"I'm sorry." It's a phrase I hear a lot as a teacher and former track coach. One young runner in particular would say she was sorry after every disappointing race. Week after week I could see this young woman's confidence crumbling before my eyes.
Women are well-known for apologizing often, regardless of whether or not the situation actually warrants an apology. According to researchers Karina Schumann and Michael Ross, when it comes to apologies, the biggest gender difference is that men tend to think that they have done fewer things that are wrong.
So how can women apologize in emotionally healthy ways? Here are three suggestions to keep in mind the next time you find yourself wanting to say you're sorry.
First, take responsiblity for your actions
...but don't apologize for others. Of course you should apologize when you have hurt someone, but apologizing too often for other people can potentially enable the bad habits of your loved ones. This is especially true with co-dependent parents or spouses. Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for other people's misbehavior can lead to harbored resentment and fragile, entitled children.
Second, be thoughtful
...but not overly anxious. Women tend to worry more about whether they have offended others. People who apologize more often are also more likely judge and criticize. Instead of worrying about how you look or what to say at the next social gathering, be the first one to compliment the other guests. Ask polite questions to show a genuine interest in getting to know people from different cultures. Don't feel obligated to apologize for unintentional accidents, personal imperfections or inconveniences that were out of your control.
Seek professional help to overcome persistent feelings of depression or guilt if needed.
...is independent of performance or appearance. Girls are growing up in a society obsessed with fame and celebrity. Teens are becoming overnight internet sensations and selfie-posting social media darlings. In addition to feeling the pressure of having to always look their best, young women are growing up in an educational system that emphasizes high-stakes assessments, GPAs and scores on college entrance exams. Girls have busy schedules that include school, sports, clubs, service, church and family obligations. Take the time to make the girls in your life feel loved and valued. Parents can ease the internal guilt and shame of overly apologetic teens by reassuring them of their worth. Clearly communicate your support for your daughter regardless of her GPA or the number of likes on her social media pages.
Apologies are powerful tools to encourage forgiveness in a relationship, but if you use them too often for the wrong reasons, you may want to consider different ways to break the habit. After years of battling negative thoughts and self-depreciation, the struggling runner I coached has now blossomed into a promising young leader. Be considerate and say you're sorry in a way that builds your confidence and creates a more positive experience for everyone around you.