“I Tried To Stop Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ For A Week — Here’s What Happened”


Women's Health |

Photograph by Nensuria/Freepik

Ever counted the number of times you say ‘sorry’ a day?

If you’re a woman, we’d bet you apologise. A. Lot. In fact, you probably way over-apologise. Get this: a study published in Psychological Science had men and women log all their offenses, and whether or not they apologised. Women reported committing more offenses than men — and offering more apologies.

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We also bet that as a South African woman, you take it next-level.

Now, besides erring on the side of extreme politeness, there are existing reports that say our “sorry” ways may be holding us back from career success and stronger relationships. So a bunch of women resolved to give up apologising for a week. Here’s what we learnt…

1. Sometimes it’s just about finding a replacement word

“I’m from that pre-queening generation where you literally apologise for breathing too loud, so this was always going to be interesting… I mean, mid-challenge, a heavy woman stood on my foot at Pick n Pay – I swear I could hear my toes snapping one by one – and I said sorry to her!? She remained on my foot for longer than was strictly necessary after that, but I figure, by that stage the continued crunch was due more to disdain at my wimpiness than anything else.

“The thing is, in that instance, as in so many others, I say sorry as a polite replacement word for: ‘Get the f**ck off my foot!!!’ It’s not that I actually feel sorry. And I suppose that’s the difference. If I actually felt sorry about getting in the way of that battle axe’s foot, that would be a symptom of a far larger underlying esteem issue. So, yeah, it’s more about finding a new replacement word that works across life’s series of awkward events…” — Susan Barrett

2. Just be honest

“So, if you’d ask me before today, I would have said that I am not much of a serial apologiser… I hate it when people — and women in particular — feel that they need to apologise for everything, sometimes as a space-filler, sometimes to fill the awkward is-any-one-of-us-going-to-apologise and sometimes because they really are well and truly sorry.

“In fact, I thought I used sorry somewhat sarcastically most of the time. And I was right. But I had given no credit to how many times I can apologise over mail or message… Turns out, I am excellent at using sorry to assuage my guilt at not being able to do something; at running late; at letting people down.

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“To stop saying sorry all the bloody time, all I had to do was acknowledge that I can’t double book, that it doesn’t take me five minutes to get everywhere (or anywhere really) and that it’s waaaay better to simply tell people you can’t do something than kinda hoping you’ll be able to and then having to yelp sorry to all and sundry! Let them down gently. Don’t say sorry. Just be honest. Winning tactic.” — Danielle Weakley

3. Being aware of it helps

“As soon as I was told that I wasn’t allowed to say sorry, I became aware of how often I say it and how often people around me say it. I think it’s a South African thing — men and women say sorry when other countries would say, “excuse me” or “pardon me”. I don’t there’s anything wrong with that cultural quirk.

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“I also noticed that I say sorry when I’m challenging someone, but I think that’s just part of a broader desire to keep the peace. Finally, I say sorry when I feel like I’m going to disappoint someone and this happens surprisingly often. ‘Sorry, this isn’t what you wanted, but…’; ‘Sorry, I can’t make it to your function because I already have plans’; ‘Sorry, I didn’t do the exercise with correct form’.

“My husband gets irritated by it because he says I shouldn’t be apologising when I’ve done nothing wrong. It doesn’t really bug me, if I’m honest. But I guess it’s good to be aware of it because of perception. Even if I don’t feel like I’m saying sorry too often, if people perceive that I am, that could negatively affect interpersonal relationships.” — Wanita Nicol

4. Keep trying

“I failed miserably at not apologising, despite it being me who brought it up so vehemently in our Monday meeting. I did, however, silently berate myself the myriad times I heard ‘sorry’ slip out my mouth: getting in the lift and actually taking up space; getting out the lift before someone else pushed their way in; stepping aside for a man, and apologising for being in his way, while fetching a mat at gym (while he ignored my apology and looked over my head); while making tea and reaching for the milk first… I could go on, but I won’t. Must. Try. Harder.” — Leigh Cann

5. And stop feeling so damn guilty…

“If I got a rand for every time I said the word sorry, I’d be a millionaire within two weeks. The word sorry seems to slip out of my mouth before I even have the opportunity to acknowledge what I have said. It’s basically become a knee-jerk reaction to life. Trying to not say sorry was challenging, especially when I wasn’t aware that I was saying it.

“I often feel guilty when I have to back out of commitments, deliver bad news, or tell someone no. Chalk it up to my sense of catholic guilt which I just can’t seem to shake. What made not saying sorry a little easier was accepting that certain things were out of my control, and it wasn’t my fault. Knowing when something isn’t your fault makes it easier to not say sorry. Accepting that I’m allowed to say no, made it even more so.” — Megan Flemmit

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READ MORE ON: Life Advice Real Women