The Secret Language of Apologies

| November 21, 2014 | 1 Comment

I tend to apologize. A lot. It’s annoying, quite frankly. It gets on people’s nerves—it gets on my nerves—and yet I can’t quite seem to stop. It’s gotten to the point where saying sorry is reflexive; I’m aware that it’s a bad habit of mine—and people who know me well will call me out on it—but in the moment I’m not always in control of (or even aware of) the fact that the S-word is about to pop out of my mouth yet again.

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

Even though I’m aware that my tendency to apologize is a bit excessive and unreasonable and that it increases when I’m feeling tired or stressed, I’ve never really thought about why I compulsively apologize for everything. That is, not until recently, when my roommate gently (and wisely) reminded me that saying sorry all the time cheapens the value of a genuine apology when one is actually called for. It’s certainly not the first time someone’s mentioned this to me, but the truth never fails to sting.

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

So I’ve been thinking a lot about why I employ so many unnecessary apologies and what it is that I’m actually trying to communicate when I use the word sorry. I apologize to friends who happen to stop by when my apartment is a mess, even though I know their living spaces aren’t any tidier. I apologize when I feel like I’ve been too silly or too serious in various social settings. And I apologize a lot—and I mean a lot—for talking—for sharing things that are too personal or too mundane, for talking about my feelings and for talking about my homework; for saying too much too honestly or for being unable to articulate myself honestly enough.

In most of these cases, I’ve realized, it isn’t really genuine remorse that I’m trying to express; rather, it’s a kind of relational insecurity. I’m starting to understand that often when I say “I’m sorry,” what I really mean is something like:

  • “Even though I know this doesn’t bother you, I feel uncomfortable about it, so I need to acknowledge it to make you aware that I’m aware of it as something potentially negative.”


  • “I’m afraid that you don’t really care that much about what I have to say, so I need to express my misgivings about having said it in the first place—that way it doesn’t seem like I believe that you might have actually wanted to hear it.”
photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

So I’m starting to think that maybe my apologizing isn’t a distinct problem in itself but rather a sideways expression of some more complex anxieties. It’s easier to cover my bases with a million sorries than to trust that other people are probably less critical of me than I am or—even worse—to try to verbalize my actual desire for reassurance.

I’m also certainly not the only over-apologizer I know, and I wonder if others who do the same thing might be doing it for similar reasons. Maybe we all just need to take a step back and look at how we’re communicating and why.

And for those of you still reading this, I’ll be honest: I’m feeling a little nervous about putting all this self-reflection out there and just assuming that somebody else will find it useful.  I’m a little uncomfortable, a little insecure, but guess what?

I’m not sorry at all.

feature photo credit: Leyram Odacrem via photopin cc

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Category: featured, Poetry, Prose and Comedy

Emily Hurd

About the Author ()

Emily is a special education major from a tiny town in southern Pennsylvania. She's a firm believer in the virtues of art-making, rambling discussion, and consuming excessive amounts of both coffee and tea. Her other interests include reading and writing poetry, poking around in abandoned houses, and procrastinating indefinitely. Her proudest moment involved replacing the word "oil" on construction signs with "fish" so that the signs in question read "fresh fish and chips."

Comments (1)

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  1. Kanako says:

    I love this post and I relate to it so much because I, too, apologise more than I actually need to. And I also think apologising unnecessarily is more for your own sake than for the person you’re apologising to. Like I sometimes apologise because saying sorry makes me feel better about “being a burden” on someone (whatever the circumstances are), and it also breaks the awkward silence if that’s the situation you’re in… The word “sorry” masks my embarrassment and the realisation of how much I’ve opened up to people, is what I’m trying to say.

    And I personally think I differentiate between my serious sorry’s and my half-hearted sorry’s so I feel like I’m not apologising as much as people say I am. but that might just be in my head.

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