Do You Apologize When You Shouldn’t? A New Perspective

Photo by Roberto Delgado Webb on Unsplash

I did something recently. You’ve done it, too, I’m sure. Many times, if you’re at all like me, which I’m guessing you are. (Tell me I’m not the only one!)

But before we get to the thing, let me set the stage.

The new year prompted me to join “just a few” self-improvement challenges. (I turned down way more than I joined — honest!)

I suspect you may have joined “a few” self-improvement challenges at some point, too. But that’s not the thing.

I joined these challenges even though I had other beginning-of-the-year obligations at work and at home. My calendar said it made no sense to commit to so many challenges. But it made sense in my head because I knew I’d get ahead on my work obligations over Christmas, so I’d be prepared…

Yep, that turned out to be, um, short-sighted.

Perhaps you’ve overloaded your schedule at times, as well.

Or mis-remembered how your actual life looks and focused instead on how you’d like your ideal life to be. (Will I ever remember that ‘time off at Christmas’ has never once translated to ‘getting a head start on the New Year?’ Never.)

But that’s not the thing, either.

I started one of the online challenges today (oh, the guilt!!) and watched the replay of the Welcome video (I “should have” been there the day it aired, but my new term started that day) — I KNOW you have those automatic negative thoughts, too. But that’s still not the thing.

As I introduced myself in the challenge’s Facebook group, I mentioned I enjoyed the video (I did!), and am excited and optimistic about the program (I am!). Then I continued:

“I just got around to watching the replay of the first video; I couldn’t attend the live meeting, because…”

Hmmm… call it Holy Spirit or insight, but I stopped and deleted the half sentence.

Now here’s the thing:

Do you sometimes apologize or give excuses when they’re not warranted?

The course leader stressed the ‘at-your-own-pace’ aspect of the challenge. She didn’t require attendance for the welcome video session — that’s WHY she recorded it.

So, why the apology and excuses?

I realized they come from places of guilt and shame, and represent a form of people-pleasing.

What?!

The unconscious assumption is:

You girls [in the Facebook group] already think I’m “bad” because I’m not on top of it, because I didn’t start the course on Monday as I’d planned. But if I tell you my Very Good Reason, you’ll “forgive” me and it’ll be okay for me to participate in the group… because it’s not okay enough already. I’m not okay enough.

Wow.

But no one shamed me because I started the course “late.” ‘At your own pace’ means late doesn’t exist.

I shamed me — in my head and in front of everyone else — because I didn’t meet my own expectations. Again.

An almost-conscious part of me assumed the group members were disappointed in me because I didn’t meet my expectations. As if they knew — or cared; they’re strangers!

  • But I needed their “approval.”
  • I didn’t want to be the “slacker” in the group, so I needed their forgiveness.
  • And I needed to show them (and myself) I had a good reason to start late.

It’s a sickness, this apologizing to, and sharing excuses with, people we haven’t harmed in any way.

And it’s one of the subtle ways we reinforce the negative thoughts circling our brains.

So let’s stop doing that, m’kay?

You and me both.

Let’s take a moment before we apologize or break into our song-and-dance about why we didn’t do The Thing That Doesn’t Really Matter.

Because we’re bullying ourselves. Holding ourselves to irrelevant standards.

But that’s not all…

We’re hurting others with our apologies as well.

Sure, we annoy people who have to listen to our perpetual apologies.

But we do actual harm to them, as well.

Because if my watching the video two days late warrants an apology, what’s that comment say to the person who’ll watch it two days from then?

And if I missed the original event for a Very Good Reason, does that heap unintended shame on the person who used the time slot to read, or nap, or scroll through Facebook? 

Yikes!

I know you don’t mean to guilt other people. Neither do I. Our harsh standards are meant only for us. Others know that as well.

But the folks we interact with have their own vortex of negative thoughts to contend with. So, if we can’t stop apologizing and explaining for our own sake, let’s at least prevent random debris from our tornado of negative thoughts from landing in our neighbor’s yard.

How can we stop over-apologizing and over-explaining?

First, we must become aware. So pay attention as you go through your week:

  • When are you tempted to apologize unnecessarily?
  • Why do you feel the need to catalog your excuses?
  • What message does this behavior reinforce in your own mind, and how might it influence those listening?

Challenge your thoughts — but no self-condemnation if you notice these behaviors after the fact!

The goal is awareness and mindset change, not perfection.

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6 Replies

  1. My childhood was fraught with being forced to say “I’m sorry, Mama.” Using that phrase, with other people in my life, continued into my adult years. My current husband once asked me if I was going to spend all of our time together saying “I’m sorry.” That stopped me in my tracks, but like so many others I have a hard time with those words. Thanks for a good look at what those words do to us and the others around us.

    1. Kendra Burrows

      My husband often jokes, “Well, you’d better be!” when I apologize for something entirely silly, and we can laugh about it while still making me aware that I’m doing it again. 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Sherrey!

  2. Double ugh. SO true. Only in the past year or so have I caught myself from saying this. I chalk it up to part of my need to please. But giving myself the grace I’d give others feels so much better.

    1. Kendra Burrows

      I agree! I’m so glad you stopped by, Lisa!

  3. Kendra: this resonated with me so much! You put so many words to that “tornado of negative thoughts” in my head! I have so much to process now!

    1. Kendra Burrows

      Processing is good, right? 😉 Just be careful not to over-process, my friend. <3

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