6 Things to Stop Apologizing for Immediately

young woman out for a brisk walk
young woman out for a brisk walk

For most of my life, the word "sorry" was a knee-jerk reaction; it was my verbal hiccup whenever I asked for something I wanted, didn't know what I was doing, or simply took up space. If someone walked down the street and bumped into me, I would apologize. If I arrived a minute late to meet a friend, I would apologize. If I had an opinion to voice at work, it would be bookended with phrases like, "Sorry, this is probably dumb," or, "That's just what I think -- sorry!" Phrases that were not only totally unnecessary, but also subtle ways of disrespecting myself.

I don't know where the need to constantly apologize came from, but I do know I'm not alone. Research shows that women consistently apologize more than men, and usually for things that don't merit apologies. Not only is this harmful to our sense of self-worth and the energy we put out into the world, but it's harmful to real apologies. After all, a true, well-intentioned apology is immensely powerful. Apologies unite, make amends, and ask for grace. They can both acknowledge and heal mistakes. They're sometimes the first step in making a relationship -- with either ourself or others -- more whole. But when they're used as a verbal hiccup or as a way to play small in the world, they start to not only lose their meaning, but also diminish the user's self-worth.

About a year ago, I realized I had let my constant apologies define me as someone who was fearful of what others thought. I recalled all the times I apologized for things that were just natural parts of being human. Things like graciously saying no or being comfortable in my skin. Things that, if I embraced instead of apologized for, would make me assertive and at peace, not rude. I decided to stop apologizing for being a woman in the world with a mind, body, and soul -- a woman whose opinions and desires and ambitions were worthy of being shared.

As soon as I did, I felt a huge weight lift. I felt more secure, more confident, and like the apologies I did issue became more meaningful because they weren't automatic verbal fillers; they were genuine. So trust me when I say the following things aren't worth apologizing for -- they're worth embracing. Try ditching the following automatic apologies, and see if you notice a change in how you feel about yourself and others.

1. Asking for what you want.

As women, we often suffer from "imposter syndrome," or feeling like we're somehow a fraud -- that one day our boss or friend will wake up and realize we're not all we're cracked up to be; they'll learn we have flaws (like every other human) and that we're not good enough. I hate to break it to you, but no one is perfect, and this self-doubt will do nothing but paralyze you, especially in the workplace. Showing up, putting in the work, and asking for more responsibility or a promotion are good things to do -- and none of them require you to preface your request with a "Sorry, but..." statement. From your career to your relationships, you are allowed to ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is that you'll be greeted with a "no."

2. Saying no.

Speaking of which, why is "no" such a dirty word -- especially for women? It seems like today it's more acceptable to agree to something and cancel later than actually consider your schedule and respond with a polite "no." You are only one person, and you don't need to (and can't) do everything and please everyone. There's no reason to issue extensive apologies for not being able to attend an event, bake 12 dozen cupcakes for the next PTA event, or watch your friend's cat for a week. You are allowed to decline things that aren't feasible, and protect your time while still being kind.

3. Taking up space.

How many times have you been in the locker room, a crowded grocery store, or simply walked down the street and apologized for being in someone's way? Hopefully not many, but for me, that used to be a huge problem. If someone walked into me, I'd practically apologize for them. Politeness and kindness matter, but there's a big difference between saying "excuse me" and "I'm sorry." You are allowed to take up space with your body, to move through physical space with your body, and to walk your body down the damn street without issuing apologies left and right.

4. Voicing your opinion.

Especially in the workplace, we often feel sheepish about voicing opinions on a project or assignment that differ from the majority. But even if your supervisor or boss doesn't agree with you, you should trust that you're part of the team because you're a talented, smart employee whose voice counts. In your personal life, it's OK to disagree with friends or family, too. (Promise!) Prefacing an opinion with "I'm sorry but..." is usually unnecessary, as long as you're respectful and still willing to hear the other person's point of view.

5. Unplugging.

Everything seems to happen at an urgent pace these days, but not immediately responding to someone's text or email is not a crime. It's completely fine to wait a day or two before replying to an email from a long-lost acquaintance, a Facebook invite, or a group text that's left you with 80 messages before dinner. If you need a day to unplug, take it. Unless it's work-related, the truth is, it can probably wait. Taking care of yourself, unwinding, and getting back to your own needs is not something to apologize for -- it's smart.

6. Enjoying your own company.

For me, getting older has meant caring less what people think -- and realizing that most of the time, people aren't thinking about me anyway. That may sound harsh, but what I mean is, in general, everyone is more concerned with themselves than the reasons you've made up in your head for them to judge you. You don't need to apologize for doing what you love to do, especially if that means doing it by yourself. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is alive and well today, with an endless array of Instagram accounts that portray people only as their most fun selves, but there is no reason to feel ashamed about spending time alone, relaxing, reading a good book, or going out to eat without a date. Ditching a crowded bar for a night with wine and Netflix? No apology needed, boo. No apology needed.

A version of this post originally appeared on http://gethealthyu.com/7-things-to-stop-apologizing-for-immediately/, where Claire is an associate editor. She also blogs at www.scotchandthefox.com