Sorry, not sorry – why we need to stop apologising when it’s not our fault

How often do you say sorry every day? 

It’s been reported that a survey of more than 1,000 British people found that that the ‘average’ person says “sorry” around eight times per day – and that one in eight people apologise up to 20 times a day – even when they’re not at fault. 

Why do we do it?

One theory is that it helps to foster trust or it displays empathy, especially if we are apologising for something we didn’t do. 

Saying sorry can also help to avoid conflict and help the other people feel less responsible (and therefore less guilty), so it could be seen as an act of kindness and generosity.

We may be saying sorry if we assume – or have always been told – we are in the wrong. In Answers In The Dark I refer to this as the “At Fault Position” we adopt by default. If you have grown up in an environment where you got the blame for everything, then you it would be natural if you assumed when something goes wrong, you somehow caused it.  But that’s not the case. Yet it’s one reason we say sorry, even in obvious cases where, we didn’t do anything wrong.

In one study carried out by social anthropologist Kate Fox, 80% of the people she intentionally bumped in to during an experiment said sorry, even though they weren’t at fault. 

This is why recognising your value and self-worth matters.  It’s important to take responsibility for your actions, but you don’t have to take responsibility for everyone else’s too. And besides, over-apologising can dilute the value of “sorry” when you really do mean it. 

Here are some top tips:

  1. Explore your why. Next time you notice yourself apologising, ask yourself why you did. Challenge yourself now and then to seek an explanation for what drove you to say sorry. If you said it to avoid conflict, even if it’s not your fault, it might be important to think about the kind of people you spend time with where that’s your only option.
  2. Resist the urge. If someone accidentally bumps in to you, try to resist the urge to say sorry back. Remember saying sorry all the time, especially to the same people, dilutes its meaning when you really need to say it. If someone caused the problem and they apologise – assuming it is ok – you could simply reply “That’s ok”.
  3. Find alternatives. If you’re frustrated with someone, you may be tempted to start a sentence with “I’m sorry but…”, or “I’m sorry if this offends you…”; instead you could say “I feel I need to say this”. Start from the ‘I’ position so that you’re owning what you’re saying, and at the same time make sure you get your point across in a healthy way.

It’s not a weakness to say sorry but it is important to recognise that you don’t have to assume everything is your fault. Measure how often you say you’re sorry – and how often you mean it – and find other ways to make your point effectively.

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You might also like: my book Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal, out now.  

Answers In The Dark is out now on Amazon and Hive.

Published by Delphi

Delphi is a counsellor, speaker and author of Answers In The Dark: Grief, Sleep and How Dreams Can Help You Heal, out now on Amazon and Hive © All rights reserved.

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