I’m known throughout my family, past teachers and employers as the “one who says sorry too much.” During my first research assistant job, my manager had to write in big, black letters, “Stop saying sorry, Jael!” on the community whiteboard. If sorry has become a reflex for you too, I encourage you to take time to focus on building your self-confidence and cutting down on those excess apologies.
I decided I was going to count how many times I unnecessarily said sorry. For a week, I said sorry a whopping 52 times. That averaged out to about six to seven unnecessary sorrys every day. Counting up these tally marks opened my eyes to just how often I take the blame for situations that are out of anyone’s control.
I’ve taught myself to take responsibility for situations in order to avoid any conflict. I never want anyone around me to feel upset — so when I can take the blame off of someone, I will.
But years of conflict control have come at the expense of my self-confidence. Standing up for myself is a lot harder than it used to be. And I was never fully aware of the self-sabotaging until I jokingly watched a 2018 vlog from Miss Barbie herself. It was called “Sorry Reflex,” and it was the most enlightening Barbie video I had ever watched. She explained how saying sorry to every situation is a “learned reflex,” and we often say it as a means to not offend anyone. It stops being sincere and starts being a way to decrease conflict, even when there’s no conflict to resolve.
And this reflex is more prevalent in women. We Say sorry when we sneeze. Sorry when we want to get someone’s attention. Sorry for being too happy or too sad. It’s all in an effort to not offend the people around us. Sooner or later, these excessive apologies are going to replace our self-confidence.
When we take a moment to rephrase our sorry statements, it gives us back the power that otherwise is taken away. Career coach Kathy Caprino spoke about rephrasing in a blog from Oprah Daily. She encourages the switch because it makes us more aware of how we really feel. “If you say something and preface it with ‘Sorry, but,’ it completely undermines the power of your statements,” Caprino said.
Instead of saying sorry, try replacing it with thank you. When you sneeze, if someone says “bless you,” say “thank you!” If you want someone’s attention, say: “Hello! Thank you for coming over!” If you feel extremely happy or extremely sad, say, “Thank you for letting me feel my emotions to the fullest.” “Thank you” will put back the power and sincerity in your statements.
It’s still important to be mindful and respectful to the people around you. We should give a sincere apology when we’ve done something wrong. But, as this school year ends and another chapter of my life begins, I want to fulfill my new year's resolution of cutting sorry out of my everyday vocabulary. And — anyone who wants to build self-confidence and take back the power of their words — I challenge you to switch that knee-jerk reaction from sorry to thank you.