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The Authentic Apology

Updated on April 14, 2019
Carolyn M Fields profile image

Carolyn Fields is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all-around bon vivant.


General Process

Let’s use an example, to illustrate the process. Person A – we will call this person “Avery,” commits a harmful act towards person B – who we will call “Billie.” Let’s say Avery lies to Billie about something important, causing Billie to lose a lot of money and/or reputation status (it could be anything, but that’s a common example). Billie is objectively harmed by this, more than merely feeling upset or insulted. Billie is now the victim or aggrieved party.

To start the apology process, Avery needs to feel genuine sorrow or guilt over the behavior, i.e., needs to feel some form of internal suffering. In a word, Avery must feel that the offending behavior was “wrong.” If Avery doesn’t care, or is merely going to apologize because of social convention, or because Avery was “caught” and the pressure is mounting, then it will never be a true apology.

If Avery is truly sorry, then the next step is to seek forgiveness from Billie, through an act of repentance. Avery should do this in a reasonable amount of time, and not let it go until other people are demanding action. Avery must also stop acting in the harmful way, now and forever. This is not just towards Billie, but towards others as well. In our example Avery lied to Billie, so Avery must stop lying altogether in order for the apology to be true.

Avery must confess the bad behavior directly to Billie, as well as others who may have been impacted. A general statement “at large” (e.g., press release) will not do. Most importantly, Avery must not rationalize or attempt to excuse the act. Then Avery needs to perform an act of contrition, or experience a penalty/negative consequence for the bad behavior. Finally, Avery needs to make restitution, restoring Billie to a state of wholeness (as close to the condition prior to the bad behavior as feasible).

It is also important for Avery to have a change in attitude. Avery needs to take corrective action, and turn away mentally and emotionally from the attitudes and behaviors which led to the harmful act in the first place. Also, Avery should promise not to repeat the offensive act towards Billie or others.

What Happens Next?

If all of these steps are followed, then Avery is absolved of sorrow and guilt, and eliminates any lingering internal suffering. In short, Avery is forgiven. Avery will also return to discipline and obedient behavior, i.e., be good from now on.

Of course, Billie is not obligated to accept the apology, but if all of the steps were taken as outlined above, then there is a pretty good chance that this will happen. Also, Billie can choose to show mercy, and wave any acts of contrition and restitution promised by Avery, but that’s not necessary either. After all of this, the basis of the relationship between Avery and Billie can be reestablished, and faith, trust, and confidence restored.

No Apology

If an apology is not given, or if it is performed improperly or insincerely by Avery, then forgiveness may not be given. The basis of the relationship between Avery and Billie, or between Avery and all others, will continue to be harmed or even eliminated. Avery should also expect retaliation and retribution for the harmful acts, not a “free pass” from Billie, or society at large.

Too many politicians and celebrities seem to feel that if they “attempt” an apology, or merely say the words, that life should go back to how it was before they acted badly. That, in my opinion, erodes the very fabric of society.

Real Examples

Joe Biden just finished his non-apology apology for “inappropriate touching.” Sure, he scored points for saying that he will change his future behavior, but he never admitted that he was wrong. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that HE was the victim – of changing times and social conventions. So close, but yet so far Joe. He claims that he did not “intend” to make people uncomfortable, so he is not a fault. So, if I did not “intend” to break your window, then I guess I’m not at fault. Geez.

Then there is the case of Elon Musk’s non-apology apology for calling cave rescuer Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy.” Elon only “apologized” because of intense pressure from his followers and even investors. He did not convey remorse, nor did he seem sincere. I doubt that Elon truly thinks he did anything wrong. He just wanted the pressure to go away.

Let us also consider the case of a certain Congresswoman from Minnesota, who has been called out for her expression of anti-Semitic thoughts. Rep. Ilhan Omar accused Jewish people of economic manipulation, mind control, and dual loyalties. She has offered a halfhearted apology, and was given a free pass by Pelosi. It is doubtful if she will ever offer a genuine apology, since her anti-Semitic bias seems to be well entrenched.

Saving the best for last, Felicity Huffman has apologized for paying $15,000 to help her daughter get into colege. Relative to the others mentioned, it was a darn good apology. For one thing, she did not rationalize or excuse her behavior. She took responsibility, and expressed guilt and shame. She is prepared to accept the negative consequences of her actions. The only step missing is restitution, which may prove difficult considering all of the people impacted by her transgression. However, there is time still for her to make reparations, such as donations of time and money to help students who don’t have wealth and privilege. Also there is the issue of the apology taking place only because she was caught. All things considered, however, it is the best apology I’ve seen coming from a celebrity in a while.

What's My Point?

You may be thinking to yourself (if you are still reading this far), what’s the point? These famous people seem to be good at making inauthentic apologies, and just going on with life. My point is that we, the public, are letting them get away with it. Once we learn to recognize an authentic apology, we are less likely to let the fake ones pass. If we can all just look up from our phones long enough to do so.

How important is a good apology?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Carolyn Fields


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    2 years ago

    Amen and right on time! Thanks for this.

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    dashingscorpio -

    When Joe "pets" little girls - that gets to me, however, you do make some good points. There is no comparison between what Joe did/does and Harvey. I just would have liked it better if Joe had not tried to make himself out as the victim.

    Also - the thing about being called "hon" - for honey. That gets to me too, but I generally consider the source.

  • dashingscorpio profile image


    2 years ago from Chicago

    I believe when it comes to politicians and celebrities their motivation for apologizing has very little to do with feeling true contrition.

    They've most likely hired a "crisis manager" to craft the apology for them as to attempt to hold onto their sponsors or supporters as to minimize damage to their careers and financial wellbeing.

    Another factor often overlooked when high profile people make apologies is whether or not the reader/listener (likes) him or her.

    Odds are if someone never cared for an individual there is nothing they could say that what cause them believe the apology is sincere. Most likely they're happy to see him/her in trouble!

    "Joe Biden just finished his non-apology apology for “inappropriate touching.” Sure, he scored points for saying that he will change his future behavior, but he never admitted that he was wrong.."

    I believe Joe gave a sincere apology. He felt the need to stress it was never his "intention" make anyone feel uncomfortable.

    Going forward he stated he would change how he interacts.

    As with most "movements" we go from one extreme to another it seems as time goes on. There is a major difference between what Harvey Weinstein is accused of versus Joe Biden. And yet we're at a point where some people actually see no difference between the two.

    The other day I was at a grocery store and the cashier referred to me as "hon" short for honey when she asked if I wanted paper or plastic bags. As she rang up my groceries she said: "What time is dinner?"

    I did not feel she was being condescending or inappropriate because I'm aware of many women from various regions of the country in service jobs speak in those terms to customers. It is not their intention make one feel uncomfortable. In fact their goal is to do the complete opposite. Had this been a man addressing a female customer in the same way he may have been accused of harassment or improper behavior towards customers.

    Also in the case of Joe Biden I believe (politics) is playing a role in the timing of the complaints about his behavior. Although I'm not a supporter of his I believe the goal was to stop him or wound him before declaring his run for the presidency.

    The irony is our current president was heard on tape bragging about uncontrollably kissing beautiful women and grabbing them by the..."

    He would later claim it was "locker room" banter and never apologized. In the end 52% of white female voters voted for him!

    Whether one likes or dislikes a person determines if they're offended by them or if they're willing to accept their apology as being sincere.

    If someone hates you whatever you said or did is "unforgiveable"! :)

  • Carolyn M Fields profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Fields 

    2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

    RoadMonkey -

    You are absolutely right - "Billie" needs to forgive "Avery" - at least in the heart and mind - for the sake of emotional health. That said, Billie does have the right to exclude and avoid Avery in the future, unless or until trust is restored. I think this is what people get tripped up on. In my own life have some former friends who abused my generous nature. I have since forgiven them, but I don't ever need to see or speak to them again. I will be polite - but that's all. It's for my own well-being.

  • RoadMonkey profile image


    2 years ago

    Great article, really well expressed. One thing I would add and it's nothing to do with Avery. If Billie doesn't get an apology, they may never want to see Avery again but in order to avoid bitterness harmingtheir health, Billie needs to forgive Avery within their own mind, even if not physically.

  • tsadjatko profile image

    The Logician 

    2 years ago from now on

    I agree with John Hansen!

    Did you know this about Omar?

    Carolyn, it seems obvious that there are dome people who basically are narcissists by nature who can’t properly apologize because they actually believe they can do no wrong and if they do they should not be held to account by a proper apology as it is an admission they arful by nature.

    Good article.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    2 years ago from Gondwana Land

    This is a very good article, Carolyn. Politicians especially seem unable to give sincere apologies for anything they do. It seems to be part of the nature of the position to always pass the buck and deny wrongdoing.


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