By Lindsay Dodgson
You bump into someone in the street — you say sorry. You accidentally forget someone’s birthday — you say sorry. But when someone has wronged or disrespected you, do you say sorry?
You might think no, obviously not. But here’s an example: You’ve arranged an online video meeting with someone for a certain time, but they miss their appointment with you. They offer no explanation, and they phone you back later when you’re busy with something else. Do you still say sorry that you can’t take their call?
It’s women in particular that often suffer from a case of the sorrys, according to Perpetua Neo, a therapist and doctor of psychology. Some say sorry because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or they don’t want to lose out on future professional help. Neo said essentially what you’re saying is “do not respect me.”
“When you say too many sorrys you tend to be taken less seriously, and you tend to be less respected,” she told Business Insider. “You find it in the workplace, and when you’re dealing with men in the workplace especially.”
Some people are always going to try and exploit power dynamics. When that happens, if you already have the habit of saying sorry too much, you are likely to be taken advantage of.
“You’re going to feel extremely apologetic and small, and what you’re doing is you’re putting out this neon sign that says ‘please bully me.'” said Neo. “These are the kind of sorrys that need to go. Where the power dynamics are screwed up.”
You may pick up your compulsive apologising early on in life, or it could be learned in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Some people, if they were mistreated by a parent or by a former partner, will be used to apologising for simply taking up space.
When they start to heal from their trauma, they start to build up boundaries. But one of the biggest barriers they come across is how they keep apologising for everything, said Neo, “so really importantly, ask yourself: why are you saying sorry?”
Is it because you’ve become very used to scolding yourself, or others insulting and criticising you? If you’re saying sorry for simply existing, Neo said it might not be your own voice in your head — you might be playing someone from your past on a loop in your head.
For example, if you were gaslighted into blaming yourself for everything, you may have learned to apologise for the way you feel as well, which isn’t something you should ever be sorry for.
“I ask [my clients]: who is the one telling you you’re so stupid? And it might be their mother or father, or ex or whoever else,” she said. “If you can’t turn the dial down before kicking them out, then you’ll always be haunted by this smaller sense of self, and your brain is going to pick up on how you’re always at fault.”
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever apologise. Rather, you should learn to make your sorrys count. Then, when you do have to apologise, you’ll be more sincere. Find the times where you excessively say sorry, and ask yourself if there’s an alternative, Neo said. For instance, saying “excuse me” when you push through a crowd rather than apologising for your presence. Or if you run a couple of minutes late, say “thank you for your patience.”
You can also make yourself a flowchart with questions like: Have I hurt someone? or, Have I been rude or disrespectful? If the answer is “yes,” you should probably apologise. If it’s “no,” move on.
“It’s the difference between being kind and professional and being a nice person,” said Neo. “And sometimes we overload this nice person, who tends to have no boundaries, and tends to be Pollyanna-ish.”
Not saying sorry all the time doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, Neo said, if you already say sorry too much, you’re probably not at risk of being one.
“Women are afraid of becoming like men can be — very brash and entitled,” she said. “They’ve got a long way more to go before that happens.”
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Originally published at www.businessinsider.com.