Hinshaw’s “The Triple Bind” delves into why girls apologize so much

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Growing up, girls are exposed to a very ambiguous idealism about what it means to be well-behaved.  In his book “The Triple Bind,” Dr. Stephen Hinshaw explains that as they reach adolescence, girls are expected to work towards what he views “an impossible set of standards.”


According to Child Mind Institute, one of the key tasks of adolescence is what’s called “individuation,” or the process of becoming a unique individual. Boys “are traditionally seen as having more of the skills that lead to individuation: assertiveness, self-confidence, expressiveness, and commitment to one’s own agenda,” Hinshaw explains.


From a young age, boys are encouraged to be bold, authoritative and smart. While the same thing is expected of girls, it comes with conflicting boundaries. As a result, girls tend to grow up with an insecure and contradictory self-image. Some of the lessons girls learn are:

  • Be assertive, but not bossy
  • Be smart, but not a know-it-all
  • Be polite, but not boring
  • Be pretty, but don’t show it off
  • Be flexible, but not a pushover


These confusing expectations make women feel lost and unsure of their actions. They tend to become hyper-aware of the consequences of their interactions with other people.


For instance, girls are more likely to argue in favor of their opinions by saying something like, “I might be wrong, but…” or “Sorry, but…”.


Apologies such as these say “I don’t feel confident in what I’m about to say or my right to say it,” Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, said.


Apologizing is polite and healthy for maintaining steady relationships. However, too much of it can be problematic.


Though these instincts are hardwired into the brain, there are measures that can be taken improve their negative consequences.


“Girls are more often rewarded for focusing on others’ feelings while boys are more often rewarded for asserting themselves,” Dr. Hinshaw explains.


However, they should consider their own feelings as well.


  • Mindfulness: Before you apologize for something, think about it. Was it really your fault? If so, how should you really be apologizing for it? Often times, the blame isn’t on a single person. Rather it is simply a conflict to be discussed or negotiated.
  • Hedging: This isn’t exactly apologizing, but still shows lack of confidence. Avoid starting your sentences with phrases like:
    • “I don’t know, but…”
    • “I’m sorry, but…”
    • “Excuse me, but…”


It is also difficult for a girl to speak up about an idea that may not be widely-accepted. It is important to remember that disagreement isn’t equivalent to failure. Commit and own up to your opinion and back yourself up with confidence.


Learning these skills can help over a long-term lifestyle. Informal or formal, one is far more likely to be successful and acknowledged in an argument if she appears self-confident, self-accepting and secure with her approach.

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