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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

28 Things You Really Need to Stop Apologizing For

I'm sorry, but don't you think people apologize way too much? (See what we did there?) Whether you clogged your friend's toilet or feel the need order one of every dessert of the menu, you need to stop apologizing. Here's how.

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Crying through a movie in the theater

How many times have you started crying in front of someone and your first reaction has been to apologize? “I’m sorry, I’m not normally like this!” or “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m so sad.” The thing about feelings though is that we all have them and we don’t get to choose when or how they come, explains Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. Plus, there are some amazing health benefits to having a good cry every once in a while.

2 / 28

Sharing your job promotion on Facebook

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a fine line between obnoxious bragging and genuine sharing. (For a refresher on that ‘fine line,’ these are the signs you’re sharing way too much on Facebook.) And saying, “I’m sorry but I just had to share” before sharing is an easy way to not appear to be bragging. The problem? Your loved ones want to be happy for you and with you and when you do something good you deserve to be celebrated. Apologizing diminishes your achievement. As long as you’re not announcing a new achievement every day people will likely enjoy your updates.

3 / 28

Not having it all together

Sometimes “I’m sorry” is just a space filler, something to say while you check your notes, look something up, or make a quick text. And while apologizing in this situation isn’t wrong, it’s also perfectly fine to say, “Can you give me a minute, please?” says Dr. Lombardo. Plus this has the added benefit of refocusing the conversation away from a negative thing (the inconvenience of the interruption) to a positive thing (allowing them to help you).

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Death comes for every person and unless your extracurriculars involve murder, then you are definitely in no way responsible for this fact of life and are absolved of having to apologize for the inevitable. That said, there’s nothing expressly wrong with saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who’s recently lost a loved one, Dr. Lombardo says, but rather there are so many things that would more accurately express your feelings and offer more comfort in that situation. Defaulting to “I’m sorry” can feel trite, especially when what you really mean is “My heart goes out to you,” “I’m sad with you,” “I care about you,” “I’m here for you” or even “I wish I knew what to say”—so just say those instead. Or you can express your feelings in writing. Need some tips? Try these 13 time-tested tips for writing a condolence card.

5 / 28

Trusting your gut about someone

Sometimes you just get a bad feeling about a situation or a person but out of politeness you may try to smooth over your discomfort by apologizing. Not only is this unnecessary—they are the ones making you feel uncomfortable!—but it can even be dangerous if the other person has bad intentions. In this case, a firm “no” is perfectly appropriate. And don’t offer excuses or reasons as that gives them an opening to argue with you or change your mind. If you’re not sure you can trust your gut, here’s how to sharpen your instincts.

6 / 28

Skipping a workout to Netflix binge

Everyone has days where the bed wins out over the gym, and there’s no shame in that. Regular exercise has a host of mental and physical health benefits, so you don’t want it to be an every day occurrence. But taking a rest day to stay in and recover from a long week or spend time with a loved one? No apologies necessary!

7 / 28

Offering a gentle criticism

There’s no easy way to tell someone else you think they’re doing a bad job at something, and so many of us use “I’m sorry to tell you this but…” as a way to soften a criticism. The problem? “No one really believes you’re sorry, especially when it’s followed by a ‘but’,” Dr. Lombardo says. “Starting with ‘I’m sorry’ diminishes your authority without making the other person feel any better.” Instead, she recommends sandwiching the (hopefully appropriate) criticism between two positive things about the person.

8 / 28

Turning down a date

Putting your feelings out there enough to ask someone out is a real risk and most of us know that. So when you see someone else do it, you want to let them down easy. And the easiest way is to start is with “I’m sorry,” but resist that urge, Dr. Lombardo says. You don’t owe your time or presence to anyone just because they asked, and there’s a way to be kind while still being firm, she explains. Go with “I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I’m busy that night,” or you can be even more direct with a simple “Thank you but the answer is no.”

9 / 28

Telling someone they’re fired

When people say “Don’t shoot the messenger,” that instruction applies to the messenger themselves as well as the people receiving the message. Giving someone else bad news is never fun but don’t blame yourself. (Unless, of course, the bad news is the result of something you did and then by all means apologize profusely and genuinely.) Instead of leading with “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this but…” just start with the truth: “I have something to tell you that may make you upset…”

10 / 28

Getting in a car accident

This one is more of a legal liability, but most lawyers agree that if you are in a car accident, don’t say you’re sorry, even if you think it may actually be your fault. Saying “I’m sorry” may be seen as a legal admission of guilt even if you only mean it in the most basic way. You can refrain from admitting guilt while asking if the other person is okay and if there is anything you can do to help. (And call the police.)

11 / 28

Singing karaoke to the “The Piano Man”

Not a super-talented Broadway star or top 10 singer? Good, neither are we. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to take joy in singing, dancing, or acting in public. It’s fun and rewarding to express yourself, even if you’re not the most talented person in the karaoke line-up. Never apologize for taking that risk.

12 / 28

For your child throwing toilet paper in the grocery store

Apologizing for your children’s bad behavior may seem like Motherhood 101, but saying you’re sorry for someone else’s behavior isn’t doing them any favors. Not only are you letting them off the hook for their poor choices and showing them you’ll make excuses for them, but you’re missing the chance to teach them how to offer a sincere apology.

13 / 28

Ordering one of everything on the dessert menu

We’ve been trained to think of food as “good” or “bad,” but eating is not a moral choice, it’s a survival skill. Ordering a sweet indulgence doesn’t make you “bad” or require an apology. Just eat it, enjoy it, and move on. Plus, apologizing or feeling guilty about eating something can actually make you eat more of the “forbidden” food as it triggers a deprivation mindset, according to a study published in Appetite.

14 / 28

Having a great idea in a meeting

If there’s one thing you’d think people would never have to apologize for, it would be having a fantastic idea. Unfortunately if the idea goes against current norms or comes from someone low on the totem pole, that person may feel the need to apologize for it first, Dr. Lombardo says. But there’s no need to start with “I’m sorry, I just had a thought…”Simply share your great idea without the disclaimer. Want to make sure you’re doing well at work? Try these 13 strategies to become a better coworker.

15 / 28

Coming down with the flu

Getting sick, whether it’s with a passing illness like the flu or a long-term health problem, isn’t fun for anyone involved. So it’s understandable that your first impulse might be to say “I’m so sorry I’m sick,” but getting sick is a basic fact of life. You didn’t get sick on purpose to make your coworkers have extra work (unless you did?) so instead of apologizing for something you have zero control over focus on the positive. “Make sure you say thank you to everyone who’s helping you and then take a problem solving attitude,” Dr. Lombardo says. “Think what you can still do to help or to minimize the inconvenience to others, just showing you’re thinking about them goes a long way.”

16 / 28

Asking a legitimate question

“I’m sorry, I have a question…” Why are you sorry you have a question? Questions are great feedback and show you’re paying attention to the person speaking.

17 / 28

Saying no to driving the carpool

Life is busy and you are asked to do so many things. For a lot of people the first impulse is to say yes, but that can backfire quickly as anyone who’s ever reluctantly taken on the job of PTA president can attest. “We, women especially, are trained from a young age to be people pleasers and to put others’ needs before our own,” Dr. Lombardo says. But just like the oxygen mask instructions on an airplane, sometimes you need to take care of your needs first—and that’s nothing to be sorry about. Taking care of yourself will make you better able to help others in a meaningful way. And you can say no in a kind way, like these ideas for how to politely say no.

18 / 28

Telling someone they hurt your feelings

“When you take a step back and look at it, apologizing for expressing your true feelings makes no sense,” Dr. Lombardo says. You may be trying to give the other person the benefit of the doubt or trying not to hurt their feelings in return, but the only person’s feelings you are responsible for are your own, she adds. Instead try communicating more precisely. For instance, you could say, “I don’t think you meant it to come out like this but this is what I heard…”

19 / 28

Taking a day off for no good reason

Every human deserves a break from the daily grind. And you are human, right? Then use up your vacation days, even if it’s only for a “staycation” at home. Not only is a day (or more) off good for your soul, it’s also good for your body. Vacations can improve mental health, reset your sleep, and even lengthen your life.

20 / 28

Clogging the toilet at your in-laws

Clogging someone else’s toilet is one of the most embarrassing things you can do but, like most embarrassing-but-normal bodily functions, it’s not something you can control. But what’s a guy or girl to do? Shelve the “I’m sorry” speech and start looking for the plunger stat. There’s no shame in clogging the toilet, but you definitely owe an apology if you don’t clean up after yourself.

21 / 28

Falling in love

Falling in love can be the worst-best thing to ever happen to you (or the best-worst thing, depending on your current romantic status). But while it can bring out many feelings, an apology shouldn’t be one of them. Loving someone else is the ultimate gift you can give them, and even if they don’t want it, it’s still something you should never be ashamed of giving. Worried it will never happen for you? Try these 36 questions to fall in love with anyone.

22 / 28

Taking a walk to cool off during a fight

Arguments can get heated fast, and sometimes one of the only things you can do is take a break until you cool off enough to continue the discussion. But you don’t need to apologize for needing space—”I’m sorry I need to get out of here.” Instead, offer a rational statement: “I’m going to take a 20-minute walk. When I return I’ll be ready to talk again. Thank you.”

23 / 28

Saying “I don’t know the answer to that”

If we all had all the answers the world would be a much nicer place. But we can’t know everything or even everything we think we’re supposed to know for a particular situation, and that’s just part of being a person. There’s no need to apologize for not knowing the answer; in fact, admitting what you don’t know can be a great act of courage.

24 / 28

Correcting your drink order

Did you order a double espresso with soy and a shot of caramel and end up with caramel apple cider? No big deal, just get it fixed. And there’s no need to apologize when the error is someone else’s. Simply be kind, pleasant, and say thank you when it’s resolved.

25 / 28

Asking for help

Can’t reach the box on the highest shelf at the grocery store? Asking the tall man next to you seems like the perfect solution but perhaps you’re worried about inconveniencing a stranger and so you stay silent. The truth is that we all need help sometimes and asking for it is the best way to get what you need. Plus, most people genuinely enjoy being able to help out a fellow human. And a simple “excuse me” works better than “I’m sorry” every time.

26 / 28

Not being a baby person

Not everyone loves squishy infants or fluffy puppies, and that’s totally okay. There is nothing in your Resident of Earth Contract that says you’re mandated to get gushy over things other people think are cute. No need to rain on their parade by saying what you really think of their new little one, but there’s also no need to apologize for not wanting to hold them either.

27 / 28

Being utterly yourself

Do you have a collection of 20,000 Hello Kitty collectibles? Do you prefer to dress only in superhero costumes? Do you love to sing opera in the shower? It takes all types to make this big, beautiful world the amazing place it is, so never apologize for what makes you unique, even if others don’t quite understand it. Same goes for walking around with no makeup or in pink fuzzy slippers. No apology needed.

28 / 28

RSVPing no to the office party

Approximately one-third to half of the population are introverts, meaning they need their alone time every day to feel centered. If you’re one of these people, there is nothing wrong with not attending every social function possible. Even the most extroverted or extroverts sometimes need a break from people too. Stay home and enjoy your solitude guilt-free. Plus, there are a lot of perks of being an introvert.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.