I sprinted straight to the bathroom the minute I got off stage to grab a tissue. My stuffy nose just wasn’t having it that day, or any other day that week for that matter. When I ran into the bathroom, I noticed one of my teachers washing her hands at the sink. I grabbed a tissue, blew my nose, and then I said “I’m sorry” to her. There was a slight pause before she turned around to face me with a confused look. All she asked was, “What for?” I thought about it for a moment, and once her words finally registered in my brain, all I could say in response was,
“Shoot, I did it again!”
I apologize a lot. I apologize for things I’ve done wrong, things I didn’t do wrong, and things that didn’t even require an apology in the first place. I apologize when I sneeze. When someone bumps into me. Even once when someone asked me if they could borrow a pencil.
So why do I do this? While I can’t give myself a full diagnosis, after some self-examinations of my apologies, I noticed that I tend to say I’m sorry whenever I think I may have inconvenienced someone. I use apologizing as a means of being polite.
For example, one of the first things I do whenever I meet a new teacher is tell them that I ask a LOT of questions. Since I’m mostly a kinesthetic learner, I use asking questions out loud as a way to clarify information and help my mind process the information better. However, since I ask a lot of questions, I sometimes worry that I’m annoying the teacher. Even though I know that most teachers actually like when their students ask questions (because it shows they’re paying attention), I feel like I’m inconveniencing them with all of my questions, when in fact I’m not.
I apologize to show that I recognize any inconveniences that I may pose to another person, but I do this by shifting the blame onto myself. When I need to interrupt someone’s conversation, I’ll say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…”, or in a debate, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to disagree with you…”, or even after I cough, I will apologize for making a noise. When I say something like, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to disagree with you…”, I discredit myself by effectively saying that I’m in the wrong for having a differentiating opinion. According to a CNBC article, there’s a book called “The Power of Apology” that compares the effect of over-apologizing to over-complimenting:
“Over-apologizing isn’t so different from over-complimenting,” the article said. “You may think you’re displaying yourself as a nice and caring person, but you’re actually sending the message that you lack confidence and are ineffectual.”
By over-apologizing, I give off that same impression: that I lack confidence. I believe that this is what has caused me to often be underestimated. Since my over-apologetic nature has given off the impression that I’m not a very confident person, it makes others think that I’m not as capable. My apologies are meant to show those around me that I understand and respect them. Instead, I inadvertently lessen their respect for me.
I’m just one of the many ‘people pleasers’ and ‘over-apologizers’ out there in the world. But if I can’t apologize, then how am I supposed to show that I’m not trying to be rude? I can’t just go up and interrupt a person’s conversation without apologizing for disrupting them! But actually, I can.
Instead of apologizing when I disagree with someone, I can show my respect for their opinion by simply saying, “That’s an interesting point, but I would like to bring up a different perspective…”
Along with coming up with better ways to respond, I’ve also been asking friends, family, and classmates to call me out whenever I reflexively apologize, which happens more often than I’d like to admit. I even have a couple of friends threatening me with pushups every time they catch me apologizing. I’ve already done a couple of sets so far.
I’m always trying to find ways to improve myself, and this is one area I’ve been avoiding. But it’s important for me to learn to be confident in my thoughts and opinions so I can display the faith I have in myself to others. I have to learn how to not sacrifice the integrity of my opinions just for the sake of being polite; I can display confidence AND be polite. I can have both.
I will not apologize for breathing.
Sorry, not sorry.