Being too sorry

When I am moving someone’s leg in an Alexander Technique lesson and I ask them to let me take the weight of their leg, quite a number of people apologise and say sorry for holding tension in their leg.  Clearly they’ve not done anything wrong.  But saying sorry is a strong habit.  It’s quite a British habit as my tale will tell later.  We’re very proficient at saying sorry…. even when we don’t need to.

If someone bumps into us or accidentally kicks us, we can be the one to apologise.  Occasionally, if I’m working with someone who is particularly apologetic, I invite them to a “sorry challenge”. Here’s how it goes:

  • Try to notice how often you say sorry
  • Then try to not say it if you don’t need to.

It may feel a bit bad to not say sorry, or naughty or it may even feel a bit rebellious.  That’s just fine. It’s pretty tiring to be good all the time and we’re human, after all.

What does that automatic “sorry” do to us? Well, it’s different for everyone.  But it can make us feel small, insignificant, unimportant. It might make us tighten and shrink a bit.

A Swedish friend who has recently moved to the UK told me of an incident on a London bus when a young man had accidentally kicked an older woman’s foot.  He mumbled an apology but she hadn’t heard it and rebuked him loudly.  He apologised , they had a chat and all was remedied.  My Swedish friend was amazed on 3 counts:

  1. The chap had said sorry in the first place;
  2. The woman had exclaimed out loud at him not saying anything;
  3. The man apologised again and they had a chat.

She didn’t think any of this would happen in Sweden.  Imagine what my friend would think if she kicked me and I said sorry to her!

(And sorry to any Swedes who would have apologised on the bus.)

4 Replies to “Being too sorry”

  1. This is a revolutionary idea. I say sorry so often every day, sometimes I feel like really I am apologising for existing all! I’m sure this has a negative effect overall, so time to try the sorry challenge!

  2. Lovely post, I like your challenge. I was advised not to apologise at all by my teacher. I thought that a bit extreme, but perhaps I needed a blanket ban, to redress the imbalance of my excessive sorry’s.
    I think polite sorry’s in public i.e. bus example serve a useful function. It is a social lubricant, makes life flow easier. I have had European friends mock the English Sorry and I don’t agree with them. I think they are too proud to say sorry, and in so doing would rather hurt another person’s feelings than offer the slightest humility. These same people come across to us as arrogant and self righteous. Witholding a sorry creates unnecessary bad feeling, and potentially escalate a situation. So long live the humble sorry.

    1. Hi Niki
      Yes, the polite sorry can ease things and help with politeness. What I wanted to show in my post was when the sorrys get out of hand for a some people, being a way of showing that they feel small.

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