5 Times When You Don't Need to Apologize and Why it's OK

By Krista

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Last Updated: May 26, 2022

We hear a lot about the power of an apology, and inevitably, there are going to be times when we need to sincerely apologize. (Hint: We all make mistakes!)

However, over-apologizing is far more common than you might think. Even worse—you could be apologizing for something that you shouldn’t be sorry about (Did you actually do anything wrong?).

If you’ve found yourself apologizing when you’re not really sorry, apologizing for something out of your control, or apologizing for something that you really shouldn’t be sorry for at all, then you may need to take note—and stop the “I’m sorry” card. In this article, we’re going to explore when you shouldn’t apologize and why.

“It seems to me, sorry seems to be the hardest word.”Elton John

 

 

Why is An Apology Powerful?

Let’s be clear: there is a time and a place for a meaningful, necessary apology. If you’ve hurt somebody’s feelings or done something that you shouldn’t have, then you may need to offer a sincere apology. 

An apology is defined as an acknowledgment of a mistake, regret, or asking forgiveness for some fault. Saying you’re sorry can patch up relationships, smooth things over at work, and deal with any harm or hurt you might have caused. 

However, the real power of an apology is in its sincerity. People can usually tell when a person is truly sorry for something they’ve done, as opposed to simply offering an apology because they feel like they should

If you plan to apologize, make sure you really are sorry. It’s all about the motivation, and half-hearted or insincere apologies are a waste of your time and that of the other person. 

 

 

When Shouldn’t You Apologize?

Chances are, you can think of some incident when you’ve apologized, but you shouldn’t have had to.

For example, maybe somebody bumps into you on the street. It’s clearly their fault, but you automatically find yourself shooting off an, “I’m sorry!” only to realize that you’re not getting an apology in return. 

However, there are other, more serious incidents when you might find yourself on the brink of apologizing or even expected to apologize by other people—despite the fact it’s not your fault. Here are a few scenarios in which you should not be the one apologizing:

 

1. When it’s not your fault. 

It seems obvious, but you shouldn’t apologize for something that isn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter if you “feel” responsible, if you aren’t actually responsible for the mistake, you shouldn’t apologize. 

You shouldn’t need to apologize for a coworker’s mistakes, for something a family member has done, or for anything else that has nothing to do with you. Make sure you know what your personal responsibilities are, both at work and in your personal life.

More importantly, make sure you know which things aren’t your responsibility. You aren’t to blame for these things going wrong.

Related Article: 5 Important Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries with Others & Stick to Them

 

2. When it’s out of your control. 

Sometimes life gets out of hand, and things happen beyond our control. For example, suppose you’re late for something because of a delayed train or canceled flight. Realistically, there’s nothing at all you can do about that.

It might inconvenience some people (not least of all yourself!), but there is really nothing you could have done to avoid it. 

So, don’t apologize. You may want to offer an explanation as to why you’re late, such as explaining that your flight was canceled. However, it’s not your fault, and nobody should be ready to blame you or expect an apology. 

Alternatively, thanking people for their patience is a good way to acknowledge the way they’ve been inconvenienced without actually apologizing or taking the blame. 

Related Article: 7 Practical Ways to Feel More in Control of Your Life Right Now

 

3. When no real mistake has been made. 

There’s a big difference between making a real mistake or just reacting differently to what other people expect. You are an individual, and you’ll handle things differently from another person. 

A prime example is feeling as though you need to apologize for being emotional (or not emotional) over something that other people feel a certain way over, or for using different or unexpected methods to get the correct result.

This isn’t a mistake, even if other people don’t feel you’re acting the “right” way. Don’t apologize. 

 

4. When you’ve spoken your mind. 

As an individual, you have your own opinions. Never apologize for being straightforward and speaking your mind. 

Of course, there’s a difference between speaking your mind or being rude and hurtful. However, there’s no need to apologize for having a different opinion from other people, or for saying what you really think about something. 

 

5. When you’re being yourself. 

Never apologize for being yourself. This can connect with the previous two situations, where you’re speaking your mind or doing things differently from how others expect. This includes having different opinions from other people, or even clashing with them as to how something should be handled. 

At the end of the day, most of the time you don’t need to apologize for making your voice heard. 

 

 

The Worrying Consequences of Over-Apologizing

Over-apologizing is more than just “being polite.”

Firstly, apologizing too much dilutes the power of a sincere apology. If you need to say sorry and mean it, your apology will mean nothing because you apologize for things you don’t mean all the time. 

Secondly, over-apologizing can make other people start to blame you automatically.

If you apologize for something beyond your control, something you’re not responsible for, or something that doesn’t need an apology, others can start to see you as somebody who’s always making mistakes, who can’t handle anything, or is to blame whenever things go wrong. 

Last but not least, over-apologizing can hurt our own self-esteem. You might start to get into a bad mindset, thinking of yourself as worthless, as always making mistakes, or somehow inferior to others.

You might find yourself in a situation where you apologize automatically, without even stopping to wonder whether it’s your fault at all. 

 

 

Next Time, Think Before You Apologize!

Taking the time to really think about how much you apologize can help you work out whether you’re over apologizing or not. Sincere apologies are certainly a powerful tool, presuming that you don’t over-use them. 

Figuring out that sweet spot for when the “right” time to apologize is can help you ensure others trust you and that you trust yourself! It’s a fine line, but it’s one worth walking!

Read Next: Release Your Guilt: 8 Practical Ways to Stop Feeling Bad

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

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9 comments on “5 Times When You Don't Need to Apologize and Why it's OK”

  1. Finally! Thank you. Coming from Europe, the American over apologizing has been difficult for me to understand. The biggest issue for me, and I wish you would have mentioned that, is the "I am sorry" when someone has died. Unless they killed him, why do people apologize for that? I guess it's just an easy way out, easier than coming up with something that's actually helpful.

    1. Hi Michaela, in Canada, we tend to use "I'm sorry" almost interchangeably with "Excuse me," which can cause a lot of the overapologizing we talk about. I think in what you said, there may be a cultural difference where we use "I'm sorry" as a sign of respect when offering condolences. As Bonnie and others have mentioned, we use it compassionately, as in "I'm sorry for your loss." The article was talking more about the habit of many who take on blame unnecessarily, and we apologize without stopping to think about whether what happened is actually our fault to claim. What is the custom in offering condolences where you are from? Maybe there is a more 'helpful' practice we could adopt ourselves?

  2. What would you like them to say??
    People apologizing when someone’s loved one has died is their way of extending their condolences - of saying that they feel badly about the person’s loss.

  3. When people (in North America) people say “sorry” to someone when that person lost someone, what they really mean — and what is implied — is “I’m sorry for your loss”. It’s a way of showing sympathy and letting that person know that you understand (or are trying to understand) what they’re going through.

  4. Why can people not understand that I can be sorry that something happened to you and not be accepting responsibility for it? I am sorry FOR YOU, expressing empathy.

  5. Michaela,
    I understand what you are saying. However, when someone dies, it is a very difficult situation. Emotions are raw. When I care about someone and a family member or loved one dies, I am truly sorry for their loss. It is not that I killed them it is they have lost someone they cared about. To be sorry for the loss is showing compassion. Finding words for someone who is in deep grief can be very "sticky". One has to be very mindful of what to say and how to say it. I know because I lost my son. Sometimes people said things that exacerbated the grief and complicated my process. "Coming up with something helpful" is not everyone's "forte'" if you get what I'm saying.

    1. Great point Sharesa. Many of us simply don't know what to say when someone dies. When my husband died, it changed my perspective. A lot of the comments I would have thought would have been OK to say before I lost someone actually made it hurt more, even though the person clearly didn't intend that outcome. When people said, "I'm sorry" I took it to mean they were sorry I was grieving, sorry I had to go through this whole process, sorry they couldn't really help me, but were there if I needed anything. Losing someone is deeply personal, and in Canada at least, our custom is to offer "I'm sorry" as it is a neutral and respectful condolence to give someone.

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