Saying Sorry Too Much

I used to say “I’m sorry” excessively.

I’d say “sorry” in place of “excuse me” on the train, and as a “hi can you move out of my way” in restaurants, or when I wanted to tell my friends “thank you for doing something for me”.

It’s probably because my strict mum raised me to be polite. “Sorry”—the Chinese equivalent of “bu hao yi si” (不好意思)—started my sentences whenever I requested for something. And like all good children, I apologised when I made mistakes.

Over the years, my excessive apologising became an involuntary habit. And I noticed this tendency had turned me into someone I didn’t want to be: a nervous person who was hard on herself.

So I sought to change that, and began removing “sorry” from my dictionary, one unnecessary apology at a time.

How excessive apologising affects your mental health

Objectively, I could tell each use of “sorry” held different weight. The “sorry” I said as I passed through a door a stranger held for me was more frivolous than the “sorry” I uttered after I instigated an argument with my partner.

But by using the same word for two drastically different contexts, I had unintentionally made it difficult to tell when things were a big deal or not. I developed an extreme reaction to things that turned everything into a mistake which warranted a “sorry”.

Excessively saying “sorry” made me feel like I was constantly doing something wrong. Especially when I inconvenienced someone, it stressed me disproportionately. It reinforced the niggling voice which told me I wasn’t good enough. And my negative inner monologue made me more insecure and anxious, and lowered my self-esteem and confidence.

It was only much later did I recognise the urge to profusely say “I’m sorry” had little to do with actual remorse. Rather, it was a way to protect myself from adverse emotions or potential threats.

Why I apologised so much

As researchers in the University of Florida put it, apologising was a way to “minimise the negative repercussions of the incident and repair the actor’s damaged identity.”

“Sorry” became my defence, and later, the preface to anything I did because I didn’t want to upset people.

I knew how to handle anger and disappointment, but I didn’t know how to graciously ask people to excuse me, or acknowledge small mistakes and move on.

How I stopped saying sorry all the time

Part of growing up demands a mental glow up so I sought to speak to myself more kindly.

I first considered the instances which would trigger me to apologise. When I’m caught in a situation where I think I’ve made a social booboo, the instinct to want to better the situation triggers the “s” word.

I began considering whether it made sense to apologise. If “sorry” could be replaced with “thank you” or “excuse me”, I would catch myself and use these words instead.

Also, I reframed my “sorry”s as “thank you”s as changing the way you speak alters the way you think. Expressing gratitude frequently helped with being grateful and keeping positive. This comic does a great job of helping you do that.

So instead of saying “sorry I suck” when I arrive 10 minutes late, I say “thank you for waiting for me”. When confiding in a friend, I don’t invalidate my feelings by saying “sorry I’m talking too much”, I tell them “thanks for listening”.

Learning How To Stop Saying Sorry

Slowly, I’ve learnt how to let go of mistakes and to stop coming down so hard on myself. Not constantly apologising has reduced my tendency to have extreme reactions to things and helped me be more mentally stable.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is nobody really cared that I was making these ‘mistakes’; I was just overthinking.

So if you’re one to constantly apologise for no reason, it’s good to remember: “don’t apologise for simply existing because it’s not wrong.”

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Cover illustration by Asher Mak