Stop apologizing for taking up space

Betsy and Graffiti in AmsterdamHow many times a day do you apologize? 5, 10, 20, 50? If you are apologizing more than a few times a week, you are either over-apologizing or a pretty big jerk.

Is this you?

  • Apologizing for bumping into people and inanimate objects. “Whoops, sorry!” (even when they bumped into you and even though “excuse me” is more appropriate)
  • Apologizing for things other people screwed up for themselves. “I’m sorry you failed your test.” (even though you know he didn’t even study for it)
  • Apologizing for our bosses, coworkers and friends when we think they behave badly. “I’m so sorry – she’s not normally like this!” (yes, she is)
  • Apologizing for the weather: “I’m sorry for the rain today; I was hoping for sun!” (as if you have the power to control either)
  • Apologizing for not reading someone else’s mind. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you also wanted a cup of coffee. Let me go make one for you.”
  • Apologizing before asking for help. “I’m sorry to bother you, but can you help me with this?” (Or the related, “I’m such a ditz with this – can you help me?”)

Over-apologizers blurt out a mea culpa for every stupid reason under the sun and for events that don’t even warrant an apology, which diminishes the power of an actual apology: “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

A recovering over-apologizer

It didn’t occur to me that I had a problem with this until we went to South America last year. In learning Spanish I kept saying “lo siento” when I bumped into someone in the market or when I was trying to get a waiter’s attention. I mistakenly thought it was equal to “excuse me.” My friend informed me that in those instances I should be saying “disculpe” instead, which means “excuse me.” In all other instances, I should keep my mouth shut.

I’m sorry ? Excuse me

It wasn’t until I had this pointed out that I realized just how often I said “I’m sorry” in English, too. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a place for the apology, and I think we should own up to our mistakes and make amends. But there is no reason to apologize for the weather, for needing help, for not reading someone’s mind, and most of all, for simply taking up space.

I was reminded of this whole “I’m sorry/excuse me” revelation recently after Jezebel posted this fine piece of bloggery about not apologizing for her ladybits (read it, it’s good). It sparked an interesting conversation on my Facebook page about whether we over-apologize or over-thank, and then I steered the conversation to this other piece of recent Internet cleverness (click here if you don’t see the video below).

Why all the hubbub about over-apologizing and silly-girl-speak? Well, I think it indicates a bigger problem. When we apologize for every little thing under the sun, we are diminishing ourselves in they eyes of the people around us. Worse, it impacts the way we think – about ourselves, the world around us, and how we fit in it.

When we speak like little girls, trying to be cute when making a tough point or pouting to get our way instead of stating what we want, we are saying that we have to play tricks to get our point across, that what we have to say isn’t valuable enough on its own, unadorned.

We are shrinking ourselves to balance on a single blade of grass when an entire acre is available to us.

Over-apologizing diminishes us, in both our eyes and in the people around us. If you are apologizing for taking up space to an inanimate object, there is a problem. If you are apologizing for people and events outside your control, then you are not focusing enough on what you do control.

Stop apologizing for things you didn’t do, for taking up space, for having an opinion.

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