According to Elton John, sorry seems to be the hardest word – but for some it’s the easiest. In fact, for some it’s so easy it finds its way into almost every conversation, whether they’re actually remorseful or not.
While this might seem like an innocent “quirk”, it actually has the power to seriously impact a person’s self-esteem – in more ways than one. So if you’re a serial sorryer or you know someone who is, this article is for you.
How saying “sorry” impacts your self-esteem
Firstly let’s look at the definition of “sorry”. In this context it means:
“Feeling regret or sorrow for your sins and faults.”
So when you say sorry, you’re essentially saying that you’ve done something wrong. If you do this over and over your brain starts to believe that you’re perpetually wrong, and so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – because your actions drive your thoughts and your thoughts drive your actions.
And guess what happens next?
YOU SAY SORRY EVEN MORE! ARGGGGGHHHHHHHH!
This is what I call a cycle of mind fuckery.
Unfortunately this cycle is then made even stronger by people’s response to your serial sorrying. Although you may think apologising is an effective way to please people or show you care, it actually communicates a lack of confidence and inadequacy, which can lead to people thinking less of you and can diminish their confidence in you too.
As a result your fears of rejection and not being good enough are further reinforced, so your self-esteem is pushed down even lower.
Say hello to a supersized cycle of mind fuckery!
Your subconscious brain is like a child
To illustrate this point a little further, I’d like you to think about a child. Imagine if every time they did something at school the teacher told them they were wrong, even when they were right. What impact do you think that would have on their confidence?
They’d probably feel insecure and get anxious whenever they had to do something, right? Which would then cause them to actually make mistakes, because they’d be operating from their emotional brain (fight or flight mode) rather than their logical one, and would be trying to second guess what they “should” do rather than doing what they believe to be right.
And eventually they’d probably stop trying altogether. They’d be too afraid to step out of their comfort zone and explore new things, so they’d get stuck in a rut and not get the full experience of life.
I don’t know about you, but I feel sad for that child. The entire course of their life was altered, purely as a result of the words that were fed into their brain.
I’m “sorry” to tell you – but that could also be your destiny, if you don’t nip this sorrying in the bud.
So shall we take a look at how you can do that?
How to stop saying sorry & increase your self-esteem
Identify when it’s OK to say sorry
At the moment, “sorry” is your auto response. It comes out without you even thinking about it, in a wide range of situations. Most sorryers I speak to say they would like to minimise their use of the word, so this shows us that it’s largely being driven by your subconscious brain as you’re not consciously choosing to say it.
So the first step is to bring it into your consciousness. Start by identifying the times when it is appropriate to say sorry – perhaps you genuinely make a mistake that creates a challenge for someone, you cause harm to someone or maybe you forget to pick your child up from daycare!
In those instances you would be remorseful, so sorry is a great initial response (and has no impact on your self-esteem!)
Next, identify the times you currently say sorry but wish you didn’t. Make a long list so it’s in black and white, and can be fully acknowledged by your conscious brain.
Choose a different auto response
Now think of a different way you could respond in these situations. It needn’t even be a word, it could be something as simple as taking a breath. Try to pick just one response that you can use across the board, as it’ll make it easier to untrain your brain from the sorry auto response.
It’s important for you to know that training your brain is similar to training your physical body. If you want a tight arse you have to do certain exercises over and over to build the right muscles and burn the right fat, right?
Well in order to build new thoughts and behaviours it’s exactly the same – by thinking or doing something over and over you create new neural pathways, so over time it becomes your natural way of being.
Think about anything you’ve ever learned – let’s take walking as an example. To start with you sucked at walking – wobbling all over the place and falling down all the time. But by consistently doing the action over and over, eventually you got to the point where you can do it even without consciously thinking about it.
Through repetition you create neural pathways that then form your natural ways of thinking and behaving.
So, when you encounter those situations you identified as being inappropriate times to say sorry, your mission is to replace that word with a breath.
Which leads me nicely on to the third step…
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
I’m not going to lie – initially it will feel very uncomfortable to take a breath rather than apologise. Everything inside you will be screaming, “SAY SORRY!” but I challenge you to just keep breathing and ride that wave of uncomfortableness – otherwise you’ll get wiped out by it and end up back in that supersized cycle of mind fuckery.
Know that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable – because a new level of comfort is waiting for you just on the other side, together with your self-esteem.
Essentially the reason you feel so uncomfortable (and the reason you’ve adopted “sorry” in the first place) is because you have a fundamental need for acceptance. We all do. And our brains have all adopted different strategies in order to get it.
So during that uncomfortable few seconds (because that’s all it is – even though it may feel like a lifetime), remind yourself that you have nothing to prove, you’re doing your best and you’re absolutely good enough just the way you are.
Enlist a sorry accountabilibuddy
Use your desire to please people to help you create this change. By bringing on a team mate and letting them in on what you’re trying to do, you’ll have someone keeping you accountable to moving through the uncomfortableness and breaking this cycle of mind fuckery.
You won’t want to let them down, so it will motivate you to stay committed to it.
- Let them know the situations you identified as being inappropriate for the word “sorry”
- Tell them your counter auto response (e.g. taking a breath)
- Give them permission to pick you up in the moment if you accidentally let a sorry slip
It’s also a good idea to keep yourself accountable by making a note every night in your journal or phone of all the times that day you successfully avoided saying sorry unnecessarily.
Give yourself a pat on the back for all those times too – this helps to embed the change further, as your brain associates a good feeling with the action and is then motivated to help you do the same thing in the future.
So that’s it!
- Identify when it’s not appropriate to say sorry
- Choose a different auto response
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
- Be accountable
If you consistently employ these four steps, you’ll be #sorrynotsorry in no time and your self-esteem will be supersized rather than the mind fuckery!