Stop Over Apologizing. Start Communicating Honestly.
Want to stop over apologizing? The cure is honest communication and raw vulnerability. Here’s how I kicked the habit and deepened my relationships.
For years, I never recognized how often I apologized for every little thing that didn’t go right in life.
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In fact, I felt like I had to apologize for everything – for my bad day, for others’ bad days, for basic human needs, for not being perfect, for showing any hint of emotion that caused others discomfort.
Then a wise person asked me: What was I so afraid would happen if I didn’t apologize?
It stopped me dead in my tracks and began to reveal a deep inner truth.
The trauma I’d been through in the past was showing up in the present as an unhealthy dynamic of over apologizing and people-pleasing.
So I decided to heal it.
Confessions Of An Over-apologizer
At the start of my journey with over-apologizing, I said I was sorry every time I felt sad, the kids acted up or something didn’t go according to plan. I did it all the time, and it started to morph into this weird habit.
It even got to the point where it was annoying or aggravating for other people. By constantly apologizing for myself and everyone else, I was making other people feel uncomfortable with my own discomfort.
And it was all completely unnecessary.
I had to learn to stop apologizing for the basic needs, emotions and actions that were all just part of a normal day.
Why Grievers Over Apologize
Then came the grief.
I was already a chronic over-apologizer when my son, Drew, died in an accidental drowning. Once I began carrying the loss of a child – in addition to all my old trauma and pain – the over-apologizer in me went into hyperdrive.
Why? I worried about being the Debbie Downer. I had an innate fear of making someone else feel the crushing weight I was carrying … and being rejected for it.
I felt like my pain was something to be ashamed of … something that inconvenienced their good time.
In my mind, my apology was a way of making other people feel more comfortable around me.
It was my way of trying to be accepted, despite the brokenness inside. I wanted to make myself more enjoyable to be around.
But I ended up making most people feel more uncomfortable than they would have if I’d just shared what was on my heart.
One of the hardest things I ever did was start being honest about how I really felt. It was terrifying to tell people: I can’t sleep at night because I keep replaying the image of what it must have been like for Drew to drown.
But that was my truth.
And there was no escaping it.
So I started to tell the truth. I let my mouth quiver when my friends asked how I was doing. I didn’t apologize if it was a bad day. I even gave myself permission to break down in the company of a loved one, asking them to sit with me through the pain.
I told people I didn’t know if my heart was ever going to mend. I confessed that I didn’t know if I’d ever be ok again.
Rather than hiding the truth, or apologizing for the inconvenient breaches in my tough exterior, I decided to give honesty and vulnerability a try.
I let the truth come out.
Why Grievers Should Stop Over Apologizing
As I learned the hard way, the problem with over-apologizing is it’s not honest.
In fact, it’s a great way to keep yourself from having to really show people what you’re feeling – whether you’re upset with yourself, or even them.
While that might feel easier or safer at the time, it doesn’t serve anyone in the long run, and it quickly kills the only authentic relationships you have while you’re grieving.
The bottom line is: It only makes you lonelier.
Once you begin communicating honestly – and sharing what’s really going on inside – you realize that your voice matters.
And it’s not something to apologize for.
Let me repeat: Your grief is not something to apologize for.
Sometimes, bad things happen. We lose people or jobs or homes or identities. We experience pain and trauma and disappointment.
But that’s just something that happened. It’s not the single, defining narrative for you or your value.
Grief is a human experience – not a human fault. So there’s nothing to apologize for.
How To Stop Over Apologizing
1. Understand Why
In order to kick my habit of over apologizing, first I had to understand where it was coming from and what was driving the behavior.
I’ve experienced a lot of trauma, pain and hardship in my lifetime, and I think that always made me hyper-aware of how my pain might affect other people. I knew how big it was, and that made me afraid people would run from it if they felt it, too.
That fear reached its pinnacle during my grief, when I realized I was a walking reminder of every parent’s worst nightmare.
My choice became: Learn how to have honest conversations, or risk turning my relationships into hollow shells of what they used to be.
And I wanted to feel supported again.
2. Re-evaluate Your Apologies
If you’re the griever, you have to be honest. Look at what you’re apologizing for and evaluate whether it was actually worth an apology.
If I was late, didn’t follow through on a promise, or took out my emotions on another person, then they deserved an apology. I set boundaries and got clear on my own definition of right and wrong.
But mourning, hurting or being human were no longer things I would apologize for. I wouldn’t say sorry for a bad day. I wouldn’t feel bad that certain things were harder for me than they might be for other people.
I wouldn’t apologize when the conversation deserved honesty instead.
3. Practice Honest Communication
When you take out the apology, you need something to put in its place, and I wholeheartedly recommend honest, vulnerable communication.
Especially at first, however, that’s a tough task and something that requires a little practice.
So here are a few examples of what you can say to communicate your grief without apologizing, straining the relationship, or hurting anyone’s feelings:
- I’m not doing well right now. Can I share how I’m really feeling? You don’t have to say anything. Just listening would be enough.
- This is hard for me because ____.
- I’m not sure that’s the best environment for me right now. I will make my best effort to be there, but I may need to leave suddenly or early.
- That could be hard for me. Can we do something else instead? I would really love to spend some time together.
- If I commit to this, I need you to understand that I might not be able to follow through right now. Right now, I need to be gentle with myself.
- This is bringing up a lot of really intense emotion for me. I understand if it’s scary or uncomfortable. But if you want to help, you can ____.
- I know I’ve been carrying a lot of intense emotion into our relationship. I’m still learning to manage the grief and pain. If you’re not sure how to be around it, please tell me – but don’t avoid me. I would rather that we say the wrong thing than nothing at all.
- Thank you for showing up for me. I may not be able to show up for you in the same capacity right now, but I want you to know how much it’s helping me.
Behind my over apologizing was an avoidance of those honest conversations. But once I faced the fear and the awkwardness, I felt seen and heard again.
I didn’t feel the need to apologize.
And you know what? Most of my relationships strengthened. They became deeper and more authentic. More importantly, I felt more supported than ever.
There is immense value and healing to be found within the bounds of honest conversations. Once you realize that, there’s no reason to hide yourself away – no matter how big or scary your pain may be.
4. Embrace Vulnerability
When I stopped apologizing, something amazing happened. I discovered my vulnerability wasn’t something to be ashamed of but rather a resource of inner strength, compassion and inspiration.
It actually made me feel proud of myself for facing the truth and doing what was difficult yet right.
And it also created this opening for new and deeper connections in my life. Instead of holding back, I now gave my friends and family the opportunity to support me in my grief. And it allowed them to be honest with me in return.
At the end of a tough day, I could tell my dad I found an old popsicle stick Drew had thrown into the bottom of his toy box. We could laugh about how much Drew loved having ice cream for breakfast, how he snuck popsicles and hid the evidence.
I could share those precious moments with other people who loved him like I did. And every time, it solidified the new truth that I didn’t have to hide my grief away.
5. Proactively Communicate
Another unique opportunity that came from my over apologizing was the desire to learn compassionate yet proactive communication.
Because my pain and grief was difficult for some people to be around, I had to learn to communicate even better than I did before the grief.
Rather than waiting for a friend to call me, I might call and say: “Hey, I noticed you haven’t called in a while. Is it because our kids used to play together, and you think that might make me sad? I want you to know it might be hard for me – and I might even cry – but I would still love to be included, even though Drew isn’t here anymore. I miss you.”
The Bottom Line
We cannot do this alone.
We need people in our lives who will help us get back up even if we don’t think we can.
That kind of connection comes from a place of real honesty and vulnerability. It comes from choosing authentic communication, instead of hiding or apologizing for our humanness.
Share With Us!
Where are my over-apologizers? Where are you in the journey?
Share with us! We would love to know!
Your story is so important.
The A.R.T. of Healing is a membership, resource and community for mothers who are moving through the pain of losing a child. Conversations and materials will focus on the three main shifts that occur once you’ve reached the point of acceptance.
When you have accepted that your reality is now different, and you’re ready to find hope and happiness again, then this membership will provide a creative framework for your healing journey – as well as the community to support you along the way.
It includes activities, journal prompts, meditations, rituals, affirmations, a 7-part video series of healing principles and exercises and more – all to support you as you transform from a life of loss to feeling spiritually whole and emotionally free.
Learn more here: melissahull.com/membership.