In case you have not noticed, when someone greets you with, “Hello. How are you doing?”, it is not an inquiry into the state of your health or well-being. And the polite response, “I’m fine,” is equally vague and noncommittal.
Likewise any statement prefaced with “I’m sorry…” It is not meant as an expression of guilt, shame or remorse. It simply sets a tone and rhythm relevant to whatever words follow it. The intent, consistent with much common communication, is predictably vague; conforming more to syntax and social nicety than meaning. It is assumed to have no real meaning. But the reality is that all language has meaning.
“I’m sorry” is a particularly interesting expression to analyze due to the emotion underlying it, and therefore what it conveys about the speaker.
Word selection is heavily influenced by the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is the seat of emotional energy. All emotions can be reduced to either Fear or Love. The frequency of an utterance such as I’m sorry can be loosely correlated with the strength of negative emotion, Fear.
“I’m sorry” based on Love means you have the best interests of the listener in mind. It is an expression of concern and compassion. An expansion of the two words may be “I am concerned that you may be experiencing pain, discomfort, confusion, loss, etc. If I have contributed to that emotional state, I take responsibility and will do what I can to return you to a more positive state.”
“I’m sorry” based on Fear is self-referenced. In other words, “I am a bad person who does not deserve your love. I cannot help your negative emotional state, even if I created it, because, as a bad person, I am incapable of accepting responsibility.”
Someone with a negative sense of self is prone to a high frequency of “I’m sorry,” whether or not personal responsibility is involved. If he contributed to a problem, he makes excuses based on him being a bad person (thereby denying responsibility). If he merely has knowledge of another person’s problem, he opens with “I’m sorry” as an acknowledgement there is nothing he (as an innately bad person) can do to help. In the process he draws attention to, and therefore reinforces, his self-perception of being deficient.
“I’m sorry” is an infrequent utterance by anyone who loves themself. In fact, it is only stated when taking responsibility for, and attempting to resolve, another person’s negative emotional state.
Let’s say you lend someone your car and they wreck it. The person acting on Fear says, “I already told you, I’M SORRY! That’s the sort of thing that happens to sorry people like me. What more do you want from me? I’M SORRY!” The person acting on Love says, “It was an accident, but I take responsibility. Would it be helpful if I arrange transportation for you until your car is repaired? I am sorry for having created this situation for you.”
So, the next time you find yourself saying “I’m sorry,” consider, are you, REALLY? Are you addressing a circumstance for which you have some responsibility? Might you be in a position to help resolve the circumstance? If not, it may be enough to simply acknowledge the other person’s feelings and allow them the responsibility to work through it.