My first few months on Bradley’s campus weren’t especially groundbreaking, primarily due to the fact that being thrown into a wave of new classmates, speech team members and confident upperclassmen was one of the most anxiety-inducing things I’ve ever experienced.
I found myself folding my personality in half and tiptoeing around conversations, making sure everything I did was as inoffensive and unobtrusive as possible. From the midst of my anxious whirlpool of emotions, apologizing became my second language; the words “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth more times a day than I could keep count of.
Whether I was piping up in a conversation or coming too close to someone while throwing away a piece of trash, I instinctively tried to find forgiveness when the only offense I had committed was existing.
Finally, my team captain, one of the upperclassmen I was so in awe of, grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said “you do not have to apologize for taking up space.” In that moment, I realized my propensity to apologize for nothing. However, my bad habit wasn’t a unique one.
Every day I see people, primarily women and femmes, apologizing for minor “offenses”—raising their hands, checking their phones or even not looking “presentable” enough—which raises the question: what are we so sorry for?
According to a study from the University of Waterloo, women tend to apologize more often than men because they have a lower standard for what actions are considered offensive enough to warrant an apology.
This way of thinking is ingrained into girls from an early age, according to the Child Mind Institute. People who are raised female are often taught to place more emphasis on empathy and dissuaded from being perceived as a “know-it-all” or “bossy,” so it’s understandable that the instinct to soften our language or actions with apologies develops as we get older.
Being able to apologize when one has committed a wrongdoing against someone is a necessary skill to have, but when “I’m sorry” becomes a compulsion, it does more harm than good. Not only does over-apologizing reinforce self-blame over minor inconveniences, it contributes to a cycle of guilt and lower levels of confidence among serial apologizers.
Once I became aware of my constant apologizing, I was able to reframe the way I thought and talked about situations and have since been much more purposeful with what I choose to be sorry for.