How to Stop Apologizing in 5 Steps

Have you ever said sorry before anything even happened? Like saying “I’m sorry if you don’t like the gift I got you” or “I’m sorry if the meal I cook next week isn’t good.”

Sometimes people apologize for things that weren’t their fault, like if someone bumped into them. Or they say sorry for not being able to go to an event.  

People also apologize when it’s not really a big deal, like if they took a little longer to reply to an email or forgot to like someone’s Instagram post. 

There are lots of other situations where people over-apologize — I know because I do it.

One morning, I noticed how many times I’d already said sorry before noon, and it was shocking.

I pre-apologized that dinner may suck.

I said sorry 6 times during a pickleball game for missing shots (after apologizing first for being a beginner).  

I apologized for not having the right change.

I said sorry for not being able to fit someone into my schedule.

I even apologized to my trainer for being boring!

Everyone makes mistakes, and saying sorry can help heal relationships. But apologizing too much (including saying sorry before you need to) can actually make things worse instead of better. 

Let me be clear. It’s important to take responsibility when it’s your fault. But over-apologizing means saying sorry when it’s not your responsibility or not really wrong or just because you think you didn’t do a perfect job.

Why Do We Over-Apologize?

Common reasons include wanting to be liked, as a trauma response, showing empathy, or feeling too much guilt or responsibility. There could be cultural reasons why some people over-apologize more. There’s no one reason people engage in this behavior.  

Because I’m a therapist who treats anxiety disorders, I see over-apologizing as a behavior to ease anxiety. Apologizing can give people certainty about their actions if they’re worried they did something wrong. 

If someone struggles with distress, they may over-apologize because they think they caused more problems than they did. Doing this over and over makes it a habit for managing anxiety. Soon, you’re saying sorry for all kinds of situations that weren’t your fault.

Apologizing and Anxiety

It’s important to think about how your apologies impact others. 

Over-apologizing forces the other person to reassure you, which might be awkward, especially in professional settings. If you’re saying sorry to show empathy, that’s different than apologizing to ease your own anxiety. Saying “I’m so sorry you went through that stomach flu” expresses understanding. But saying “I’m sorry I’m such a bad pickleball partner” puts the burden on them to make you feel better. 

Over-apologizing can increase your anxiety about the situation. 

When we try to get rid of our anxious feelings, it actually makes the anxiety stronger. Instead, I encourage letting the feelings be there. That means learning to accept the feelings instead of trying to get rid of them. 

The more we dwell on something, the more important our brain thinks it is. The more important it seems, the more worries we’ll have. When done repetitively, it becomes a habitual way of managing anxiety and distress. Soon, you’re apologizing for a wide array of out-of-your-control experiences in multiple areas of your life.

Our attempts to solve the problem become the problem. 

When we feel more anxious, it’s natural to want to do something about it, but recovery works in a paradoxical way.

It’s like those Chinese finger traps — the harder you pull, the tighter it gets. To get free, you have to relax your fingers towards each other. With anxiety, the way to feel less anxious is to relax your body and do less. In this case, that means not apologizing and letting the feelings pass as you keep doing what you’re doing. 

Here’s how to do that.

5 Steps to Stop Apologizing

  1. Label how you’re feeling (“I’m feeling anxious” or “I’m aware I’m feeling uncomfortable”). 
  2. If you’re not actually in danger, remind yourself not to act like you are. You’re just feeling uncomfortable.
  3. Show your brain you’re safe (relax your muscles, take deeper breaths, loosen your jaw/shoulders, etc.).
  4. Remind yourself that feelings aren’t dangerous. They’re temporary and will pass on their own without you having to do anything.
  5. Shift your attention to what you’re doing right now.

If your brain tries to pull you back into worrying, go back to step 1 or 2.  

Just because you feel anxious doesn’t mean you did something wrong that needs an apology. 

If later you decide you genuinely should say sorry (and you’re not just doing it to ease anxiety), then go ahead. The key is to respond to the situation itself, not just your feelings about it. 

When we act based on feelings instead of values, it’s more likely to be motivated by fear instead of what’s important to us. The less anxiety controls you, the more your actions will align with your values instead of your fears. And that’s nothing to apologize for.