Try to imagine that you were recently employed at a new job and so far, you have expressed uncertainty about how to complete documentation. You regularly reach out to someone with more authority for assistance and explanations. The next time you are forced to see them at a meeting or when you have another question, you apologize for bothering them. You are just not used to the newness of the job and it can be tough grasping the proper protocol. From then on, your working relationship with this person seems strained and awkward with a profound power imbalance between you. You feel ashamed and burdensome.
Now, try to imagine an opposite approach in which you come to your mentor for help. Except, this time, you thank them. Instead of saying “sorry I keep bothering you with this,” you genuinely assert “thank you so much for helping me understand.” This would be a far more positive interaction for both parties involved. What would the differences be in your own self-image and emotional wellness if you took this approach?
Very likely, you would feel more empowered, confident, and grateful to your mentor for assisting you. There would be no nervous, unbalanced, awkward energy. Instead of feeling like a burden, awkwardly interacting with your mentor, there would be a new sense of gratitude and kinship. They would perceive your gratefulness and in turn, they would feel their own inner satisfaction.
So many of us are trapped in this whirlpool of over-apology. It could be argued that it all stems from intense people-pleasing tendencies and deep-rooted inadequacy. These tumultuous feelings are often found in people with histories of depression, anxiety, and abusive relationships. It can be a form of self-preservation and an intention to prevent repercussions. However, individuals with personality disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, apologize very rarely, and never take heed of such formalities.
From a young age, we are taught to seek forgiveness for meager offenses like being late to the dinner table or forgetting to raise our hand in class. In addition, evidence suggests that women are far more conditioned to apologize for minor offenses than men are. This should come as no surprise to women who grew up with these expectations to feel more at fault for misgivings. (Breines, 2013). While there may be proper manners to keep in mind to function in a civil society, hypervigilance surrounding apologies should be reshaped to foster a healthier sense of self.
Simple mistakes as small as arriving late or misunderstanding someone, should not warrant shame. Others are not nearly as aware of our perceived shortcomings as we are. Saying “thank you” strikes a healthful balance between arrogance and low self-esteem by utilizing the virtue of humility. We can recognize someone else’s contribution without downgrading ourselves. With a simple turn of phrase we have the capacity for empowerment. We are human. Mistakes will occur. Shame does not need to follow. Realizing this fundamental truth has the potential to create a healthier frame of mind, positively influencing every area of our social lives.