We're taught from a very young age that apologizing is a good thing. It's a humble expression that helps correct mistakes and heal relationships. But what happens when apologies are just a reflex?
"I'm sorry" doesn't mean anything if you say it all the time
Apologizing isn't powerful when it's overdone or used as a conversational tool. When you apologize all the time, your apologies become diluted and sound insincere. When you apologize for things that aren't your fault and aren't in your control, you're not repairing a situation. You may actually be annoying those around you. "It appears as an easier way of escape from the situation rather than objectively thinking through," says life coach Shannon Battle. When you do apologize, Battle suggests being very specific instead of using a blanket "I'm sorry."
When should you apologize to your kids?
An apology is a powerful parenting tool. "If a parent has difficulty managing their emotions and is frequently displacing anger on their children, it is imperative that they come back to them and apologize," says clinical psychologist Ronald W. Banks. This behavior models appropriate social skills. On the other hand, avoid apologizing compulsively. If a fun event is cancelled, for example, don't say you're sorry. Acknowledge your child's disappointment without taking responsibility for it.
Breaking the habit
Beth Burgess is a life coach in London, England. She has personal experience breaking negative habits. When helping clients break the habit of apologizing about everything, Burgess asks them to say the word "sausages" every time they find themselves starting to apologize for no reason. "This works by linking a feeling of ridiculousness to every apology and also helps them to see just how often they were saying sorry before," Burgess says. "Usually within a week or two of saying it, they have vastly reduced the number of unnecessary apologies they make." You can choose any word as long as it's silly and helps you identify how often you apologize.
Rebuilding your foundation
Breaking the habit is only half the battle. You need to work on the core issues that have led you to apologize at the drop of a hat. Who do you apologize to most often? Your spouse? Your coworkers? Examine these relationships and your behavior. Are you seeking approval? Trying to avoid conflict? When working on adjusting lifelong habits and issues tied to your self-esteem or an underlying anxiety disorder, the guidance of a mental health professional can be highly effective. Try to be open with your loved ones on what you're trying to do, so you can get support on your journey.