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

How often do you say sorry every day? 

A survey of more than 1,000 Brits (discussed in this article) 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. 

But 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. 

In one of the studies 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. 

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. In one of the studies 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. 

What if we are saying sorry for the “wrong” reasons? 

We may be saying sorry if our self-esteem is low that we believe we must be in the wrong.  If you have grown up in an environment where everything was your fault (or you were made to feel that way), then you it would be natural if you assumed when something goes wrong that you are to blame.  But not everything is your 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:

* Next time you notice yourself saying sorry, ask yourself why you did it. Challenge yourself now and then to seek an explanation for what drove you to apologise. If you said sorry to avoid conflict even if it’s not your fault, there may be a another way.  You can say “I can see your upset, what would help?” this acknowledges you care if someone is upset,  recognising you’re not necessarily the cause of it, but are still happy to find a solution. 

* If someone accidentally bumps in to you (and assuming they don’t cause any damage), instead of you saying sorry back you could simply say “That’s okay”.

* Find alternatives to saying sorry. If you’re frustrated with someone, you may be tempted to start a sentence with “I’m sorry but…”, instead you could say “I’d like to make sure we understand each other. How did you hear what I said?” – or if you need to make a challenge you might be tempted to say “I’m sorry if this offends you but…”. You could say “I appreciate this may be difficult…” 

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 without having to undermine your own sense of value.

Because you are valuable, you know. 

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Published by Delphi Ellis

Therapeutic counsellor, well-being trainer and author working with grief and mental health, helping people get their sparkle back. Explores dreams on telly. Avid tea drinker. © Delphi Ellis - Helping You Sparkle™ 2006 - 21

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