Throughout the day, the gentle clink of a coin drop fills my office space. It’s called, “The Sorry Jar,” and it was recently instituted by management. Whenever an employee is caught saying, "I'm sorry" when no apology is necessary, they must make a donation to the jar. When the jar fills up, we’ll donate the money to charity. I have a feeling it’s going to make us a generous bunch.
It’s offensive how frequently bright women say “sorry.” It’s not just surprising, it’s problematic—for a few reasons. For one, it minimizes the word’s significance. Apologizing appropriately is powerful, but seeking forgiveness for every little thing belittles the moments an authentic "sorry" is necessary.
Furthermore, it reinforces the falsehood that our presence is a burden. Too many women live in this belief. When I’m unhappy with my body, I hide it for fear it’s imperfections are offensive or unappealing. When I talk too much, I worry I’m overwhelming. When I hold a strong opinion, I feel overbearing. One of my greatest fears is to be perceived as bossy, or interpreted as a b*tch. So, I often find myself speaking with extreme caution. Sorry is a big part of my vocabulary. To be a woman, too often, is to embody an apologetic existence.
When we apologize constantly, we affirm the belief that we are less than worthy. That’s a problem. It’s a demeaning way to live, and it needs to stop.
Here are six times you don't need to say, "I'm sorry" — and what you should say instead.
1. When You Say, "I'm Sorry, I Think I Misunderstood You"
How two people ever understand each other is kind of a miracle. The occasional misunderstanding is perfectly normal and human, so you don't really need to apologize for it. Now, our behavior amidst miscommunication might warrant an apology—but that's a different story.
Instead, say: “I don’t think I understand. What I hear you saying is X… Is that right? If not, can you run that by me again?”
2. When You Say, "I'm Sorry, But I Need ... "
It was painfully hot in my office this week. The heat was starting to make me grumpy. Did I turn the AC on, though? No. I was worried speaking up would negatively affect someone else — so not only did I fail to express my needs, I felt apologetic for even considering it.
Learning to express my needs has been the biggest challenge of my late-twenties. It makes me feel guilty because, at a subconscious level, I worry that my needs are a burden—but that is downright dumb. Needs are not a burden. They're part of being a living, breathing human. Everybody has needs and it’s OK— no, mature — to ask for what you need at work, in relationships, and with friends. Having your needs met isn’t a guarantee, of course, but healthy women learn to ask.
Instead, say: “I need [X] because I feel [Y], please.”
3. When You Say, "I'm Sorry If My Opinion Offends You, But..."
It’s 2015, for goodness sake. Women can vote and own property. While we're at it, we should voice our opinions without feeling ashamed. (Though, building that sort of courage may take a lifetime.) Do your research and voice your opinion with pride. The world benefits from your perspective. Share it.
Instead, say: “I appreciate your opinion, and respect your position, but this is how I feel.”
4. When You Say, "I'm Sorry For Getting Emotional"
Have you ever seen a woman cry without apologizing? Me neither. Your emotions aren’t a burden. They aren’t an inconvenience. They are an honest expression. Don’t apologize for them.
Instead, say: “Thank you for being here for me right now. I feel loved.”
5. When You Say, "I'm Sorry For Being So Focused On Work"
I dated a guy who made it a point to tell me that my ambitions were "emasculating." It made me feel terrible, and I apologized often. I lowered my self-standards. I set smaller goals. I took fewer risks. It was a huge mistake, but it's a mistake that I see other women make often. Having goals and working toward them is admirable.
Instead, say: "It's unfortunate you feel that way. However, I am a smart, talented person. I need the freedom to share my gifts with others. I hope you can find a way to appreciate and celebrate my accomplishments."
6. When You Say, "I'm Sorry I Look Like A Mess"
You don't even need to be directly apologizing to deflect a compliment. Like, what's your natural reaction when someone compliments your hair? If you're anything like most women, it's something like, Oh, thanks ... It's so hot outside. It's been flat. It looks weird. I need to go get a trim.
Reacting this way literally discredits every ounce of that compliment. That's a form of an apology. It insinuates we don't deserve to feel beautiful.
Instead, say: "Thank you. That's super nice. I appreciate it."
The Bottom Line
Don't forget, while this might be a difficult habit to break, this is a feminist issue. It is not necessary to apologize for your feelings, your body, or your opinions. Those are the things that make you intriguing and beautiful and rich. They should be embraced — flaunted, even — but never hidden. Save your apologies for the moments that truly require one. Break you're, "I'm sorry" habit — because you don't need to apologize for every little thing.