So You Feel Bad About Something — When Do You Need to Say Sorry … And When Don’t You?

NBC's new show I Feel Bad addresses this very topic.

Throughout your entire life, people are always hissing at you to say sorry when you’ve made a mistake, hurt someone’s feelings, or did something that’s categorized as wrong. But the act of saying sorry is something that your ego and your emotions need to agree with before you utter those words out of your mouth. It’s not always so easy to do. 

“Not saying sorry when you are means your ego is protecting some level of vulnerability you feel by admitting error of some kind,” says Dr. Debi Silber, a transformational psychologist. “When we perceive apology as a weakness vs. the strength to admit our wrongdoings and take responsibility for our actions, that’s usually the ego speaking loud and clear.”

Not only do we face an inner battle to admit that we did wrong and apologize but sometimes we say sorry when we absolutely don’t mean it but want to put an end to a dramatic situation and have the people in our lives just move on.

Dr. Silber says that people give into saying sorry when they’re eager to diffuse a potential outburst by the other person.

“It can be the way to avoid confrontation or a way of getting away with an action you chose to do but don’t want to change,” Dr. Silber says. “Only the person apologizing (and not meaning it) understands why they’re choosing that behavior.” 

So when are the right times to say sorry?  Dr. Silber says that it all depends on the person, the mistake, and how often it’s been done by that person. But regardless, it should only be said when the person means it.

As for when to skip out on saying sorry because though you feel bad, you don’t want to or think you need to say sorry, check out these five situations that experts say it’s OK to skip out on an apology.

1.  When Making Lots of Requests

It’s OK to want things the way you want them. Even if you sense you’re breathing annoyance into someone else’s day, it doesn’t require you to say sorry for what your requests are.

Giulia Suro, Ph.D., and CEDS Licensed Psychologist, says that we don’t need to apologize for asking for something we want or need, like bothering a landlord because your hot water is not working or having to go to the bathroom, even if that means interrupting a meeting.

2.  When Your Apology Brings Up Past Issues

When you’re trying to get out of an ongoing argument or say your very own closing statements to a fight, Mark Borg Jr, Ph.D., a community psychologist, psychoanalyst and co-author of RELATIONSHIP SANITY: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships, says that you can ditch the apology if it’s going to bring up past issues that have been laid to rest (like conversations about jealousy over exes, financial mishaps, or trust issues that have been worked through) since that might, without you realizing it, open up it old wounds.

3.  When You’re Just Not Ready

If you’re eager to avoid saying sorry for something you’re not quite sure you’re sorry for, or you’re finding yourself feeling down about how you handled a situation but you’re unsure if it was all your doing and no one else's, Borg suggests hitting the pause button and giving yourself some time to consider your response before jumping into a full-fledged apology.

4.  When the Other Person Refuses to Admit They Did Anything Wrong

Saying sorry isn’t always a one person job. Sometimes the apology should be shared. That’s why Borg says that in a relationship, if there’s conflict, and you discover the other person has zero willingness, or the capacity, to take responsibility for their part in the problem, you too might want to step away from apologizing until they can come forward with their own explanation of wrongdoing.

5.  When You Have a Differing Opinion

It’s perfectly normal to believe in something that the people around you don’t believe in or have an unpopular opinion about something from those in your life. Suro says that you don’t have to apologize for having your own opinion or an honest disagreement with someone else, as long as the communication is respectful.

I Feel Bad premieres on Thursday, October 4 at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.

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