Supporting people who are overly apologetic



Some people apologize all the time, for everything. This can be very annoying.

Here’s a conversation:

  • Mary: I like ice cream. I don’t want to order a slice of cake. I’m sorry.
  • Darlene: Dude, you don’t have to apologize!
  • Mary: Argh, I’m sorry about that.
  • Darlene: ::headdesk:::

Telling someone off for that kind of thing doesn’t help. People who do this do it for a reason; they’ve often been taught that they always have to want what other people want. They’ve been taught that it’s rude to ever express a desire. This is not something you can fix by getting annoyed.

In fact, you can’t fix it at all, because you can’t actually fix other people in any case. But getting annoyed makes the problem worse. So does telling someone off for apologizing. Some people need to apologize and adopt a deferential tone in order to feel ok about expressing preferences and boundaries. If you put pressure on people not to apologize, it makes it harder for them to tell you what they want. Don’t take it personally, and don’t take it out on them. It’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault either.

There are things that you can say that sometimes help other people to feel more comfortable expressing desires, if you can say them in a non-annoyed tone of voice:

  • “That’s not a problem.”
  • “That’s fine.”
  • “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

An addition from an overly apologetic person:

It’s often been DRILLED IN that you should apologize - mine was through my parents. Deference was expected and enforced to authority figures and was taught as POLITE BEHAVIOR in group settings.  Now, as an adult, I’m not even aware, half the time, that I’m even apologizing. 

For the person to whom the apologies are happening:   It’s a knee-jerk reaction. An involuntary thing. Like curse words in conversation, it’s just a natural part of the vocabulary and not always a conscious choice. We’re trying to be polite and show deference, or possibly showing our insecurities by showing deference to someone we deem a ‘leader’ figure.

We’re not doing it to make you feel bad, put pressure on you to make the decision for us (intentionally), or to be a pain in the ass.

Getting annoyed only makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong, and the apologies and deference only get worse because I’m trying to appease. Again. not strictly voluntary. So to handle a situation like that - the best thing you can do as the person being apologized to, is either acknowledge it only briefly with an :

“That’s okay."  "No problem” or “Sure." 

And then move on.

Or, just ignore it like you do the F-bomb in polite conversation and go on with your day.  Calling negative attention to it will only make it worse.