“Don’t apologize for that” and “don’t be sorry” are common phrases I hear at Sequoyah and in the world at large—but why? It seems people often have to be reminded to not “over-apologize.” Let’s dive into what it means to over-apologize and see what the Sequoyah community thinks about it. What is it, why is it everywhere, and should we stop it?
Over-apologizing seems simple to define, yet it’s not. In short, it means too much apologizing. But what is too much? There are many different ways of defining what over-apologizing is, and they generally use different quantifiers. The quantifiers I encountered were: other people’s reactions to the apology; the intention behind the action being apologized for; and the effects of the apologies. For Sophia Schafer-Wharton ’26, over-apologizing is “them just saying it to say it.” People always interpret our actions differently, so it’s hard to know if you’ve crossed Schafer-Wharton’s line. However, physics teacher Kevin Delin defines over-apologizing quite differently. Delin says over-apologizing is “when there’s no transgression, and people apologize. Sometimes people apologize for making a mistake, and that’s not a transgression. There’s nothing to apologize for unless you’re intentionally trying to make a mistake…There has to be intent to apologize.”
Humanities teacher Craig Schuetze presents another approach. “I think,” he notes, “there is such a thing as too much formality or too much politeness when it gets in the way of the flow of organic conversation.” Combining these definitions, we can deduce over-apologizing is a combination of apologizing so much you’re no longer viewed as sincere, apologizing for something you didn’t intend to do, and apologizing so much you mess with the flow of things; most important, it’s a blurry line and no one knows exactly when they’re crossing it.
While the ways to define over-apologizing are numerous, there was consensus among interviewees about the reasons for over-apologizing. The main cause suggested is sexism; a number of those interviewed proposed that the patriarchy causes women to over-apologize. To this, Schuetze says over-apologizing “tends to fall along gender lines and female-identifying people tend to apologize more than anyone else.” Delin agrees, saying, “I think still [society] tend[s] to expect to train girls who then become women to apologize.” Harper Gowen ’26 elaborates on the role of society, saying she thinks women are affected “because we live in a patriarchal society and we women are told to be quiet. We’re told to be submissive. We’re told to apologize, especially in government or leadership areas.” Gowen also presented another societal factor, stating “I think…the threshold for what women need to apologize for, is a lot lower than what I guess men think they need to apologize for.” One study on over-apologizing found—just as Gowen had suggested—that women have a lower bar for what deserves an apology, so they apologize more. Because of the findings, it is viable to suggest that society is indeed training women to feel sorry for more things. People don’t always think about the factors behind over-apologizing. Often, as Gowen noted, it’s “a force of habit.” Sexism is so ingrained in our society that its impacts don’t always register for us.
Over-apologizing is definitely rooted in some bad stuff, like sexism, but is it bad? According to Delin, it is bad. “I think it diminishes the person in other people’s eyes,” he said. “I think sometimes it diminishes the person in their own head.” However, Gowen said, “I like apologizing. It makes me feel more comfortable in situations.” So apologizing does not negatively affect everyone’s self-esteem, and it’s still not the best. Yet, there is another important consideration. Schafer-Wharton said, “I think that there is a point where [over-apologizing] means that people aren’t really believing you’re sorry anymore. I think that’s the main reason…it begins to become bad.” People no longer believing in apologies can certainly be very bad for everyone and cause unnecessary harm.
If over-apologizing is so bad, how can you stop it? Schuetze’s strategy to curb over-apologizing is to “try and come up with short things to say to people to…empower them if I feel like they’re over-apologizing…I’ll be like, ‘don’t be sorry, be brilliant, because you are.’” Meanwhile, Delin explained, “I try to call it out privately first. And then depending upon the student, I’ll try to playfully call it out [in class] because I want the student to feel stronger. I want the student to feel justified.” Gowen, who’s been on the other side of the calling out, said, “I noticed, I don’t need other people to notice for me.” All of this is to say there is no perfect way to stop over-apologizing and you don’t always have to call it out.
Over-apologizing is extremely complex, both shaped by and affecting how our society functions. There are so many minute details that affect what we say and how people interpret it. So instead of apologizing for everything, we might want to ask ourselves why we’re saying it.