologising?

To get out of the habit of apologising start by making a note of the number of times you’ve apologised in a day. My client Mandy found it easy to use my habit chart with columns for what situation triggered it, what she was thinking, feeling and what she could say instead.

Becoming aware of certain people or situations that cause you to apologise compulsively will greatly assist you in coming up with alternative responses to practice.

So next time you find yourself in a common “sorry” situation try using “excuse me”, “I’m not following”, “I don’t understand” or “thank you”.

Remember, an unnecessary stream of “sorry” for this and that throughout the day has the potential to undermine how you assert yourself and how others view you in the world.

Fiona Craig is a life coach, psychotherapist and published author of the award winning book, “Stuck in a Rut – How to rescue yourself & live your truth” helping women get unstuck from their job rut and onto finding their dream career. Her transformational career coaching package helps her clients remove the fear, worry and guilt to confidently take the steps towards creating the life they want to live.

Fiona has been interviewed by The Australian Women’s Weekly, and The New Daily, and written articles for I Am Woman Magazine, Women’s Fitness magazine, Girlfriend Magazine, Career One, Sunday Life Magazine (Fairfax), Collective Magazine, Herald Sun Melbourne, plus several blogs and online publications. You can learn more about working with Fiona at lifebalancecoach.com.au or call 0405 433 217.

Photo by bobby hendry on Unsplash