There is a tendency that some people have sometimes to apologize for things that do not require an apology, or to apologize for things that were not their fault. This is a habit that comes from a place of wanting to be considerate of other people, which is a good trait and a good quality to have. However, when we over-apologize, it can have the effect making you feel responsible for things that you shouldn’t be responsible for, and this pattern can contribute to a lack of confidence in how you feel and how you come across to other people.
Some people are so accustomed to apologizing for everything that happens, that they feel awkward when they make the effort to NOT apologize when it’s not needed. This can be a people-pleasing tendency that has become an ingrained habit. Other times it may be a response to anxiety or fear of judgement, but it can manifest itself in ways that merely serve to contribute to overall anxiety. The tendency to apologize for things when you have done nothing wrong may make you feel like you are in a constant state of needing to attend to other people’s feelings and comfort, leaving you feeling as though your own feelings and comfort do not matter.
What’s the Problem with Apologizing Too Much?
There is research that suggests that women tend to apologize more not because they are too sensitive or because men have more ego strength, but because women tend to perceive more wrongdoing in their own actions, whereas men tend to perceive smaller offenses as not worthy of requiring an apology. In other words, women tend to judge their own behaviors more harshly, leading them to find more scenarios in which they feel an apology is merited. Over-apologizing is not a trait only women experience, but it may be more likely to be true if you are a woman, particularly one who has been taught to attend to other people’s feelings more than your own.
Here are some scenarios in which you may have become accustomed to apologizing, but that do not actually require an apology:
- Expressing remorse for something that was out of your control
- Apologizing for being in the way when someone else bumps into you
- Apologizing for being offended at something someone else has done to you
- Apologizing for having feelings or for crying when you are upset
- Apologizing when someone else interrupts you
- Apologizing for making a simple request such as asking the time or a small favor
- Apologizing for apologizing
All of these situations are scenarios in which either someone else should actually give an apology, or in which there is no need for an apology at all because there has been no offense committed.
For example, have you ever been confiding in a friend about a painful experience, and then when you started to cry, you apologized to your friend for crying? This is an unfortunately common reaction that many people have when they start to cry, and the implication is that you have done something wrong by becoming emotional when talking about a painful experience. However, in this situation your friend is probably not offended at all that you started to cry, and in fact you have done nothing wrong; you are reacting in a perfectly appropriate way to an expression of your emotions. Why is an apology required? For disturbing the peace? No, you do not need to apologize in this situation.
When you begin to realize that you do not have to apologize for reacting to situations in perfectly normal ways, you will start to feel more confident in yourself. However, if you start to practice asking yourself whether an apology is needed before you issue one, you might find that you feel strange or uncomfortable when you stop yourself from apologizing.
Isn’t This Just Being Polite?
No, apologizing when it is not needed is not a form of being polite. Some people have this tendency because they have been taught or socialized to believe that they should always make sure other people are comfortable, even when they are personally uncomfortable. This is true in those cases when someone bumps into you awkwardly, but then you apologize for being in the way. Sure, you’re trying to just be polite and diffuse the awkwardness of the situation.
However, this is almost an invitation for people to walk all over you. Maybe this will not manifest immediately in the present moment, but over time, this tendency to always present yourself as the one who’s in the way can begin to undermine your own confidence in yourself and shows others that you are not going to stand up for yourself when someone has wronged you. This is most problematic in the way that this habit contributes to your overall demeanor around others. It doesn’t mean someone is going to start bullying you immediately, but over time it contributes to the perception that you will not fault others when they take advantage of or otherwise harm you. You can be polite and kind to others without apologizing for other people’s offenses.
The more assertive way to handle it when someone else bumps into you is to wait for them to apologize to you, which is what would be truly polite, and then accepting the apology with grace by saying simply “Thanks, but I’m okay”, or “You’re excused”. The thanks is for the apology, the reference to being okay or excusing the other person is a verbal forgiveness for the offense of bumping into you. If someone does not apologize for bumping into you, you can either choose to ignore it, or say “You’re excused”. This way the implication is clear that you are not the one who has done something wrong, but you are gracefully excusing the error regardless of the offender’s reaction.
Practicing this new habit in more inconsequential situations such as an accidental bump in a social setting will help you gain confidence for when you need to stand up for yourself in more consequential situations. When you really need to speak up for yourself because of unfair treatment in the workplace, or when a friend has said something hurtful to you, you will be better equipped to handle the scenario confidently because you have been practicing accepting responsibility only for the things you are actually responsible for, and not letting others off the hook for their own offenses by taking unnecessary responsibility.
When Is an Apology Really Required?
Genuine remorse is a different experience altogether. When you have done something for which you are truly remorseful, you should apologize. A genuine apology is an art in itself, and giving a sincere apology is an important part of mending relationships and living up to your own values. A genuine apology should first be sincere, it should explain why what you did was wrong, it should include acceptance of responsibility, and it should include an offer to make amends if possible.
You might need to apologize for snapping at your friend when you were actually upset about something happening at work, or for being late to an appointment where someone was waiting on you, or for not following through with a commitment you made to help with a project. Being able to verbalize a sincere apology is an important skill to have, and can go a long way towards reducing hostility in a relationship or for preserving your reputation.
However, when you apologize for things that do not require an apology, it can undermine your confidence and leave you feeling powerless when others take advantage of you. If this feels like a familiar situation to you, start by beginning to notice all the times you apologize, and begin asking yourself whether that was necessary. Then start by trying to reverse this habit in those smaller, inconsequential scenarios, so that you can begin to build confidence in your ability to assess when an apology is really needed. Just taking these small steps can go a long way in boosting your overall confidence and helping you to become a more assertive person.
I recently had the privilege of attending a private screening of the indie short film “Grab This” (2018) by writer and director Kendall Brunson. Grab This tackles issues such as date rape, workplace harassment, imperfect allies and national feminist politics in a raw and real narrative that leaves the viewer examining the world as it is, not just how we’d like it to be. One fascinating fact about this film is that filming was well underway when the national #MeToo movement took hold of the public discourse. The prescient nature of the material meant that the film’s creator and cast had to act fast to incorporate the national movement into the film’s narrative and scenes as it played out in real time. I spoke with Brunson about indie art, the state of the feminism in America, and why art still matters in politics.
RM: As an independent filmmaker, how do you see the role of indie films in shaping the narrative of the #MeToo movement, especially in light of Hollywood’s instincts to shape the movement in their own image?
KB: What I love about independent film is that it brings a different perspective to the table, and I’m excited to see what emerges from the indie community as the #MeToo discussion continues.
RM: What was important to you as the filmmaker when you took on the challenge of depicting a date rape scene?
KB: That was an incredibly difficult scene to shoot, and it was also our first scene that we shot post-Women’s March. The most important aspect of shooting that scene was that Claire (played by the incredibly talented Karen Konzen) was as comfortable as possible during the shooting. We were lucky to cast Scott Broughton to play Devon because (a) he was perfect for the role, and (b) Karen and Scott had worked together many times, so she felt at ease with him. We felt much safer than we would have if we’d asked her to act such an intimate scene with a stranger.
We also didn’t want to shy away from the rape itself which isn’t black & white. I wanted to focus on the coercion that sometimes can lead up to the moment where one party tries to convince the other that they’re just having fun and to relax. Scott did an excellent job of portraying that fine line of subtle vs. not-so-subtle coercion that then goes too far when he blatantly ignores her protests of “no” and “stop.”
RM: What do you think the HR manager Mya’s motivation is to discourage Claire from filing a complaint? What were her own limitations and risks?
KB: It’s interesting to see the discussions surrounding the role of HR in light of the #MeToo movement because HR is there to protect the company, not the employees. Mya is there to look out for the best interest of the law firm and to prevent legal action against the firm. So even if she thinks she’s Claire’s friend, she has to look out for her job first, and that’s to protect the firm.
RM: Claire resigns at the end of the movie; what was in her letter? Do you think she gave the real reasons or was her character forced again into silence in order to protect her professional reputation?
KB: We did write her formal resignation letter which was initially meant to be seen on screen and we also thought about having her read it in voice over, but we decided against it because it didn’t feel right to spell it out to the audience. I think it’s more powerful for the audience to bring their own perspective to the letter.
RM: Claire does not get justice in the end, at least not from what we saw. Why was it important to show the reality of what most women experience rather than providing an uplifting conclusion that makes the audience feel good?
KB: Because it just felt wrong. There isn’t a happy ending when something like this happens. The ripples of sexual assault continue on, so even if Devon did get fired, and Claire was able to keep working, that doesn’t remove the trauma. It would have been satisfying but not honest.
RM: You started this project before the MeToo movement started sweeping the country. How did you manage to incorporate the national conversation into a project that was already underway?
KB: We wrapped filming on Grab This! four months before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, and to see the topics of the film play out in media in real time was spectacular. It felt like the natural extension to tie it into the growing #MeToo movement, and it’s been so moving to see so many people share their stories.
I think there’s also a national conversation about how male allies play a role in silencing women’s voices, and that’s at the center of this story. Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of men who say they support women publicly, but their actions in private do not. Devon and Mr. Miller are going to the Women’s March in the film because they’re so “outraged”, yet both are at the very heart of Claire’s trauma (by causing the trauma and then silencing the trauma).
I was really nervous about making this film. It felt terrifying every step of the way, but as so many women close to me started sharing their own #MeToo stories with me after they learned what I was working on, I knew I had to finish this project for them.
RM: Talk about the filming process and how the Women’s March got incorporated into your project.
KB: After the election, I knew I needed to respond the only way I could – which was with art. And when the Women’s March seemed like it was coming together, I knew I had to go and shoot there. I didn’t quite have the full story yet, but I knew the general idea so I called my DP, David Howard, and Karen and asked if they’d be willing to go up and film with me and they were.
It was truly guerrilla filmmaking. We had a general idea of what we wanted to shoot but we honestly came up with a lot of the shots as we walked around the capital and marched (since we couldn’t really know what to expect beforehand). It was such a historic moment, that I knew I had to incorporate it into my project.
The most iconic shot of Karen sitting in front of the empty capital steps we stumbled upon, and it’s one of my favorite shots in the entire film. But I love the energy in the Women’s March scenes. It was such a momentous occasion for women, for this country, and for me. I’ll never forget that.
RM: Is there a follow up in your plans? Or will you take on the subject matter in other ways?
KB: I have no current plans to address this specific subject, though I might in the future. I will always tackle feminist themes and issues in my creative work because they’re at the core of who I am as a writer and filmmaker.
RM: What would you like your audience to take from the experience of this film?
KB: I want them to examine their own encounters. I hope they question situations they’ve created or been put in. We can’t make changes until we recognize the problems.
To find out more about Grab This!, visit www.grabthisfilm.com.
This past Friday, Olympic Gold medalist Aly Raisman delivered a powerful victim impact statement at the sentencing portion of convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar, former doctor to the USA Gymnastics team. Nassar pled guilty to 7 counts of sexually abusing minors, but he has been accused by over 150 athletes of manipulating his position as their doctor by sexually abusing them under the guise of providing medical treatment. The depth and scope of his abusive practices are horrific, but as with many of the abusers who have been exposed over the past year and half, he had a network of people behind him helping to cover up his abuses and discredit or silence his accusers. Raisman made clear in her statement that victims everywhere are fed up with being silenced and dismissed by saying “You do realize now the women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force, and you are nothing.”
I have spent much of my career working with survivors of sexual abuse, both as a victim advocate and as a therapist. The criminal justice system has long been a source of frustration for me and my clients, both because of its re-victimization of survivors who do come forward, and the difficulty that victims have with receiving any kind of justice at all. Specifically, I find myself infuriated when cases are dismissed outright because “there is no evidence”. The message this sends to everyone is that a victim’s testimony is not evidence. It is only when dozens and dozens of women come forward with the same stories that their word can be trusted and used in a court of law. It takes a powerful army of survivors to put away 1 single abuser. This is the broken system that victims are forced to contend with if they want any measure of justice for the crimes against them. We don’t do this with other types of crimes.
Raisman spoke forcefully against her abuser in court, questioning the system that allowed his abuse to continue for years and calling him out directly for being a manipulative predator of the worst kind. It can be difficult for a survivor to see Raisman, who is a successful, high profile woman, speak out in court and think “I couldn’t do that, she has more security, money, and support than I do; I have too much to lose by speaking out”. Yet one of the first things Raisman acknowledged when she began to speak was that she was scared, and she didn’t want to come to deliver her victim impact statement. Even strong, powerful women can feel scared and small when facing the prospect of speaking out against an abuser. No one is protected from criticism when speaking out about their own abuse, because our culture has ingrained an atmosphere of victim blaming and doubt into our collective response to crimes of sexual abuse. I have personally borne witness to enough horror stories of how victims have been treated to know that we have a serious, serious problem. Policies have gotten better over the past 40 years or so, but in practice, much of the shame and blame continues.
Sexual abuse survivors need first and foremost to feel safe again, which means being believed and supported when they come forward. When their experiences are minimized and dismissed, or when they are blamed for the actions of their abusers, the healing process is damaged and it may take years or decades before they are able to seek help again. Healing after sexual trauma is possible, but we can all contribute to making this process more accessible to survivors by believing and supporting victims and taking their claims seriously. However, until the criminal justice system undergoes reforms that will enable more victims to confront their abusers in court, countless victims will go without justice and countless abusers will remain free to continue to perpetuate their crimes. The problem of sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation continues daily. Anyone who cares about this issue must continue to speak out in support of survivors and demand changes in the systems that perpetuate the abuse if real change is to be made.
If you have been a victim of abuse, please know that while your circumstances may be unique to your particular experience, there is a lot of support available to survivors these days. It is important to know who, in your personal network of people, you may be able to trust and confide in for support. Yet even if you do not have a supportive group of family or friends around you, you can find support by reaching out for help from your community and from online resources. Finding an individual therapist or support group is one way to start the healing process. However, there are also many other online resources and forums where you can receive information and support if you are not ready to seek support in person or if you have difficulty finding resources in your area. If you have not been victimized, but know someone who has, you can be a supportive presence to them by believing them, listening, and providing reassurance that that abuse was not their fault, and that you are willing to stand by them as they heal and seek help in whatever form they need. Do not try to force the person to go to the police if they are not ready or do not want to report. As discussed, the criminal justice system sometimes serves to re-victimize and cause more pain to survivors. However, if a survivor does want to report, you can encourage and support them through that process, or help them to find a victim advocate. For more information about support and resources, visit www.rainn.org, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.