Why I Say “Thank You” Instead of “I’m Sorry”

When we’ve needed someone to go out of their way to help or support us, for whatever reason, it is tempting (and common) to apologise to them for the inconvenience. We are so used to saying things like “I’m sorry for being such an awful friend” when we have to cancel plans for the millionth time because of our health. But a while ago, I read somewhere that most of the time when we say “I’m sorry”, we actually mean “thank you”. And at first, this didn’t make much sense, but then I thought again and I realised that saying “thank you” rewards people for the extra effort they have made to listen to or support you. It’s levelling; it honours their input in the interaction without lowering you to a place where whatever you’ve needed from them is automatically an imposition on them.

Gratitude makes both parties feel better about what’s happened. It also honours the fact that we all make our own choices in life. If someone has gone the extra mile for us, then they have chosen to do so. It’s absolutely a good thing to express gratitude for it, but we should never have to apologise for other people’s choices. Apologising reinforces the idea that we SHOULD be sorry for whatever has happened, when in most instances, this is not the case.

I’m not saying that remorse is always wrong, just that it’s inappropriately expressed so much of the time with harmful consequences to our self-esteem and to the way others see us. So I have decided to try and reserve “I’m sorry” for times when I have actually done something to harm or inconvenience another person, where I was in the wrong and I  genuinely wish to express remorse (and not gratitude). For example “I’m sorry I scraped your car, I’ll pay for the damage”.

And of course, it is possible to express both remorse and gratitude over the same situation. For example, saying “thank you for being there for me”, rather than saying “I’m sorry for getting upset” but adding “and I’m sorry for behaving as if I was angry with you at the time, that wasn’t fair, I know you were trying to help”.