‘Sorry, Not Sorry’: 9 Ways for HSPs to Stop Apologizing

A highly sensitive person making a “stop” sign with her hand

Because sensitive people feel everything deeply, they may say “sorry” even if they did nothing wrong.  

Have you been told that you apologize too much? Do you often find yourself saying “sorry” even when you did nothing wrong? Do you sometimes regret your apologetic nature, particularly at work?  

I have been told to stop apologizing for most of my life. “Strong women don’t apologize much,” I was told. “Leaders should be careful how often they apologize,” they said. 

Those statements are often true in Western cultures in particular. Over-apologizing mitigates the impact of a genuine apology and can portray a lack of confidence to others. In addition, the person who regularly apologizes may eventually suffer from resentment and low self-esteem. They may wonder why others don’t apologize more often, feel taken advantage of, and under-value their own worth.  

Sensitive People May Be More Prone to Over-Apologizing

And we highly sensitive people (HSPs) may be more prone to over-apologizing. We feel everything deeply, and can easily sense others’ anger and discomfort. We feel badly if we hurt someone’s feelings, and sorry that anyone suffers or is in pain. Thus, we may say “sorry” even if we did nothing wrong.  

The problem is that then the HSPs who over-apologize may feel taken advantage of or improperly blamed for the situation. They may kick themselves later for failing to stand up for themselves or enacting boundaries, particularly if they are in a leadership position or when their apologetic nature impacts their work. I think many of us HSPs need to work on over-apologizing. Below are nine ways to do so if this is a struggle for you.

9 Ways for HSPs to Stop Apologizing 

1. Acknowledge that you may be wired to over-apologize.

Your make-up brings sensitivities that make it difficult to ignore others’ pain. If others felt the depth of emotion you feel, they too would likely apologize more often. Plus, HSPs have heightened depth of processing and overarousal, causing them to become overwhelmed by difficult situations more quickly than most. Apologies can end these overwhelming situations quickly. So do not beat yourself up for honoring others’ pain or trying to protect your own energy.  

2. Reaffirm your HSP strengths.

When you reaffirm your HSP strengths — like your compassionate, empathic nature — you can recognize how beautiful it is that you feel badly about another person’s disappointment! Don’t we want to live in a world where others do care about hurt feelings, even if they are not responsible for the hurt? Don’t you think it is great that you find other humans (and their emotions) important? 

I do, and I am proud that I feel compassion and empathy for others’ pain and disappointment. We are meant to be connected to one another, and my biological make-up affirms that. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but instead, is something to celebrate.

3. Recognize the world is not like us.

Society has yet to recognize sensitivity as a strength, so people may take advantage of (and even judge) us for our natural inclination to apologize. This is particularly true in the workplace and for those in leadership positions who over-apologize.  

So take some time to journal about the impact of your apologetic nature. Why is this tendency beautiful, but also when has it been harmful to you? How do others react to your apologetic nature? What messages are you sending to yourself when you apologize so often? Are you, in fact, undervaluing yourself?

4. Commit to change.

We owe it to ourselves to present our light, and not let ourselves or others dim it. If you find that apologizing is dimming your light — either because of your own regrets or the way others perceive you — then it is time to commit to changing your “outward” tendency to apologize. (Yes, I know, we HSPs are not great with change!)

Affirm for yourself: “I commit to working on my habit of apologizing outwardly to others.”  

Then acknowledge that the process of shifting this tendency will take some time, and that you may still revert to old habits. All of that is part of the process of change, but committing to do better is key. Be sure you deeply understand the pain you feel by being so apologetic. This will give you some leverage to make this change, and to stick with your commitment. And if you need more leverage, go back to your journal, and write more about the harmful effect of apologizing.

5. Interrupt your pattern of apologizing.

Like biting your nails, or any ingrained habit, you may not be aware of your constant apologies. You might, for instance, consistently apologize whenever you say “no” to someone, or even when you sense another person is hurt or disappointed in life.  

Try to be an observer and catch yourself apologizing. Perhaps ask trusted friends to help you, as well. When you notice the apology, do not play the blame game. Send yourself some love for your beautiful nature, while also working to interrupt these patterns.

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6. Take your time to process the situation at hand.

Before apologizing, take time to deeply process the situation (which we HSPs excel at anyway!). Are you regretful? How will apologizing help you and the other person? Is it the right thing to do at this moment? Have you done something wrong? If not, ask yourself why you are apologizing.  

For when we suggest we were wrong when we were not, we may be undermining our own sense of worth. If you have nothing to apologize for, ask yourself if apologizing to the other person will cause you to “shrink” or feel less important? If so, do not apologize. Of course, if you were wrong, then apologize.  

7. Forgive yourself for any mistakes you have made.

We are human. We hurt people. It happens. Sensitive types often stew on the hurt for days and days. (Others do not stew over their mistakes like that.) And, like them, we too are humans who make mistakes and deserve to be free of guilt. So if you made a mistake and apologized, then make sure you also forgive yourself and send yourself love.  

8. If you decide not to apologize, consider whether a conversation is in order to discuss the conflict further.

Some HSPs can be avoiders because they do not want to face difficult and overwhelming emotions. Yet, oftentimes, lingering resentment hurts both sides deeply. Without a discussion, you may never understand the other person’s true intentions, motivations, or feelings, and they will likely not see your side of the story either. 

Expressing your disappointment, pain, and/or frustration may be an important piece of owning your voice in the relationship. It may also help reframe the matter, and clear up any misunderstandings. If possible, try to talk out the situation, but remember that you deserve to stand up for yourself in this process. 

9. Close the books on the conflict — do not let the issue linger.

Whether you apologized or not, find some figurative way to end the stewing in your brain. For me, it’s about mental health — and I often need to send good thoughts to myself and the other person. A loving kindness meditation is helpful, as it brings you structure to this process, asking you to repeat mantras to yourself (silently or aloud) that make way for forgiveness and surrender. Often, the mantras go something like this:

May you be safe 

May you be happy 

May you be healthy

May you live with ease

People typically start the meditation by wishing safety, happiness, health, and ease to themselves and those they love, and eventually incorporate the person’s name with whom they have had a disagreement into these mantras. This meditation by Emma Seppela offers another great example and a bit more explanation about the process.

In addition to meditation, I have also found it helpful to affirm that the matter is done, and I did my best. I sometimes even mime closing a pretend door while thinking about the situation. Case closed, I think, as I lock up the door. You may need to play around with this, but find a way to close the books on the issue, so you can — unapologetically — move on with your life. 

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