“We must remember that an apology isn't an apology unless it's meaningful.” -Unknown
An old friend of mine used to apologize almost once during every sentence. If she interrupted me, she apologized. If I interrupted her, she apologized. If she asked me for the time, she apologized. If I tripped on her shoe, she apologized.
I found this somewhat annoying, and I realized quickly why: I did this, too, and I didn't enjoy recognizing that.
I've noticed that many of us say we're sorry when it isn't actually necessary. In my case, it was mostly a people-pleasing tendency–I wanted to be sure I never mistakenly offended or annoyed someone, so that I wouldn't lose their approval. But this is only one potential cause for rapid-fire remorse.
Psychologist Linda Tillman suggests we may do this to fill gaps in awkward social situations, for example, by saying, “I'm sorry, I didn't hear you,” instead of asking someone to speak up. According to Livestrong, we may do this often around certain people who aim to provoke guilt as a way to manipulate others.
While we can never know other people's intentions, we can recognize that our words influence our state of mind–and apologizing when we've done nothing wrong needlessly creates guilt and undermines our confidence.
It can also create an imbalance in our relationships, since it tells other people we think we are always responsible for any potential conflict or miscommunication; and also sends the message that we're more interested in being agreeable than being honest.
We don't need to always agree with each other. We don't need to always please each other. And we don't need to always couch it with contrition when we need something from someone else. That doesn't mean we shouldn't apologize when we generally feel we've done something wrong. It means it would serve us well to recognize that more often than not, there is no reason for anyone to take blame.
Today if you find yourself apologizing repeatedly, ask yourself, “Did I actually do something wrong?” And if not, “Do I really want to communicate that I think I did?”
Buddha image via Shutterstock