In a study, three separate offenses were rated by 120 subjects on a seven-point scale. Women consistently rated the three offenses as more offensive than the guys. The men were just as likely to apologize for a given offense, but they didn't feel offended as frequently.
Should women quit apologizing so much, or raise their threshold for what's perceived as offensive to them? Part of apologizing is being socially aware of when you may have offended someone else, and since women are more focused on relationships, they may have a more developed awareness of how what they say or do affects someone else. Being able to say you're sorry is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign that you are socially aware. In intimate relationships where the communication is closer, men apologize as much as women. Men who know their partner also understand when their partner may be hurt or offended and they are sensitive to apologize.
There is a problem if we stereotype our children and expect our daughters to be more sensitive to others, and apologize more than we expect our sons to do the same. Teaching your children to be polite is also teaching them to be sensitive to others and aware of when we or someone else may have hurt them.
Over-apologizing does reflect an insecurity, which may be perceived as weakness or insincerity. Let's face it, if you are constantly telling everyone you're sorry, then you are either overwhelmed with guilt, or you have learned that saying I'm sorry makes people less likely to become upset or angry at you. People pleasers usually please everyone but themselves, and they are not looked to for leadership roles or jobs where you will have to make demands on others.
Women develop social networks that have helped women succeed and remain strong in order to preserve their families. Having the ability to feel for and comfort each other is highly developed in this social network. Women's ability to say they're sorry more frequently isn't so much about them feeling bad about a personal offense they may have caused, but rather feeling sorry that someone had to suffer any hurt at all. Therefore, the "I'm sorry" is meant in a global way, and I believe that is the "I'm sorry" I see women doing more frequently than merely apologizing because of an offense they created. This ability to comfort with "I'm sorry" is a strategic way for women to bond and be there for each other.
Being able to discern when you should be sorry for something you said or did, and apologizing or telling someone you are sorry they have to go through something will always be viewed as having good people skills and being someone with compassion. Telling everyone you're sorry when your goal is to be liked or to get them off your back is not honest nor is it a good reflection of you. I'm sorry if this hurts you, but this is the truth. -Mary Jo Rapini
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