Supporting people who are overly apologetic

Some people apologize all the time, for everything. This can be very annoying.

Here’s a conversation:

  • Mary: I like ice cream. I don’t want to order a slice of cake. I’m sorry.
  • Darlene: Dude, you don’t have to apologize!
  • Mary: Argh, I’m sorry about that.
  • Darlene: ::headdesk:::

Telling someone off for that kind of thing doesn’t help. People who do this do it for a reason; they’ve often been taught that they always have to want what other people want. They’ve been taught that it’s rude to ever express a desire. This is not something you can fix by getting annoyed.

In fact, you can’t fix it at all, because you can’t actually fix other people in any case. But getting annoyed makes the problem worse. So does telling someone off for apologizing. Some people need to apologize and adopt a deferential tone in order to feel ok about expressing preferences and boundaries. If you put pressure on people not to apologize, it makes it harder for them to tell you what they want. Don’t take it personally, and don’t take it out on them. It’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault either.

There are things that you can say that sometimes help other people to feel more comfortable expressing desires, if you can say them in a non-annoyed tone of voice:

  • “That’s not a problem.”
  • “That’s fine.”
  • “You didn’t do anything wrong.”