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5 Things to Say Instead of I’m Sorry

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Mary Magdalen in Penitence by El Greco
This post is a follow-up from our Month of Self-Reflection.

I am a chronic apologizer.

Because I suffer from depression, I often apologize because I think I am genuinely at fault. I want to accept responsibility for all the bad things that happen.

But even I have to recognize that sometimes things aren’t my fault. And some things that are my fault just aren’t a big deal. Everyone makes little mistakes. Bad things just happen.

If I want to learn to respect other people and myself, I need alternatives to “I’m sorry.”

Many languages give speakers a choice about “I’m sorry.” In Italian, for example, I say mi scusa (I’m sorry) when I am at fault and mi dispiace (it upsets me that or I regret that) when I’m not. English doesn’t. So what alternatives can we use instead?

Alternatives to “I’m Sorry”

When You Accidentally Bump into Someone

Try “Excuse me.”

“Excuse me” is the culturally acceptable way to acknowledge you have accidentally or intentionally done something a little bit impolite or thoughtless. The expression acknowledges your actions without making a big deal out of a simple mistake or small rudeness. It also works when you interrupt someone, leave a meal, take a phone call, or burp in public.

When You Don’t Understand What Someone Has Said

Try “Pardon?” or “I beg your pardon?”

It isn’t your fault if you can’t understand another speaker, so there is no need to formally apologize. “Pardon?” is a quick way to let someone else know that they need to back up and slow down if they would like your attention.

When Someone Gives You Constructive Criticism

Try “Thank you.”

If someone is generously sharing feedback with you, it probably isn’t because she wants you to feel bad—she isn’t looking for an apology. (As a teacher, I constantly remind my students that errors are nothing to be sorry for.) What if the criticism isn’t so constructive? Try “I’ll take that into consideration” or “I’ll think about that.”

When You Have Done Something Wrong

Try “Please forgive me.”

Many of us use “I’m sorry” as a major formula. I say it, you forgive me, end of story. But when we’ve done something worth apologizing for, we can’t take someone else’s forgiveness for granted. “Please forgive me” is a request. It acknowledges that you aren’t the one in control and that she has the choice whether to forgive or not.

When Something Bad Happens

Try “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry” is the best choice for we English speakers to express our sorrow for someone else’s loss or pain. In that context saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t imply that you’re at fault, only that we are acknowledging someone else’s suffering.

It will probably be a long time before I learn not to say “I’m sorry” when I don’t mean it. But having more appropriate alternatives is definitely a step in the right direction.

This post is a follow-up from our Month of Self-Reflection. You can get involved in our Twelve Months to a Better Woman project, too. Write a guest post. Send in a suggestion. Link up. Or join our community of more than 400 followers via e-mail, FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

5 responses »

  1. Nice! I do this too. It’s a bad habit that isn’t good for you. Have a blessed day. CM

  2. Excellent evaluation and advice. Thank you!

  3. I, too, have a problem with apologising for things that I didn’t really do wrong or aren’t my fault! Often I do it when the discomfort of a hard conversation or disagreement gets too much – it’s easier just to assume I’m wrong and take the blame for everything instead of sticking it out. I want to cave in and say, ‘I’m sorry I started this, I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry for not just agreeing with you, I’m sorry for keeping you awake late with this discussion.’ If I already think everything is my fault it’s easier just to be ‘the bad person’ than to have the backbone to accept that someone might be unhappy with me and that, in fact, it’s okay if they’re annoyed! That’s not necessarily because I’ve done anything wrong.

    Some things I try to say instead of ‘sorry’ are ‘I feel bad that…[I started this discussion at a bad time, I kept you awake late, etc.]’, or ‘Are you upset with me about…?’ Then we can discuss any regrets or bad feeling without it just being a blame game.

    • My therapist suggested I wean myself onto expressing my feelings with “I feel statements.” Adam laughs at me when I say something like, “I feel angry at you…” or “I feel annoyed with you…” He knows how hard it is for me. And I’m surprised how rarely he gets upset.

  4. Pingback: Sorry, not Sorry | Anything & Everything, by AngrySar

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