What Is Sorry Syndrome? Plus 7 Signs You May Have It

by Chloe Parpworth-Reynolds

Sorry, not sorry! …Or am I? Welcome to the world of Sorry Syndrome, where over-apologizing is high, and self-esteem is low.

This is my follow up article to ‘Stop Saying Sorry‘ in which we’ll take a deeper dive into Sorry Syndrome (SS), looking at why you might have it, and how you can tell if you do.

I hope that by learning more about SS you’ll be able to look more clearly within yourself and be ready to take the steps needed to break free from its negatively-impacting clutches.

First Things First, What is Sorry Syndrome?

Sorry Syndrome is a recently coined term which can be summed up as the overwhelming need to apologize for every little thing, even if the individual apologizing isn’t to blame or if the event they’re apologizing for is completely out of their control.

People with SS may apologize to the same person frequently throughout an interaction or may have the word ‘sorry’ as an automatic response, leading them to apologize accidentally, or even to inanimate objects.

SS is a common thing, and many of us can slip into spates where we’re over-apologetic. Let’s next take a look at why this might happen.

Why Some People Develop Sorry Syndrome

People pontificate many reasons when it comes to why some people apologize more than others.

As with most social habits, reasons for being overly apologetic can stem from childhood.

As kids, we’re taught to say sorry whenever an adult’s expectations are not met and may incur the wrath of our parents if we didn’t.

After this is embedded in their minds, children can start to associate saying sorry with putting an end of uncomfortable or confrontational situations.

And, put simply, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’, meaning that we often carry this habit on into adulthood, where it can start to cause problems.

Insecurity

It is also thought that SS can stem from insecurity.

You may feel out of your depth in the workplace, or feel like the odd-one-out in your friend group, and feel pressure to fit in.

Low self-esteem also contributes to your likelihood of developing sorry syndrome as you’re more likely to feel like you are a hindrance, burden, annoyance, or in the way, meaning you need to apologize frequently.

Seeking Acceptance

Seeking acceptance is another reason why people can over-apologize. Lots of superfluous apologies can be used to increase trust and social influence.

However, this does come at a cost which we’ll explore later.

Anxiety

Sorry Syndrome can also be linked to anxiety.

An overwhelming or compulsive urge to apologize can be used as a coping mechanism against feelings of anxiety.

It can come from an intense worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something wrong.

These feelings can commonly flare-up in social situations. However saying sorry is only likely to give a temporary release, and the need will likely quickly rise again, creating more anxiety.

Gender

Women are more likely to experience SS than men. This all comes down to the differences in which boys and girls are typically raised.

Boys are encouraged to show independence and are rewarded when they show direct and confident behaviors.

Girls, on the other hand, though still being praised for this behavior, tend to have an added social expectation placed upon them, such as to be confident, but not conceited.

This can lead to the need to apologize surfacing.

Cultural!

Of course, where you’re from will also impact upon the way and frequency which you apologize.

Americans, for example, apologize far less than those from the UK or Canada.

Argentinians say sorry by inviting the other out for a meal. In Brazil, a small gift shows you’re sorry.

China and Russia have multiple different terms for sorry to be used with different individuals and in different scenarios.

In Japan, the sincerity of your apology can be judged by how low you bow, whereas the Swedes prefer you forgo an apology and simply explain your actions.

So, you can see, where you come from can play a huge part in why you say sorry and how often you do so!

Why Sorry Syndrome Needs to Stop

Sorry Syndrome may seem harmless on the surface, after all, what can one word do?

However it’s effects are surprisingly far-reaching, and can greatly impact your day-to-day life.

Excessive apologies can alter the way that you are treated and can even entice unkind individuals to associate with you, as they view you as an easy target for their manipulations.

Saying sorry all the time puts you at a social disadvantage.

You can be viewed as a pushover or as timid because when you apologize at every instance you’re waving a social white-flag for the office or your social group to see.

Frequent apologies also lower your self-esteem.

By saying sorry a lot, you’re constantly putting yourself in a position of submission, of being wrong, even though you may be right.

This can lead you to perceive yourself negatively and view yourself as someone who is a letdown or failure to others.

By apologizing often you may also be putting added pressure upon yourself you do not even realize.

You may have an innate need to please, which, if controlled correctly isn’t a bad thing, but when allowed to run rampant can cause you to be overly-apologetic and also become socially exhausted and burnt out.

Put all this together, and saying sorry all the time tends to leave you feeling low, dissatisfied with yourself, and at a social disadvantage.

But how can you tell if you have Sorry Syndrome?

Common Traits that Those with Sorry Syndrome Have

While the traits listed below do not guarantee you’ll experience SS, they can make you more prone to slipping into apologetic tendencies.

Empathy

As many spiritual people are attuned to themselves and those around them they are commonly empathic or have a greater degree of compassion.

This can put them at risk of developing Sorry Syndrome as they can find themselves apologizing for the actions of others.

Being Submissive

Life is full of dominant people, submission people, and people who are somewhere in-between.

Being naturally submissive isn’t a bad thing, it’s great to be able to chillax and go with the flow, however, this can leave you more prone to apologizing to avoid conflict.

Being Conflict-averse

Because spiritual individuals tend to see the bigger picture in life, they can naturally be conflict-averse.

While this is great for being the rational and relaxed one in a friend group, it can also lead to apologizing simply to avoid an argument.

Self Perception/Confidence

This can be an issue that the young face, as you learn who you are and gain confidence with age.

When you’re lacking in confidence or conviction in your actions you can find yourself quick to apologize and acquiesce to the wants of others.

Strictness in Childhood

A strict upbringing at home or at school can lead to sorry becoming an auto-response, as you have been raised with firm discipline and therefore know the power of an apology.

Anxiety

As mentioned if you suffer from anxiety or connected issues such as depression you may be ultra-sensitive to the changes in social situations or in the workplace.

This can leave you with a fear of damaging relationships or letting others down which can lead you to apologize more often.

Past Bullying

Bully greatly impacts your self-esteem and your self-worth, and makes you want to cling onto the friendships and positive relationships you have (trust me, I’ve been there), this can lead to a need to please, which in turn leads to excessive apologies.

Similarly feeling excluded in your past on lonely can lead you to go to more extreme lengths to retain friendships.

Gender

As we touched upon, because of the ways that girls are commonly raised or are imprinted on by the expectations of society, females are much more likely to apologize than men, meaning they are at greater risk of slipping into habits such as Sorry Syndrome.

7 Signs You Suffer From Sorry Syndrome

There are some clear signs that you might be wrestling with Sorry Syndrome.

While experiencing one of the entries on this list usual denotes a simple quirk, recognizing more than one of these traits is likely to indicate that you have SS and need to take steps to change your habits.

1. You Apologize for Things you Didn’t Do

This is a common experience for empathic individuals. When someone has had a hard day do you apologize despite having nothing to do with the cause of their woes?

Do you find yourself apologizing for the actions of your oblivious friend?

Do you apologize for factors that are outside of your control such as bad weather or a late train?

If so then you might need to work on changing your attitude towards apologizing.

2. You Apologize for the Small Things

This often happens when individuals muddle apologies with politeness.

Yes saying sorry in the right situation is part of being polite, but apologizing during day to day occurrences is excessive.

For example, apologizing when taking longer than a few seconds to do something, or for making a noise in a quiet space such as a library isn’t necessary.

3. You Apologize Because you Want to Avoid Conflict

The worst thing you can do is apologize simply to avoid conflict or save face.

This not only represses your emotions which were probably valid, leading to the increased likelihood of explosive arguments in the future, but it also means that in the future your sincere apologies could be viewed by others as disingenuous or meaningless.

4. You Apologize When Making Reasonable Requests

If a request is reasonable, for example asking a colleague to print you off a copy of a document, or asking a friend to pick you up a snack on their way over, then there’s no need to apologize.

If you find yourself saying sorry when asking for simple things then you may have Sorry Syndrome.

5. You Apologize Repeatedly

If you find it hard to keep yourself from saying sorry several times during an interaction with a friend, family member, or colleague, then you may have developed apologizing as a nervous response when feeling uncomfortable or anxious.

While this coping mechanism may be effective for short term relief it’s important to find a healthier solution to your feelings.

6. You Apologize Because you Feel You’re an Inconvenience

Apologizing, for this reason, is directly linked to low self-esteem. Sorry Syndrome thrives in those who do not see their own worth.

Take some time to get reacquainted with yourself, and remember that you matter just as much as anyone else!

7. People Around you have Told you to Stop Apologizing

Sometimes we become oblivious to a habit, particularly when its automatic or subconscious.

This is why the input of our friends and family should always be listened to and never dismissed.

Oftentimes the first time you’ll notice you have a problem with apologizing will be when those around you tell you to stop apologizing.

What Can you Do?

If you’ve confirmed your suspicions that you have Sorry Syndrome the next thing you need to do is to take action!

In my previous article, I explored several steps that you can take to stop apologizing and reduce your cavalier use of the word sorry.

While some of these steps will take some practice, it is important to remember that Sorry Syndrome isn’t something you’re stuck with.

It is a habit that you have formed as a way to cope with feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, or simply the way you were raised.

Either way, it does not define you, and with some work and perseverance can certainly be overcome. After all, dear reader, I know you’re an amazing person, and that’s definitely nothing to be sorry for!

What Is Sorry Syndrome? Plus 7 Signs You May Have It

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