I’m a chronic ‘over-apologiser’. Here’s exactly what happened when I stopped saying sorry.

If I had to write a list of my most commonly used phrases, it would probably sound something like this…

“I’m so sorry to bother you!” 

“Oh sorry, that was totally my fault.” 

“So sorry to bug you, this is probably a silly question.” 

I’m guessing you’re sensing the common theme by now? Yep, I am a chronic over-apologiser

I don’t really remember if I’ve always been this way, but the word “sorry” just seems to roll off the tongue regardless of whether I actually have something to be sorry for or not. 

Sneeze in the middle of a meeting? I apologise. 

Turn a corner at the same time as someone and get mildly close to them? I say sorry. 

Text someone back the next day because I was flat out? Oh, you bet I’m sending a grovelling reply for that one. 

I once even apologised to a guy who stepped on MY foot. 

The worst part was that he looked me dead in the face and said, "It’s okay," as if I had been the biggest inconvenience of his day by simply existing in the area where he happened to place his feet as he absent-mindedly checked his phone. 

It infuriated me. 

Because while I seem to have a chronic desire to always be incredibly polite and never impact anyone’s day by… you know… simply existing, it also fills me with rage when other people don’t give me the same politeness back. 


It’s the equivalent of letting someone merge in front of you in traffic and them not giving you the courtesy wave.


But I know I’m definitely not alone in this, and it’ll come as no surprise to you that women apologise a lot more than men.

According to a study by the University of Waterloo, this is because women have a lower threshold for what we consider offensive when compared to our male counterparts, so we offer up apologies more freely for things men find pretty inoffensive. 

Psychotherapist Lissy Abrahams says over-apologising is “very much linked” to people-pleasing. 

“Often people who do this nod along with things they don’t agree with, they don’t feel like they can put their point of view on the table and they won’t even say, ‘I want to go to this restaurant over that one’, because they feel like they’ll then be responsible for other people’s experience,” Abrahams tells Mamamia

“They will tend to blend in and go with the flow, they’ll make out that they’re really easygoing and they don’t care, they’re a light foot socially.

“When I see clients who over-apologise, they’ve learnt somewhere in childhood that whoever they are as their authentic self is not okay. It’s a learned experience, they’ve adapted and think people won’t actually accept them if they use their voice in a solid way.” 

And women often fall victim to this because they put their own needs last. 


It can feel like you’re chipping away at your soul - and your confidence - a little bit every time you say it. Almost like you’re undermining your own ability and your right to take up space in the world. 

“There’s a suppression of oneself, because it says, ‘My experience doesn’t matter, it's all about you, I’ll even apologise for things I’m not sorry for and I’ll do it to keep the peace and make you happy to move things on’,” Abrahams adds. 

“It’s managing the mood through the apology as if you’re responsible for managing how people feel.” 

If you’re shouting at your screen right now, because you recognise these traits in yourself, the good news is that it’s actually possible to stop – or at least improve. 

(It should be noted that there is a clear distinction between apologising when it’s warranted and when it’s not. Of course, if you spill your hot tea down someone’s shirt – which I have unfortunately done twice in my lifetime – you should of course apologise wholeheartedly.)

But when I decided to (attempt to) give up saying sorry for a week, it was a lot harder than I expected. 

Firstly, I declared to the Mamamia team that I was going to do it and so not to be expecting any silly little apologies from me anytime soon. 


But within a few minutes I had to email someone to ask them a perfectly reasonable question that was well within their job description and I bashed out the words “So sorry to bother you with this, but….” before I caught myself. 


I found myself thinking, “How the hell do I even start a message if I’m not apologising!?” 

I settled on launching straight into the question, which somehow felt rude, but I had done it. One apology-free message down and no ramifications. 

But when I went to the shops that weekend, the ‘sorries’ were flying out of my mouth thick and fast. 

Once when the lift doors opened and I stepped back to let someone past. 

Once when I headed towards the counter at the same time as another person. 

And once when someone stepped out in front of me. 

Look, it’s fair to say it was not going well. 

But Abrahams says breaking the habit is all about simply becoming more conscious of when you’re saying it unnecessarily. 

“The first step is being really mindful not to do it, and then when you don’t you can treat it like data. What stories do I tell myself, can I tolerate them being upset with me even if I don’t know if they are or not? Can I tolerate the feeling of not apologising and just sit with it,” she says. 

Listen: On Mamamia Out Loud, Mia, Holly and Clare discuss why an Internet celebrity believes chaos is the most effective strategy for success. Post continues below.


It’s also important to start changing your language to remove the guilt and shame. 

“Instead of ‘sorry’, you might say, ‘Thank you for letting me speak my mind’, or ‘Thanks for showing me how to do that so I can do it better next time’,” Abrahams says. 

“The rule I have about apologising is that I will only apologise if I’m being authentic and if I honestly believe I’ve caused harm. I am really happy to offer it, but I will only offer it if I mean it.”  

By day four I was back in the office, and while I definitely let a few sorries slip through the cracks, I was being much more considered with my language. 

When one of my meetings ran over and I was two minutes late to the next one – something that would normally have me feeling worried that I’d caused a huge inconvenience to another person – I simply thanked them for waiting for me. 

And there is something empowering about choosing to allow yourself to be a human who takes up space, and who asks questions and sometimes gets in the way without meaning to, without having to apologise for it. 

So look, did I pass my own test with flying colours? No. 

Do I feel a shift in my communication with people now? Absolutely. 

My hope is that, as I continue to remove the sorries, I can be more intentional with how I act with people around me. And when I say sorry, I’ll really mean it. 

Main image: Supplied. 

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