I recently encountered another woman at Vons whose grocery cart was blocking the narrow aisle.
We fumbled awkwardly to get by each other, both saying “I’m sorry” several times.
Why were we apologizing? Neither of us had done anything wrong. Yet, “I’m sorry” seems to be the go-to female response for even the most innocuous event.
Actor and filmmaker Lena Dunham said, “Apologizing is a modern plague and I’d be willing to bet … that many women utter ‘I’m sorry’ more on a given day than ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’ combined.”
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Some hypothesize that women don’t want to appear rude, so they make themselves inoffensive before opening their mouths. Others suggest it’s because they’ve been socialized since birth to put relationships ahead of themselves.
In fact, chronic apologizing has the opposite effect. Rather than being a nurturing behavior, it confuses those who hear it. Recipients wonder why the speaker feels so responsible. Plus, bad vibes are contagious. Listeners eventually tire of the guilt and look elsewhere for friends.
A study conducted by Karina Schumann, published in the September 2010 issue of Livescience, found a difference in how men and women perceive apologies. It found men and women apologized for their transgressions in roughly equal amounts. But men felt that fewer of their actions warranted apologies. Schumann speculated that women have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they’re more concerned with promoting harmony in the relationship.
Whatever the cause, excessive “I’m sorry” responses have generated their share of pushback. In 2014, Pantene created an ad empowering women to shine, be strong and stop apologizing for everything they do.
The online cartoonist Yao Xiao recommended using “thank you” in place of “I’m sorry.”
For instance, “Thank you for your patience,” not, “Sorry I’m always late.”
Amy Schumer performed a hilarious comedy sketch on “Inside Amy Schumer” about a panel of brilliant, professional women endlessly apologizing about pointless details.
Of course, there are times when a sincere “mea culpa” is appropriate, where the best recourse is to admit wrongdoing and swiftly make amends. But chronic apologies? They’re a nuisance. I won’t be sorry to see them go.
Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to kick the ‘I’m sorry’ habit
- Recognize there’s nothing wrong with you. You have a right to exist, to speak your mind and take up space. Stop apologizing for who you are.
- Catch yourself in the act. Notice how often you say “I’m sorry.” Pay attention to the situations that elicit an unnecessary apology.
- Think of new responses. Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” try “I’d appreciate if you ...” or “Hey, I need a quick favor.”
- Show gratitude. Notice tiny favors and let the perpetrators know. Focus on what’s good in your life without harboring any guilt about it.
- Try empathy. View the world through others’ eyes. If a co-worker looks swamped, say “I can see you’re busy. I just need to talk to you for a sec.”
- Laugh. If you’ve said or done something stupid, don’t apologize. Say, “Whoa! My bad!” And be done with it.