Stop Apologizing For Your Existence- Why Saying “I’m Sorry” Undermines You

stop apologizing for your existence

You know those situations when you’re opening the door to (usually) a public bathroom and someone else is trying to come out of the door at very same time? Do you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry” and not “Excuse me”?

I started noticing that I was saying “I’m sorry” ALL THE TIME The other day this happened, but I was on the opposite side from the one I’m usually on. A young teenage girl said “I’m sorry” to me as we were both trying to go through the same door. It surprised me that she said it when she did, and since I had already been thinking about how automatically I say those very words I almost told her “No, there’s nothing to be sorry about”, but the moment was quick so I didn’t say it and have regretted it since. It kinda broke my heart a little- there was nothing she needed to be apologizing for.

When we say “I’m sorry” when we should really be saying “Excuse me” it feels like we’re apologizing for taking up space, which is completely whack.

Constantly apologizing, and constantly taking responsibility for something you don’t need to be sorry for will slowly undermine your self-esteem and self-worth. I don’t know about you, but when I feel shitty about myself that’s when I’m most vulnerable to ads and to wanting what everyone else has. I realized that when I want what everyone else has I am trying to find a way to feel better about myself so I can try to measure up by obtaining what I think is causing everyone else to be so great.

It takes a lot of maturity, character, and strength to admit when you’re wrong so I’m not saying never say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong”, but let’s not apologize for simply existing or for being in the same awkward space together.

We don’t have to continue to use a phrase just because we’ve always used it, and deciding to use a different set of words is a quick and easy change that we can make daily. The pay-off for switching out these few words will result in you feeling better about yourself. Seriously.

This is a big thing that seems like such a small thing but from now on, I’m on a mission to say “Excuse me” instead of “I’m sorry”. Who’s with me?


What are your thoughts on this topic? And is it just women that say “I’m sorry” too much?

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33 thoughts on “Stop Apologizing For Your Existence- Why Saying “I’m Sorry” Undermines You

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  1. CLV

    “when i feel shitty about myself that’s when i’m most vulnerable to ads and to wanting what everyone else has. i realized that when i want what everyone else has i am trying to find a way to feel better about myself so i can try to measure up by obtaining what i think is causing everyone else to be so great.”
    THIS, so much this. It’s like you were in my head for so many years of my life! I started out adult life deeply in debt (school loans) and always thought that I would finally be happy and have friends and like myself when I could afford better clothes, shoes, purses, a nicer apartment, better furniture, more nights out, traveling, the list never ends. It’s taken over a decade for me to even begin to get my head on straight and realize that having all that stuff wouldn’t make me any better at making friends or connecting with other people and that the work I have to do is inside my head – not at the mall or on Internet shopping sites. Now when I want to soothe my feelings of inadequacy by buying something I know I don’t need with money that should be going to my debt payoff I work on reminding myself that this object will not change my life. It may boost my mood momentarily, but ultimately, it will put me behind on my debt pay-off and make me feel worse. It’s helping a lot. Thank you for saying this and addressing how much feeling not good enough can influence debt and finances!

      1. Emily

        Anna & CLV, it’s like you BOTH have lived MY head for years and I’m not sure anything I say will be much different. Last year I realized that I have been complimented more times on my outfits than my philanthropic deeds, which left me feeling kind of…hollow. And sure I have an amazing wardrobe, but I also have the debt that came from charging. As if all of the things that I bring to the table aren’t enough, but dammit, I’m going to look good no matter what. Never underestimate the value of solid self worth!! I’ve got a lot of work to do on myself and my debt, but I know I will be a better woman for it!
        Thank you both for sharing and your insight.

  2. Karen

    I have noticed that I apologize for many things and overuse the words “I’m sorry.” Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to try to become aware and see if I can break an old habit. Thanks for the post.

        1. Stephanie

          Me too! Last night, a friend came round to pick up her daughter, who I had been minding. As they left I called out “thanks!” I came back in thinking “why am I thanking them??” I think it’s habit.

  3. Rob Bennett

    I understand the point you are making. It might be that it’s the way you are feeling about what you are saying rather than the words that really makes the difference. I think it’s possible to say “I’m sorry” while meaning “Excuse me” and have that work out okay.

    Something I try to do is to be sure to let people who say either “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” know that those words are appreciated. I won’t just say “uh” or something like that. I say “No, not at all!” or “Of course!” so that they know they were heard and that there really is no feeling that they caused any trouble. It’s a small thing but it is a small positive connection with another person. And the good feeling that comes from that matters over time.

    I talked with you briefly at FinCon12. I loved your Guide to Denver and was bummed that I missed your art museum tour. I wish you the best with your blog. I’ll make it a point to pay return visits.

    Take care.


  4. Jex Adler

    Hi Anna,
    Until I noticed this post I didn’t realize how often I say it. I actually say it ALL the time and almost never have a reason to. I guess it just seemed appropriate to me. However I definitely agree with you regarding not using it unless it applies. “Excuse me” is more fitting for the situation.


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  6. Bill

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

  7. Maia

    Just fyi… in british english and canadian english (to a slightly lesser extent), “sorry” MEANS “excuse me” … it’s just a language thing.

  8. Ryan

    i’m canadian and most of us say “sorry” all the time..even if YOU clearly bumped into us and not the other way around, lol. it’s just how we do i guess :P

    i’ve never thought of it as apologizing for our existence or anything though, but i suppose i can see that it could be taken that way.
    i think it’s just habit to first say sorry as a reflex before even thinking about who’s fault it was cause we figure it doesn’t matter enough and saying sorry just defuses or eases the situation the easiest, but maybe i’m too optimistic. lol

    1. Anna Newell Jones Post author

      i hear ya ryan. the situation i was in with the bathroom door and the young girl really got to me and shook my thinking up. i know every time people say “sorry” doesn’t mean they’re “apologizing for their existence”. i do still think that it’s said too frequently and in the wrong situations.

  9. LaReesa

    I live in Minnesota–one of the most “I’m sorry!”-prone states in the nation, I guarantee–and my friends from out of state were shocked by how much everyone apologizes constantly. This is a good reminder–it can undermine your own self-worth as well as sabotage the way others view you.

  10. Mandy @ MoneyMasterM

    I am totally guilty of saying I’m sorry too often. My husband even makes fun of me for it. I’m going to do my best to change to excuse me. Changing your language is hard, it was a constant battle to change my language after we had kids. I had to watch words like stupid. We use silly instead.

  11. Armineh

    I completely agree with you, I used to say ‘excuse me’ as a child (Because my parents taught me to say it that way) But as I grew up I adapted to saying ‘sorry’ it started to seem like ‘excuse me’ was rude or insufficient. I hope other people will slowly start to realise that ‘excuse me’ is a much better way to put it. :)

  12. Donna

    I used to have a Japanese boyfriend and so.I spent a lot of time around Japanese people. I also got to visit Japan twice. One thing I noticed was that they apologise to each other all the time-even saying “I’m sorry” back and forth to each other, each person taking the responsibility on to oneself. I never felt that that undermined their sense of self worth. It seemed to keep people from blaming each other and seemed to promote good feelings and good will towards each other. I think in our country we have certain people tending to apologise a lot, and then other people who do not. I think in THAT atmosphere those who do apologise a lot DO end up feeling a lower sense of self worth simply because other people do not apologise as much as they do, therefore causeing a sense of unequalness. I think if we all apologised to each other more that feeling of eqality versus inequality would just not exist when it comes to apologising. Watch Japanese people with each other and you may get a sense of what I mean. Just another way of looking at things.

    1. Anna Newell Jones Post author

      Thanks for the insights Donna. You make some really interesting points and those are great insights into our cultural differences. I agree, if we were all wanting to take responsibility it would/could be a good thing/totally different situation but when there is an imbalance it makes it seem like the person saying sorry over and over again is lowering their self-esteem or apologizing for their existence. I suppose another way to look at it is that we can only do what we can do and not worry about what other people are up to. If other people don’t say “sorry” or “excuse me” because they don’t feel they have anything to say “sorry” or “excuse me” about then that’s on them and there may be a bigger issue at play.

  13. DH

    My daughter says “I’m sorry” so often that it concerns me but I didn’t know what to offer her as advice. By saying “excuse me”, my daughter gives the option to the other person to acknowledge her awareness of a (awkward) situation…..rather than her saying “I’m sorry” and the other person not acknowledging their share in the situation. Thank you for the insight :)

    1. Anna Newell Jones Post author

      Yeah, it’s such an over-looked (and over-used) term that seems innocuous on the surface but has such deep negative effects if used too often or inappropriately. I’m glad you’ll be able to use this to guide your daughter.

  14. Amee

    You could always just say, “Oops!” or “are you okay there?” It shows you care about the person’s feelings, without feeling bad about yourself.

  15. Michelle

    I hear you! I find that if my mood is down and I say “excuse me” sometimes even that can come out rude!!! ACK. I think “pardon me” is very polite to say… When I am caught off guard, or startled I tend to say “i’m sorry” and we need to stop saying this… I agree! Thanks for your post.

    1. Anna Newell Jones Post author

      It’s so easy to slip into those old habits. I still find myself saying “I’m sorry” here and there when I really mean “Pardon me”. I’m finding that the more I work on it when I’m not tired or caught off guard it helps in those moments where I am tired and caught off guard. Hey, it’s a process!

  16. Tzippora Leah

    ” I realized that when I want what everyone else has I am trying to find a way to feel better about myself so I can try to measure up by obtaining what I think is causing everyone else to be so great.” – BRILLIANT!!!

  17. Steph

    I’m big on the idea that it is more important how you make people feel than being “right”. So saying ‘sorry’ as a polite gesture instead of ‘escuse me’ feels better, than I think that’s fine too. (Of course there is a time and place to be right, even if it makes ppl uncomfortable – but I guess it’s a judgement call :) )


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