When you apologize, you acknowledge that you have broken an unwritten rule, wronged someone in some way, or breached their trust. Society only works when people’s conduct can, for the most part, be expected to fit into certain parameters. When you go outside those parameters and want to repair the damage you have done, you apologize. Implicit in that apology is that you won’t repeat the bad behavior. Furthermore, you are saying that the person who you wronged is correct to feel wronged, and you care how that person feels.
But what about apologizing too much? If you find yourself saying you’re sorry too much, what does that say about you? Some people over-apologize to such a degree that they seem to be apologizing for their very existence on the planet. Why do they feel this way? What does over-apologizing signify?
If you apologize before anything goes wrong—or in anticipation that something might—you’re buying insurance against conflict. No one likes conflict, but most people don’t go to such extremes to avoid it. If this is you, you were probably raised in a household where conflict was rife, and you were caught in the hurricane. When the consequences of conflict are violence and turmoil, it’s no wonder your reaction is to pre-apologize for anything you might say or do just to avoid conflict.
Fear of Abandonment
Another reason you might avoid conflict at all costs is because you fear abandonment. You were raised in a home with a parent who had little regard for your needs, or perhaps a parent actually abandoned you. You feel like you might have been too much trouble so your parent ignored you or didn’t attend to you, even if you were a child. So, to stave off the cold-shoulder treatment as an adult, you apologize for the trouble you imagine yourself to be. The trouble, by just existing, that you cause your caregiver parent and now your partner and friends and family. You might also be a people-pleaser, too much so, in a desire to give people fewer excuses for leaving you. Over-apologizing is your coping mechanism.
Over-apologizing is a tactic people with traumatic childhoods use, too. If you grew up in a household in which you imagine yourself to be the root of terror that took place, you may continue to apologize long after you’ve grown up and left that toxic environment. You use apologies to stave off abuse—mental or physical, and sometimes both. An apology in advance of any possible behavior that might trigger abuse may help you keep safe. Or it may not, but if it’s worked in the past, you may figure it’s at least worth a try.
If you’re nervous or self-conscious or feeling like someone is monitoring you closely, always looking for failure, you may just apologize in advance to take a little wind out of their sails. Apologizing becomes a habit when you are so used to feeling you’re of little worth. You’re hard on yourself because you grew up to believe you should be or that you are always falling short. You’ve learned to beat yourself up emotionally before anyone else could.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
The meaning of the signature line in the movie Love Story is obscure, but it could mean love your family and love yourself and with enough love, perhaps you can stop over-apologizing.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact