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.
Everyone is going to come across people in their life that are just difficult to deal with. There are many different kinds of difficult people, and in order to have a healthy mindset and not let these kinds of people bring you down or derail you from your goals, it is helpful to be able to identify these kinds of people and learn how to manage their personalities.
Difficult people can make it harder to stay positive and get things accomplished, and they can occupy more of your mental energy than they deserve. In order to combat these kinds of people, you need to first identify what kind of personality you are dealing with, and then have a strategy to cope with them when they come your way.
First, understand that difficult people are the way that they are because they have learned that behaving in a certain way works in their favor in one way or another. Being difficult may mean that others do not criticize them, or that they get their way more often. They may have found that attacking others helps them avoid being attacked themselves, or they may feel more powerful when others acquiesce to their demands. Whatever their reason, they are usually immune to the normal ways of communicating with others because they have found a method that helps them feel better about themselves or get more of what they want.
Next, make sure you know what NOT to do when dealing with difficult people:
- DON’T take their behavior personally. Other people’s behavior is always about them, it’s not about you. Chances are they treat everyone this way, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are being personally attacked, even if it seems that way.
- DON’T try to mimic their behavior or beat them at their own games. This will usually add fuel to the fire and just stimulate more conflict. Moreover, difficult people can be very manipulative and could use your actions against you. This tactic rarely turns out well.
- DON’T try to appease them by trying to make them happy all the time to avoid conflict. Difficult people will tire of you when they figure out you won’t fall for their games, but if you feed them what they want, they will always come up with more demands to make.
- DON’T try to change them by rationalizing or appealing to their empathy. You cannot change others, you can only change yourself and how you respond to people and situations.
- DON’T give up. You will get better in time with dealing with difficult people when you become more confident in yourself and your abilities. This is about not giving up on yourself. You are free to give up on trying to change difficult people, though.
Finally, here are some tips to deal with a few different kinds of difficult people:
- Negative Complainers: Complainers are people who have a hard time trying to find the positive in anything. When they get something good, they find a way to find fault with it. When they receive a compliment, they shoot it down. These kinds of people can be exhausting to deal with because they constantly need other people to prop them up and boost their ego. They typically do not have much confidence in themselves, and they use other people to make up for this by constantly requiring the people around them to make up for their negativity. To deal with this kind of person, avoid arguing with them about their own terrible outlook. Instead, respond with something like “It’s too bad you feel that way. When I feel like that I usually try to look for the positive”. Don’t give them the solutions. This reinforces their behavior. Instead, turn their negativity around by encouraging them to come up with their own solutions. If they can’t, just repeat that it is unfortunate that they feel so stuck.
- Aggressive People: Aggressive people try to intimidate others into doing what they want. This usually serves to keep attention off of them so that they don’t have to change. They expect that others will be intimidated into silence or will respond back with aggression, which helps them avoid responsibility. The approach to take with these people is to stay calm, refuse to be intimidated, and remain assertive with your viewpoint. When you remain calm while they are losing their cool, they end up looking like the crazy person, and you look rational and level. They will eventually run out of steam, or get frustrated with their inability to make you break your calm, and they will have to calm down. The key here is not to let their behavior influence yours. I know it will feel difficult, but this is why you will gain the upper hand eventually. When others learn that they can’t bully you, they will eventually stop trying. However, there may be times when you need to set boundaries by saying something like “I’m not going to engage further in this conversation until you are able to remain calm. I’ll talk to you later.” Then, end it. Refuse to engage further until they stop the aggressive behavior.
- Snipers: Snipers are similar to aggressive people, but they use more subtle messaging and methods to attack you. They tend to be hostile and they make people uncomfortable by making snarky remarks, sarcasm, disapproving facial expressions, and other innuendoes to try and intimidate people. This makes them feel more powerful and boosts their ego because inside they are actually insecure and need to make others feel small in order to feel good about themselves. The way to combat this kind of person is two-fold. One way is direct confrontation. This requires that you are confident in yourself and your assertive skills. You might say something like “That comment sounds like you’re making fun of me, and I don’t appreciate it”. Some people will be so shocked by your ability to pull this off that it will stop their behavior. Another approach with this kind of person is the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach. No matter how rude and nasty they are, just respond with kindness and sincerity. Sometimes this approach works because kindness is disarming. It is hard for most people to be unkind to someone who is always kind to them. This won’t work with everyone, so choose your approach wisely. This is not about being fake, it’s actually about being sincere. If you approach all people with love no matter who they are or how they treat you, you are being true to your own values, if those are your values. The kindness approach works for me personally, because it is literally just easier for me to be kind to others than to be snarky, but that’s just my personality. I’m good at being assertive too when I need to be, but kindness is my default, so that’s where I often try to start.
- Avoiders/Silent People: Some people do not have the assertive skills to deal with confrontation in a healthy way, so they will avoid you when they are upset, or they will use passive tactics such as giving you sullen looks, or respond to your questions with “I don’t know” or “Nothing’s wrong”. These people can be hard to deal with because they require a lot of your emotional labor to figure out what is wrong, or they require you to be the one to fix things all the time when there is a conflict. These people get away with not doing the work to fix problems by not talking or refusing to act. It works because other people who are uncomfortable with silence or tension will do the work to fix things. The approach to take with these people is not to play into their avoidance. The sooner you confront the issue, the better. If you know what the issue is, ask questions that can’t be avoided, such as “I can see that you’re upset, so let’s talk about what just happened”. Calling them out on their behavior right away in an assertive but friendly tone can help resolve problems so they do not fester. If, however, they refuse to engage or talk, then let it go and ignore all further behaviors. If you try to talk to someone and they will not engage, then they just have to sit with their frustration and silence because they made that choice. You do not have to continue to try and coax them into talking or go through enormous effort to cheer them up or get them to talk to you. Choose to go on with your life or your day and do not take responsibility for the inaction or avoidance that others choose. When they see that their mood is not going to ruin yours, it becomes less effective to avoid talking.
You will not always get the outcomes you want when dealing with difficult people. As stated before, you cannot change other people, you can only change how you react to them. But difficult people do not have to ruin your mood, your day, or your life if you choose not to let them. There may be some situations you cannot avoid, such as when you have a toxic boss or a family member that likes to ruin Thanksgiving. But remember that your power lies in you being in control of your own behavior and your own reactions, and living true to your own values.
Human beings vary in their degree of sensitivity, by which I mean that there are some people who are highly sensitive and who feel emotions very intensely, whereas there are others who display little sensitivity towards others and who also do not seem to be as affected by their environment or the people around them. Empaths are people who are empathetic and sympathetic towards others, and also experience the world as a highly sensitive person.
From Sociopaths to Empaths
There appears to be about 3-5 percent of the human population that fall under the category of sociopathic, which does not mean that they are all murderers, but does mean that they operate their lives in a way by which their primary concern is always about themselves, and they do not have the ability to see things from the perspective of others. They may feel very little true guilt or shame about doing harmful things to others. Another 1 percent is considered psychopathic, with higher percentages of both sociopaths and psychopaths found among criminal populations.
There is another end of the spectrum though, who are rather the opposite of the sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists, which is those who are highly sensitive individuals, sometimes referred to as Empaths. Interestingly, highly sensitive people comprise about 20% of the population. Empaths are a kind of highly sensitive person that extends their ability to experience the feelings deeply of others as well as themselves. Empaths are people who identify with and feel intense empathy towards others. This does not mean that they are inherently fragile or overly-emotional. It means that they feel things deeply, think about things deeply, and take on the emotions and experiences of others as their own.
Who Are the Empaths?
Being highly sensitive is a temperament trait, not a disorder or a problem that needs to be solved. In fact, it is a trait that likely has some benefit as a survival trait, because high sensitivity exists in over 100 different species of animals as well. For example, certain dogs may be more sensitive and empathetic, which makes them amazing companion animals and also great therapy dogs. These animals, as well as highly sensitive people, are very responsive to small changes in their environment.
Empaths often find themselves worrying not only about their own problems and experiences, but the problems and experiences of their friends and families, people they may not even know, and the problems of the world at large. While many people do think and care about these things, empaths tend to have a more intense personal emotional response to these things, and may find themselves exhausted at caring so much about everything. Both men and women can be empaths, and highly sensitive individuals exist in similar rates in both men and women.
Empaths typically have the following characteristics as part of their general personality and constitution:
- Highly emotionally responsive, ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others
- Easily empathize with animals
- May cry easily, even at seemingly innocuous moments, commercials or movies
- Tend to be creative and curious, with a desire to learn about and understand the world
- Susceptible to over-stimulation, such as crowds, loud noises, or over-work
- May be inclined towards caring professions, such as nursing, mental health, or teaching
- May burn-out easily and need reclusive time to recover
- Tend to observe quietly and take things in
- Mentally process information deeply and thoroughly
Empaths may often feel different than others, feel misunderstood, or have a hard time understanding why others in the world care so little compared to them. This can lead to a tendency towards introversion, although not all empaths or highly sensitive people are introverted. Many empaths have been told throughout their lives that their way of perceiving the world is wrong, or that they need to “get over” their feelings. However, recognizing that you are a highly sensitive person or an Empath may help you to understand more about what your unique needs are by learning to value the traits that you have and use them as a strength.
What do Empaths Need?
Empaths tend to work well independently, and also work well in settings that are one-on-one with another person. Workplace environments with a lot of people, or that are very noisy and simulating may leave empaths feeling drained rather than energized. Socializing may lead to similar experiences. Knowing that certain environments will feel over-whelming and lead to feeling unwell may help empaths make decisions about career paths and socialization choices that will lead to more fulfilling experiences.
Empaths also may need to have down-time in between experiences that are overwhelming. For example, after going to a party one evening, an empath may need to make sure they schedule time for solitude in order to recover and regain energy. They may similarly need to schedule down-time after situations that require a lot of emotional energy, such as caregiving for others, volunteering for charity work, or even engaging with friends to support them.
Knowing if you are an empath may help you understand how to express your needs more assertively. Empaths may often have difficulty asking for help or even saying “No” when others request help from them. Their tendency is to try to solve problems for others, but this may sometimes result in the empathic person neglecting their own needs. Learning to say no to some obligations or requests for help, and learning to schedule time for yourself in order to recover your sense of energy can have a positive effect on your overall mood and improve your ability to interact with the world.
As an Empath, recognize that your highly sensitive qualities are a strength, both to yourself and your community. Sometimes, you may wish that you could not care as much because of how deeply everything affects you. However, the world needs highly sensitive people who are attuned to others and who care about how others think and feel. Empaths have likely long been the healers and the nurturers in human communities, and have been valuable to the societies they live in. However, empaths can also learn to care as much about themselves as they do others, which they certainly deserve due to the value they bring to other’s lives.
When someone gives you a compliment, you have a choice about how to receive it. I will say up front that this is a problem that I have personally struggled with at times in my life, but have worked to change over time. Most of us intend to be gracious and appreciative when somebody compliments us, yet our responses do not always reflect that intent. If someone compliments you, and your first instinct is to say “no that’s not true” or something else that minimizes and downplays the recognition, you may want to reflect on whether you are being truly gracious in that situation.
When you minimize, negate, or dismiss a compliment that you have received you are probably trying to convey a sense of humility and avoid looking as though you have been trying to call attention to yourself. There is a good reason why you are trying to convey that message. Women in particular have been conditioned by society to be polite, humble, and appreciative in every situation, and not to appear to be braggadocios or self-congratulatory, at the risk of being labeled stuck-up. Men are not immune to these messages either, but they also are more likely to be conditioned to have confidence in themselves and to take credit for their accomplishments. Regardless of gender, though, when you regularly dismiss any positive things people say to or about you, you are doing yourself a disservice and you may not be conveying the messages that you truly want to send.
First, consider the position of the person who has paid you a compliment. They tried to say something nice to you, but you dismissed what they had to say because you were trying to be humble, or maybe just out of habit. Now they have to spend additional time convincing you to receive the compliment and say “thank you” before the conversation can comfortably end. Furthermore, if you continue to make self-deprecating statements you can end up coming across as actually fishing for compliments, because the other person is now in the position of having to refute all the negative things you are saying so that s/he does not come across as rude. A situation in which another person tried to say something nice has now become an exercise in contradicting your negativity. This isn’t humility, it’s insecurity.
Think also about the impression that you want to give to others. The inability to receive a compliment graciously can have the effect of making you look insecure and perhaps even incompetent. When you constantly refute positive things that others say about you, people may start to believe that you don’t want or deserve the accolades. If other people see something positive in you, don’t try to convince them otherwise! That only ends up reinforcing any negative feelings you may have about yourself in the eyes of others. It’s okay to take credit for the positive things you have accomplished, or feel good if you happen to be looking fierce that day.
Even small habits like dismissing compliments can have a negative impact on your overall sense of self-esteem and confidence. However, this also means that making a small change in your habits can be a boon to your confidence. It can be challenging to graciously receive a compliment when you have been in the habit of dismissing them. Luckily, practicing this small change is easy and simple once you’ve recognized the problem. If appropriate, you can give credit to others who may have helped you with whatever the accomplishment was that you have been recognized for. Do not say it was all somebody else’s doing, though, because that again minimizes your contribution. Above all, avoid negating what the other person has said, or arguing about whether the compliment was deserved. The best, and most gracious way to receive a compliment is simply to say “Thank you”.
I am pleased and proud to announce the launch of my new book “Work It Out: A Survival Guide To The Modern Relationship”, out now and available on Amazon. This has been a project that I have been working on for some time now, and it is based on my work with couples in the clinical setting. I hope that my readers will find some beneficial information as I discuss the most common themes that I see when couples are seeking help with their primary relationships. I have compiled some of the insights and strategies that I use to work with couples who are facing problems with issues like communication, partnership, intimacy, and conflict resolution. While all relationships are unique and have different dynamics and needs, I present the most important skills and considerations that I use to help couples when they are trying to work things out. I appreciate so very much the people who have supported and encouraged me throughout this process. The book is available now on Amazon in e-book or paperback form, and I will be working on expanding the availability of the book on other platforms in the coming months. Click on the link in my About the Author page to purchase!
Validation is a natural human need that comes from our origins as social beings. While some species are content to live most of their lives alone, humans have always lived in groups, and thus our need for social acceptance is deeply engrained in our consciousness. Acceptance from our peer group would have been literally a matter of life and death in early human history, because a person who had to survive on their own had much less probability of survival than those who were enmeshed within a group. In light of our natural need for acceptance from other human beings, it’s easy to understand why many of us give significant weight to what other people think about us and whether they give us accolades or criticism. As non-conformist as you think you may be, you still consciously or sub-consciously act or think in ways that reflect a certain value on what others may think of you. Basic ways we conform include abiding by socially acceptable wardrobe choices, keeping appointments and schedules, showing up to work, paying for things you intend to take, and generally navigating the world without too much trouble.
It’s not a bad thing to care about what others think of you. In fact, going back to our primitive need for social acceptance, it helps our society function in many important ways. Our conformity to social norms ensures that we remain out of jail, can function in the culture we live in, and that our basic needs get met. However, having a healthy mentality also means that you do not overemphasize the importance of other people’s opinions about you. When you place too much value on what other people think about you, this can become an engrained need for external validation. External validation means that you are getting your feelings of self-worth based on sources outside of yourself. Internal validation means that you are gaining your sense of self-worth based on what your own opinions about yourself are. The problem with an over-reliance on external validation is that when other people inevitably come up with something to criticize about you, you may have a difficult time mentally getting past the critique and dismiss any positive thoughts about yourself you may have had.
Imagine that you have worked very hard on a project for work, and you have to present the information about your project to someone in a supervisory role. Upon finishing your presentation, you receive a scathing critique of your efforts, and you are told that your quality of work was poor, your efforts were sub-par and your presentation clearly lacks any demonstration of creativity or competence. Ouch. In order to process all this information, you need to have a healthy balance of respect for other’s opinions, and belief in the validity of your own efforts. Having a strong sense of internal validation does not mean that you dismiss any and all criticism you receive, but it does mean that you try to separate out the information you received, with how you feel about that information. True, you may feel embarrassed, hurt, or angry about the critique. It may have been unfair, and if it is then you have all the more reason to look to your own internal confidence in order to cope with the situation. When this happens, recognize that someone else’s opinion is just that, an opinion. You’re allowed to have opinions too, and your opinion should matter at least as much to you as external opinions. Some people really do just criticize other people in order to feel better about themselves, and these are the people who often abuse authority when they have it and are a general pain to be around.
Yet there may be times when some valid criticism is given to you, and you need to have a strong sense of internal validation in order to receive that criticism about yourself. When you value the positive qualities that you know you have, you feel buffered by a strong sense of internal confidence that isn’t going to be destroyed by one critical opinion, or even ten. That sense of confidence comes from knowing that you are talented and competent in some areas, as are all people, and that you can excel in those areas while knowing you own limitations. It doesn’t mean that you think you always have the right answers or perspective, and it doesn’t mean that you think everyone who criticizes you is wrong, or out to get you. You are able to receive a valid critique, while dismissing the parts that you know and feel confident are unfair criticisms. You recognize that other people’s opinions and expertise can help you to grow and get better at what you do.
Receiving criticism is an important skill to master when working on the right balance of internal and external validation, but there are many other times in which we navigate those feelings. These struggles show up in our relationships, for example, if you constantly seek approval from potential partners because feeling lonely makes you feels unworthy. Or, if someone make an unflattering comment to you about your appearance and you vow to change something about yourself or burn whatever clothes you were wearing to combat the shame of feeling hurt by their comments. Sometimes, your opinion is the only one that does matter. If you feel good about yourself, your work, your appearance, your talents, your future, and/or your value as a human being, there is no reason to allow other people to change your mind. One of my favorite quotes is “What other people think of me is none of my business”. The internet tells me it was Gary Oldman who gave us that gem. It’s a great little mantra to remember, though, when you find yourself stressing over what other people may or may not be thinking about you. Having a strong sense of internal validation will help you brush off unhelpful criticism and stop worrying so much about what others are thinking or saying. Another thing to remember if that if you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, then don’t say it to yourself. You do not have to co-opt the negative opinions that others may have of you.
Work on finding a balanced approach to external and internal validation, in which you can receive what you need from others in order to grown and learn, while not adhering to a need for perfection that requires that others constantly show you attention and praise so that you can feel good about yourself. Reflect on what you value about yourself, what your strengths are, and how you use those strengths to accomplish your goals. Then, keep these values and strengths in mind the next time you find yourself over-emphasizing what others think of you. Frankly, it will make your mind a much more pleasant place to be.