Do you ever find yourself over-apologizing?

 In his book on complex PTSD, Pete Walker tells the story of a time he accidentally ran into a chair and found himself apologizing to it. That moment opened his eyes to a deeper issue: constantly apologizing even when unnecessary.

If this sounds like your experience, you may find yourself apologizing for many things that are totally outside your control. Family and friends may call you out on it just to hear the response once more: “I’m sorry!”

While there can be many different causes to this issue, chronic over-apologizing can also be a sign of a trauma response. For those who have been through relational trauma in particular, the underlying message of “sorry” is often

“I’m sorry for being here. I’m such a problem. I’m sorry for being me.”

It can initially develop as a survival skill when you’re stuck in a toxic relationship. The apologies involve blaming yourself to appease the other person and prevent their rage, punishment, or neglectful behaviors. Sometimes this survival skill works, or at least lessens the damage. However, it often becomes overgeneralized. Due to the constant fear of getting in trouble, you find yourself apologizing everywhere you go, no matter who you’re with. And after blaming yourself for everything so many times, shame sets in.

When you’ve been over-apologizing for so long, how do you break the habit? The first thing to do is notice yourself apologizing. Whenever you catch yourself saying sorry, take a moment to ask yourself some questions:

  • What am I apologizing for?
  • Would I expect someone else to apologize for the same thing?
  • What do I want my apology to accomplish?
  • How do I feel right now?
  • What do I sense I need most in this moment?

These questions can help you figure out if you’re apologizing for healthy reasons (such as for missing a deadline or losing your temper with a friend) or if it’s because you’re triggered. And once you know you’re triggered, you can begin taking steps to help calm your nervous system and re-regulate.

The shame messages underlying chronic over-apologizing can be tough to combat. For more strategies, read Pete Walker’s book: “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” You can also schedule a session with a counselor at