Why Do We Say Sorry So Much?

Serious question: How many times do you say ‘sorry’ every day?

What about ‘just?’ As in “I was just wondering…” or “just checking in to see…”

Are you still counting? If so, I’ll go first. I’m guessing I say sorry at least 30 times a day. I’m sorry for everything. For coming out of a door when someone is walking in. When someone bumps into me. Before I ask a question. After I ask a question. I say it when I need to clarify someone else’s mistake (this is one of my favorites, just did this), “sorry but you must not have read below where I mentioned…” When I start an email that’s really only a day late. I apologize, as I should, when I’m late but also when I’m early and I’m on time. I say sorry in person, in email, on the phone, in texts. I say sorry ALL THE TIME.

Here’s the thing. 95% of these ‘sorrys’ are totally unnecessary, unwarranted, unneeded. It’s like I’m saying sorry for breathing in air. For taking up my small sliver of space in this world. I’ve heard anxious people say sorry too much. I’ve read it’s a habit of people pleasers. And while I agree with both of those, and I certainly am both, I think it’s because women are serial apologizers. Always just floating around this world apologizing for a whole lot of nothing. It’s like a chronic compulsion.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, go back and think about how many times you’ve blurted out “Sorry!” in the last day. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. We might be here a while.

Here’s the thing. I know I say sorry too much.

I know there’s no reason for it, and yet, I continue to do it. It’s like a bad habit, the unfortunate twitch of someone always trying to keep everyone happy. It’s funny because while I consider myself a people pleaser, I’m certainly not afraid to stand up for myself. Over the weekend, it hit me how often I say sorry when I subconsciously said it while defending myself to a bartender who called me a bitch.

Sometimes I deserve to be called a bitch (more often than not really), but this time, I felt it wasn’t well-warranted. You know what my egregious offense was? I asked her not to change the channel of the football game I was watching. And, of course, when confronted, I said “Sorry, I’m not trying to be a bitch. You can change it the channel to whatever you want, I just want to watch this game.”

Here I was apologizing and using ‘just’ in the same sentence, like a fiend who can’t get enough. An itch I can’t stop scratching. And don’t even get me started on how it would have never played out like that if I was a man.

I consider myself to be a self-sufficient, strong, independent women. Someone not afraid to stand her ground, speak her mind, share her perspective. But even when doing so, I apologize for that behavior. Anyone else feel the same way? Please tell me I’m not alone on this one.

While I struggle massively with my tourette’s-like ‘sorry’ outbursts, I have been able to curb my use of just. Even if only in email. I’ll draft an email, then realize I’ve said it no less than five times in a six sentence email. At that point, I go back and eliminate them all or at least all but one. Lately, I’ve also tried to limit the amount of exclamation points I use in emails. The exclamation point became my crutch when cutting out ‘justs’ and ‘sorrys.’ Instead of trying to please people with passive tone, I’d win them over with enthusiasm.

After writing an email of three sentences, all capped with exclamations, I knew it had become a problem. I’d given up one word drug for another.

So I’ve tried to wean myself off them all, one by one, but it’s harder to quit cold turkey than you think. The amount of times I’ve hit send and thought, “what if they think I’m being rude, or pushy, or snide?” is too many to count. It’s much more of an issue at work where, as someone who works in a service based industry, I’m always aiming to please.  But at some point, you have to stand up for yourself. Be confident in your work and abilities. Allow someone else to feel a little of the discomfort (I even had trouble writing that sentence… it’s a serious problem).

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Even though I’m still in the depths of over-apologizing, there are glimmers of hope. I always feel better when I say no or when I send an email that allows me to respect my own time while also respecting the time of others. I give myself a mental pat on the back anytime I avoid an unnecessary ‘sorry.’ Baby steps, you know?

Just like any addiction, recognizing it is the first step. So I challenge you to count your sorrys, your “i’m just wonderings,” your “just wanted tos.” Do it for one day. I bet you’ll be surprised at how often you mindlessly say it. Ingrained words and phrases that do nothing but limit you.

If you remember, drop in the comments how many you count in a day. But hey, if you don’t. There’s no need to say sorry.

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10 Comments

  1. Reply

    Laura

    November 8, 2018

    Such a great post. More than saying sorry, I am totally in the “I just wanted…” and “I was wondering…” instead of asking and speaking without the disclaimer. I, too, find myself overcompensating in text messages with exclamation marks in an effort to dispel any “bitchery” that might be interpreted. Thanks for sharing today! I can’t imagine this post won’t resonate with so many women as well.

    • Reply

      Danielle

      November 8, 2018

      “I was just wondering…” is how I started 99% of my emails until I realized how much I was saying it. It’s such a hard habit to break. I struggle with it constantly. At some point recently, I’ve stopped caring if people think I’m bitchy. Sometimes I am bitchy and sometimes I’m just speaking how men do every day with little to no push back. We got this girl!

  2. Reply

    Peggy D

    November 8, 2018

    Yes, yes, yes!!! So happy to see this post. My community of women in engineering and construction has been talking about this for a while (http://underpinnings.blog/2018/04/no-apologies/). If we all get on board, we can stop. Thanks for being a great example.

    • Reply

      Danielle

      November 8, 2018

      Thanks Peggy! That post that you shared is amazing. It takes small steps to make changes and I think getting rid of unnecessary sorrys is a good first step!

  3. Reply

    Leela

    November 8, 2018

    It’s like you’re speaking straight to me! I’ve always struggled with this, especially in a work context! I flip flop with my “justs” in emails more times than I’d like to admit and am always second guessing myself coming off as too “agressive” or “bitchy”. Trying to stop doubting myself, but also worry because my female counterparts at work can be overly sweet and accommodating compared to what I would call my “get it done” approach!

    • Reply

      Danielle

      November 8, 2018

      If I had a penny for every time I’ve wonder if I’m being too aggressive or too bitchy over email, I’d be as rich as the recent Powerball winner. It’s such a hard thing to manage. I want to be accommodating but I also don’t want to get walked all over. It’s tough to find that balance. Don’t doubt yourself. You’re out there killing the game. No sorrys or justs needed.

  4. Reply

    Erica Albrecht

    November 8, 2018

    Best post ever. Totally me with the “trying to be overly nice in emails”… it’s a delicate balance because the tone in an email can be tricky. It can be easy to come across brash over email, I see a lot of folks struggle with that so I think in an effort to avoid that, sometimes I’m waaaay too breezy. My email writing issues tend to be related to overuse of “just” and also the grammar-defying “…” to give the connotation that I’m trying to be breezy. But I’m definitely going to work on it now that you’ve pointed it out, because you are spot on and we don’t need to apologize for being the strong, confident women that we are.

    • Reply

      Danielle

      November 8, 2018

      I am 100% with you on the struggle. The tone in email can be really hard to balance but I know that’s something that primarily women think about. Now I always think, would a guy wonder if he’s being too direct? When I first recognized it, I’d allow myself one “just” an email. Now I feel like I’ve finally been able to remove them entirely. It’s definitely hard though! You got this!

  5. Reply

    Carly Matire

    November 9, 2018

    I absolutely love this post! I too am guilty of unnecessary apologies, disclaimers and exclamation points. I never thought About how much is behind these behaviors, so this list basically smacked me in the face as to say “wake up and stop being sorry. Value yourself for what you bring to the table and stop worrying about what other people might think!”
    I think these guilt driven behaviors are even more common in us moms… sorry for not putting the correct number of pretzels on your plate, or sorry for not being Mary Poppins and entertaining 3 kids and a full time job all simultaneously.
    You are amazing Danielle, and this post is a fabulous reminder for all of us out there who shouldn’t be sorry for being strong, capable and pretty darn awesome.

    • Reply

      Danielle

      November 12, 2018

      Carly – this comment absolutely made my day! And I’m not sorry for using that exclamation point.
      I am so glad it resonated with you. You’re 100% right about the trying to be practically perfect in every way and then apologizing when we can’t be Mary Poppins. You are a badass woman and have no need to apologize. Also, it should go without saying that I sincerely appreciate your following here. It’s so silly but even now, so many years later, I get hung up on what people from high school might think. It makes me really excited whenever I get comments or notes from you because it helps put those thoughts at bay.
      keep being awesome. xxoo

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