I’m sorry.

My daughter says “I’m sorry” all the time.

She’s standing in front of the sink, washing dishes. We have a dishwasher but my grandson’s bottles get washed by hand. Something about dirt collecting in the nipples. She’s busy but I want to throw something in the garbage. I step up beside her and say, “excuse me”, hoping she’ll shift slightly to right.  

She steps back with a gasp. “I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I tell her. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

I tell her that often.

My son wouldn’t have apologized.

A 2010 study published in Psychological Science looked at how men and women apologize, how they are the same, and what they do differently. In the study, university students kept an online diary for twelve days, detailing apologies they gave and behaviours they thought required apologies.

They also kept track of how often they felt an apology was owed to them.

As it turns out, men and women apologize at about the same rate for the actions they perceive as offensive. Both sexes apologize eighty-one percent of the time they think they probably should.

But the women reported something else. Women reported committing more offenses during the same period. Women were also more likely to report being victims of wrongdoing.” *

Women believe they are causing offense where men don’t. For the most part, I don’t believe that men need to expand the things which offend.

Women need to apologize less. Not only because we’re apologizing for things that don’t need it. Because the behaviour itself has a cumulative effect.

Women blame themselves too often for things that aren’t errors, problems, or in our control. Apologizing too often makes us feel like we’re in the wrong even when you aren’t. Soon, “being in the wrong” becomes being wrong.

I’m sorry I don’t know the time, sorry I won’t let you cheat on the test, sorry I reached for the bag of bread when you were looking at the display, sorry I thought I was next in line, sorry I stood up to you when you insulted me.

I’m sorry for taking up air. For taking up space. I’m sorry I’m not perfect.

Apologies are not required.

Some argue apologizing is simply being polite. I like politeness. There’s too little in the world of late, it seems. There are times when a mea culpa is called for. Consistently telling the world you’re in the wrong, however, affects how you feel about yourself and not in a good way.

Tests run by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross showed women offered more apologies than men and self-reported committing more offenses. An analysis of the events, however, showed no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies.

Women are not making more mistakes. They evaluate things differently and not in a way that works in their favour.

In a second study, the researchers tested the hypothesis that men evaluate the offensiveness of situations differently. They asked participants to evaluate both imaginary and recalled offenses. As predicted, men rated the offenses as less severe than women did. These different ratings of severity predicted both judgments of whether an apology was “deserved” and actual apology behavior. ***

Women are taught to be apologetic. We are taught, overtly and in ways subtle and persistent, to make the world a “nice” place. We’re supposed to calm the waters, soothe anxiety, and address the fears of punishment that arise when people feel they’ve made a mistake or are in the wrong. The socializing of women into a “passive mindset [with] people-pleasing behavior” starts early. **

I gave up the habitual “I’m sorry” years ago. I read about the problem in an issue of Seventeen and adjusted my behaviour accordingly. I’m chuffed I did something right. The early adaptation also provides a valid justification for my magazine habit. You do learn things.

I stopped apologizing when I didn’t know the answer.

I stopped apologizing when I did know the answer. I’m sorry. The time is three o’clock.

I keep my apologies for their intended purpose: offering conciliatory sentiments in the face of wrongdoing on my part or for situations of intolerable grief. Though I may have gone overboard: I very much hate to admit to mistakes.  

Constant apologizing is a habit. You can break it the same way you break any habit. Acknowledge the problem, change your behaviours, and build new neural pathways. It’s not easy. I responded to queries about the time with an apology for years. But you can get there.

One solution that works is swapping out apologies for other phrases.

Instead of reverting to “I’m sorry” or some variation thereof, Maja Jovanovic, Ph.D., a sociology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and author of “Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make”, offers these options:

Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” say, “excuse me”, “after you”, or “your turn”.

Instead of saying “I’m sorry to interrupt”, say, “I’d like to add…”, “I have an idea…”, or “I’d like to expand on that…”.

Instead of apologizing for a minor mistake, consider saying, “Thank you for catching that…”, “I appreciate you bringing this error to my attention…”, or “Thanks for flagging this issue for me…”. **

It’s a change. It won’t feel easy. It will feel like any new behaviour at the beginning: awkward, wrong, and more trouble than it’s worth.

Persist.

You don’t need to apologize when you haven’t done anything wrong. I’m going to keep after my daughter until I convince her of that.

* Women Really Do Apologize More Than Men. Amy Morin. Web.

** How to Stop Saying “I’m Sorry” all the Time. Vivian Manning-Schaffel. October 5, 2018. Web.

*** Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior. Karina Schumann, Michael Ross. November 21, 2011. Web.

9 thoughts on “I’m sorry.

  1. Very thought-provoking.
    I do say “I’m sorry for interrupting” because I think it’s impolite to cut in. It’s one of my pet peeves. I’m all about taking responsibility for the wrong things I have done.
    In today’s world apologies are so weird. We expect an apology for everything even if the other person does not feel apologetic at all. But anyway. I know exactly what you mean with your daughter. I’ve met such people before and I, too, tell them to stop apologizing for not doing anything wrong. I feel like the wrong people might take advantage of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t remember off-hand if you’re American or Canadian. I’m Canadian, and the polite I’m sorry is ubiquitous here. It serves as a social lubricant rather than an apology. If I was actually apologizing to someone I don’t think I’d ever just say “I’m sorry” because on its own, it doesn’t feel genuine enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m Canadian. The habitual social apologizing is a definite thing. I do think, however, that it can have some negative effects, especially in the personal sphere, rather than in the public one, where we all apologize for everything 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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