I was at a Barnes & Noble a few years ago browsing when an older woman stopped an employee.

“I’m so sorry for bothering you,” she said, “but could you please let me know where I can find this book? I’m so sorry. I don’t want to interrupt your work.”

I wanted to grab her and tell her to stop apologizing for taking up space. I wanted to tell her that it was the employee’s job to help her and that she was worthy enough to take up someone’s attention. I didn’t end up saying anything to her but still remember this interaction years later.

We women apologize way too much. We apologize when someone asks for our help and we can’t because we have other obligations or when we ask for help. We apologize for standing in the supermarket aisle when we’re shopping and someone passes us by. We apologize when we forget to respond to a text or email immediately because we have other things going on. We apologize when we don’t want to accept an invitation… the list goes on.

Does this sound familiar to you? How much do you apologize in a day?

Why do we women apologize so much? It’s as if we are apologizing for our very existence, for whenever we need to tend to our own needs, for taking up space.

I remember when my kids were really little and we’d walk down the sidewalk how much space they’d take up jumping around, moving from side to side. “Be careful! Don’t get in people’s way! Move over!” But looking back, I realize this was telling my kids to get small and take up as little space as possible. Sure, if they were swinging a stick around this would apply but when they’re just walking and playing, it’s the adult’s job to move over.

I don’t quite remember when I started apologizing so much but it starts at a young age and I suspect when I learned that I wasn’t really allowed to have needs. It takes practice to stop because it becomes an automated response over the years and turns into a bad habit. One of the ways we can do this is to practice catching ourselves before we apologize and ask ourselves, this question,

“Am I causing harm?”

When we cause harm is the only time we should be apologizing.

Once we start learning to catch ourselves, we can replace apologies with the following examples:

  • Instead of “I’m so sorry I can’t help.,” say, “I wish I could help. Please reach out to me next time.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner,” say, “Thank you for understanding. I got caught up and have time now.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry I can’t make it,” say, “Thank you for your invite but I’ll pass this time.”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry I’m in your way,” just move over and say nothing!
  • Instead of, “I’m so sorry for bothering you,” just ask for what you need!

Instead of apologizing, even for your mistakes, ask yourself if the mistake caused harm and if not, don’t apologize. “Thank you for understanding” is a great replacement for an apology for anything. And if you want to take up even more space, try not to over-explain or explain at all unless you actually want to.

We women are worthy of taking up space.
We women are worthy of having needs.
We women are worthy of being messy and flawed humans.

So stop apologizing so much and let’s support each other by giving each other permission to stop apologizing.