I Stopped Saying Sorry for a Week, And It Was Harder Than I Ever Imagined

This is what happens when a chronic-apologizer quits their dirty sorry practice cold turkey — I thought I could do it. I thought wrong.
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Publish date:
May 2, 2016
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self esteem, confidence, sorry, apologizing, sorry not sorry

A businessman walks into me on the subway. Sorry! I'm one minute late to a first date. So sorry! I walk into a mailbox on the side of the street. Ah, whoops, sorr-

That's when it hit me, mid-apology to an inanimate object: I say sorry way too much and I'm not alone.

Women, overall, actually do utter those two little words more often than men. It's not that men admit their transgressions less frequently — they apologize just as much as women when they think they're in the wrong — it's just that men believe that they have done less to apologize for. In other words, a man would probably not have apologized to a mailbox like I did. Once I noticed my over-apologizing habit, I was shocked at how many times a day I said it and how ridiculous it sounded. I started feeling like the women in Amy Schumer's so-real-it's funny sketch, cringing each time I uttered the words. It was going to be a tough habit to crack, so I decided to quit my dirty practice cold turkey. Here are the rules:

I will not say sorry. At all. For a week. The one exception is if I do something next-level horrible or if the situation would be extremely inappropriate without it. See: If I run someone over with a moped or spoil The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's new season. (Okay, fine, the last one doesn't count, but you know what I mean.) I don't think I have ever been so skeptical of my own ability to do something since I was forced to do push-ups in front of my entire high school at a pep rally, but here it goes. (I did one lone push up at that competition and will forever be embarrassed about it.)

Day One: Work, Work, Work, Work, Work...Sorry Count: 15

I chose to challenge myself, and start my experiment during one of the days that I intern. I thought I could do it. I thought wrong. I said sorry twice before even arriving at the office, most notably while pushing the elevator button in my apartment. I reacted to this sorry slip-up by literally yelling an expletive and terrifying an innocent man. Sorry sir.

Once I got to work, all apology-hell broke loose. Sorry to bother you. So sorry, are you busy? Ah, sorry. Honestly, Danielle, get it together, I thought. But I did not get it together and apologized more than twice an hour for a full workday. And that was while consciously trying not to. Yikes.

Day Two: Biting my Tongue, LiterallySorry Count: 3

Don't let this low number fool you, I was only out in the world for three hours, and three apologies in three hours does not a successful day make. I was so frustrated by my performance the previous day that I actually, physically bit my tongue to avoid muttering sorry while walking to meet a Tinder date. Extreme times call for extreme measures.

However, Tinder guy was 30 minutes late and over-apologized to me for it when he arrived. I didn't say sorry once, but I was struck by the power dynamic that those two words set up. For the rest of the date, I felt like I was in charge. I wondered: am I setting up this unequal power dynamic each time I over-apologize? Can two words shape a relationship?

I don't know the answer, but I do know that I don't want that to be the impression people have of me. Renewed with determination, I didn't apologize once on the way home and didn't have to bite my tongue to do it.

Day Three: The Sorry ThesaurusSorry Count: 5

On the third day, I emerged from my apartment armed with an arsenal of words to actually express myself other than "sorry." I said "excuse me" on the subway instead of muttering "sorry" a thousand times and I thanked my friend for waiting for me when I arrived late to a fitness class.

It was so much easier when I knew another phrase to say — an appropriate phrase! — instead of relying on "sorry" for every incident. I realized that by saying sorry so much, I had made the word meaningless in situations when it actually mattered, when I really did something wrong.

Day Four: Just Because You Say Sorry Doesn't Make it OKSorry Count: 6

I killed it on day four, until I grabbed By Chloe with my best friend Matt. It all went downhill from there. As we sat in Washington Square Park, we chatted about serious decisions and happenings in each other's lives, but I kept getting distracted.

I saw a funny tourist family and burst out laughing: Ah, sorry Matt. I saw a French bulldog rocking a vest: Oh my god, look at his little coat... Sorry, keep going! (The conversation went on like that every ten minutes or so.)

I couldn't stop, and saying sorry was a reflex for my bad behavior. I realized after the fact: I don't just say sorry when I am nervous, I sometimes use it to excuse my bad behavior. I was being rude to one of the most important people in my life and said sorry as a way of acknowledging the behavior, but to avoid changing it, and that is just not acceptable in my book.

Day 5: Texting is a Cruel MistressSorry Count: 11

I know, I know, I fell off the wagon. But it wasn't my fault! It was my phone's fault and I'm sticking to it. I realized that my apologizing habit transferred on to my devices. And it wasn't pretty.

Think before you text, everyone.

Day 6: Finding the PatternsSorry Count: 4

With my texting vice finally in check, I headed to a full day of class. Although I did slip up, I realized another pattern: I say sorry when I'm uncomfortable. That day, I was squished in an elevator so I apologized. I wasn't apologizing for anything other than taking up space in the world. And that's crazy. Could the root of my apology addiction lead back to a lack of self-confidence? Or is it a larger issue? I always thought I hid my self-esteem issues extraordinarily well, but I caught myself saying sorry when I worried that I wasn't giving off the right impressions.

Day 7: The Ultimate TestSorry Count: 2

I went to my internship again, a bit worried because of my previous not-so-stellar performance in the sorry department. But I guess I'd finally slayed my apology monster and I truly noticed a difference at work. I felt more confident not only in what I was doing, but in how those around me viewed my work. I wasn't apologizing, I was working. And this new, unapologetic working me feels better than the "sorry" me ever did.


Final Thoughts

When approaching this experiment, I didn't expect to learn so much about the impression my apologizing habit cultivates. When I over-apologize, I don't come off as the capable, intelligent woman that I am, but as a people-pleaser. As a Time article from 2014 points out, "[Saying sorry] is a space filler, a hedge, a way to politely ask for something without offending, to appear "soft" while making a demand."

But why do women, especially young women, feel the need to do this? Why are we apologizing for occupying the same space as others and asking for the same things? It makes sense when you look at the amount of times a woman is told to make herself smaller and less intimidating in the world. From being skinnier to making less noise to everyday acts of taking up less space, we are instructed from a young age to be ladylike. Saying sorry seems like another manifestation of this. But women didn't fight so hard for the rights we have today so we could make ourselves smaller by apologizing. We were born to be big, it's just our world that tells us to be small.

Maybe stopping the unnecessary apologies is one small step towards rebuilding ourselves and our confidence. So, I encourage you to try this experiment for yourself. You might be amazed at how much bigger and better you feel.