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Therapist examines culture of over-apologizing

| Wednesday, January 25, 2017

“Be conscious of who you are and that you have a place in the world and you don’t have to apologize for that,” Julia Hogan, a mental health therapist and columnist for Verily Magazine, said in a lecture Tuesday.

In the lecture sponsored by the Gender Relations Center (GRC), Hogan said the language people use — specifically apologies and soft openers — has the ability to negatively impact relationships.

Hogan said that contrary to popular belief, this is a problem that plagues both genders.

“Women tend to notice more situations that warrant apologies from themselves, but both men and women say that they need to apologize at the same rate,” Hogan said.

According to Hogan, there is a difference between apologizing to take responsibility for something you have done wrong and over-apologizing. 

“Over-apologizing is taking responsibility for something that is unnecessarily yours,” said Hogan.

Hogan said two examples of over-apologizing is apologizing when someone bumps into you and apologizing when making a request because, for both situations, you are not to blame. She then defined soft openers, which she said are over-apologetic words used to preface the main point of a statement — such as “I’m just wondering” or “I’m sorry to bother you.”

Both over-apologizing and soft openers are epidemics that seem to be ingrained in the speech patterns of our society, Hogan said.

“A lot of these things happen in small ways on a day-to-day basis,” Hogan said. “If we can look at our language, understand what we are saying and shift it, then we can make a difference in how we relate to people.”

According to Hogan, people tend to over-apologize for a variety of reasons, including the belief that it is courteous, to avoid confrontation, because of a low self-image or simply out of habit. Over-apologizing reduces the meaning of an apology, and can culminate in the apologizer gaining a negative self-image and feeling resentful or taken advantage of by others, she said. It can also lead to a blurring of the apologizer’s personal boundaries.

“Instead of over-apologizing, hold people accountable for what they’ve done, and hold yourself accountable for what you’ve done,” Hogan said.

To combat the issue of over apologizing, Hogan said she suggests taking a moment to reflect on the reasons you have for saying sorry before uttering the words.

“Why do I over-apologize and use the language that I use, and can I change that?” Hogan said. “Can I make that more positive and relationship building?” 

Hogan said she finds that substituting phrases that include a “thank you” for phrases beginning with “I’m sorry” — for example, saying “Thank you for listening” rather than “I’m sorry to bother you” — works in many situations to alleviate the need for an unnecessary apology. 

Additionally, Hogan said it is important to establish and maintain boundaries, despite the fact that many people may interpret standing up for yourself as overly forward.

“It’s important to see it as a journey: one step forward, two steps back. It’s really easy to fall back into the habit,” Hogan said. “Your boundaries define who you are. … You can make choices and be happy with those choices.” 

Hogan said she recognizes the difficulty of changing a lifetime habit of over-apologizing, but she encourages people to be aware of their interactions with others.

“My hope is that you can walk away thinking about the language that you use,” Hogan said.

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