Reader Challenge

Positivity Challenge Week 3: Stop Apologizing

Two weeks in… How are we doing? Have you been working on your empathy and making your black lists? This week’s challenge might be another tricky one because it deals with unconscious behaviors. Don’t worry, next week will be a fun one!

An interesting quote about Automatic Apologizing has been floating around tumblr recently (although, of course, now that I want to credit it, I can’t find it), and got me thinking about the subject. It might seem innocent and it’s almost always unconscious, but Auto Apologizing is something that can insidiously chip away at your positivity.

What is Automatic Apologizing?
Sorry Graphic
However you say it, stop saying it!

I define it as the unconscious tendency to start sentences with an apology or the knee-jerk reaction to apologize to any negative emotion. Think about it. How many times a day do you preface your opinion with a “sorry” or apologize for the copier or coffee machine not working (when it’s completely out of your control)? Women are definitely more likely to fall into this trap, but men sometimes do, as well.

Why do we do it?

The reasons vary. Sometimes, it’s simply a reactive response: when you haven’t heard someone clearly, when you need to get past someone in a crowd, when you’re asking someone for something. Sometimes, it’s a preemptive fear of being disliked. Here’s an example from Christine Rose Elle’s Dollybelle blog:

Somewhere deep down I had the feeling I needed to apologize for my existence. Or if I messed up. Or if I was more successful than someone at something. I was so quick to try to manage someone else’s feeling. I would try to comfort myself by making their feeling somehow my responsibility.

Sometimes, and most destructively, it’s assuming the responsibility for a situation on yourself or, worse yet, inferring an amount of blame from the person to whom you’re apologizing.

Why is it bad?

There are two main reasons to be more aware of your auto apologies. First, abundances of empty “sorry”s dilute more meaningful expressions of apology. Second, the more you apologize for every act of your existence, the more you feel there’s something worth apologizing for. You’re probably familiar with the Eleanor Roosevelt quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Apologizing for speaking is practically giving consent for the other person not to take you seriously: If you have to apologize for what you’re about to say, why should they listen?

What does this have to do with positivity?

A large part of positivity is self-confidence. While it’s easy to say “Hey, you there! Feel good about yourself!” it’s much harder to put into practice if your confidence has been systematically chipped away by… well, life. Our own Meghan Krogh-Young wrote a great piece a few months ago about “The Myth of Preexistant Self Esteem.“ As part of the Positivity Challenge, as well as re-framing the way we see the world, we’re going to work on re-framing the way we see ourselves, too.

This Week’s Challenge

Take the automatic apology out of your vocabulary this week. When you feel the need to say “sorry,” ask yourself what you actually mean and say that instead. If you didn’t understand someone, say “I missed that. Could you say it again?” If you’re in a crowd, say “Excuse me” instead of “sorry.” If the coffee machine is on the fritz at work,  and it’s your responsibility, thank the person for letting you know and tell them you’ll get it fixed. If it’s a situation that truly warrants an apology, don’t just leave it at “sorry,”  explain what you’re sorry for. And NEVER apologize for your feelings or successes.

This Week’s Mantra

It was hard to pinpoint this week’s challenge into a simple mantra. Fortunately, helped me out with this bit of TinyWisdom: “We must remember that an apology isn’t an apology unless it’s meaningful.” -Unknown

If you want a reminder of your mantra for the next week, feel free to click the image below to download a wallpaper-sized version.

 Mantra Jan 25

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or mental health expert, and there are problems that positivity cannot overcome, so please do not take this advice in lieu of a doctor’s care.
Not all challenges will be relevant to everyone, so I welcome you to come and go as you please and take from each change what works for you! Please make sure to share your thoughts in the comments!

By Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses.

12 replies on “Positivity Challenge Week 3: Stop Apologizing”

I have a hard and fast rule when it comes to apologizing.

I will say one, very heartfelt, sincere apology about something and I will not say it again.

One sincere apology is worth a million insincere ones, so I’d rather make it count.

It also weeds out the shitty people in your life who want to make you continually feel bad about something. If one isn’t good enough for them, then they’re not good enough for you.

I’ve noticed that since I’m half way to unemployed, I do this a lot less. Probably because my bf has drilled it out of me pretty soon (“Why are you saying sorry?” -“Sorry, I just ..” “Freckle ..”) and at my part time job I’m comfortable enough to not start with a sorry.


Thanks so much for this. I have a rather significant problem with automatic apologizing. I used to be very good about only apologizing when I meant it, which stemmed from having a mother who tried to guilt me about everything and get me to apologize for it. I always refused, unless I had done something for which I was truly sorry, including the big things as well as little things such as stepping on someone’s foot, etc.
Then I got into an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship, and once I got out of it, I realized I was apologizing for every teensy, tiny thing, and apologizing profusely at that. I also realized, rather quickly, that I was doing that as a result of my old relationship, where I did it to keep from getting into a bad situation or making a situation worse. It is taking a lot of work to stop doing that. My current partner has taken to asking me why I’m sorry if I apologize unnecessarily, and it is helping tremendously.

Apologizing in the respect of an emotionally abusive relationship is a whole ‘nother animal, but becoming more aware of the behavior is definitely the first step in getting past it. I know that my auto-apologizing (amongst other things) comes from an emotionally abusive childhood where I was made to feel like I did, literally, need to apologize just for existing. It’s definitely taken me more than a blog post to realize this and make progress on it (one of the reasons for my weekly disclaimer at the bottom), but a start is better than nothing. Having a supportive partner or friend who will gently question your automatic behaviors is invaluable.

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