What Is A Real Apology? There Are Three Parts - Miss One And You're Not Apologizing

by Jerrico_Usher

What does it mean to apologize? Is it about being right? Is it about not looking like the bad guy because your intentions weren't to hurt anyone? No. No. No. It's about reality.

If you've ever wondered what a real apology is, or wanted to point someone to a page to explain to them why their shoddy apology, excuses, and the like didn't cut the mustard then this article will give you strength.

Far too often people don't truly appologize- they make excuses for their actions instead of owning up to the fact that regardless of what happened, their intensions, or how much they don't want to be blamed for them- they did it. It hurt you. You want them to simply own up to the fact that their actions hurt you.

In this article I'm going to break down the three parts of a real appology and what they mean. I'm going explain that it's not what someone does that demands an appology that's important- it's acknowledging that they did it, and it had repercussions.


Forgiveness is for "YOU". Apology is for "THEM".

When you apologize GENUINELY you allow them to forgive you COMPLETELY. But first they must forgive you to release themselves. Most people mix up apology and forgiveness polarities.
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Great Resources For Diving Deeper

I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies
Cambridge University Press
$46.99  $42.99
The Five Languages of Apology: How to...
Northfield Publishing
Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Bu...
Berrett-Koehler Publishers
$15.54  $8.0

The Three Phases Of A Real Apology

1. Saying/verbalizing/writing I'm sorry: The basic apology.

2. Admitting your mistake, taking responsibility for your part in the problem.

3. Asking "How can we make this right".

A Strong Piece of advice: Don't apologize if you don't intend to follow through with all three of these rules/parts. It's not only dangerous to your credibility as they always figure it out, you slip, or do it again etc.. But it can destroy trust. No apology at all, is better than a fake one.

With that said Let's break down each of these pertinent rules:

1. I'm Sorry

When you say your sorry a lot of things are being perceived that give validity to your intentions or that invalidate your intentions.

  • Body Language
  • Verbal Language, Including tone, volume, infliction, pauses and where they appear and so on
  • The connection of the two are like a mental check-sum to the person your talking to

When we are sorry and when we aren't we come at it differently. Many people try to fake a sorry and often this is subconsciously if nothing else "perceived" by the other party.

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Your Only Sorry You Got Caught!

Some people actually feel sorry but for the wrong reasons.

A famous saying in movies is "You're not sorry, you're sorry you got caught".

This means if you could have done what you did and no one would have known you did it, you wouldn't be here apologizing to them.

People don't realize it but genuine apologies look and feel different from those that we say as a "courtesy".

People who are expert liars and manipulators are aware of the entire scope of an apology.

Much like an actor can play a part and convince you they're that person their playing only because they can duplicate the exact body language and feeling of the part. Often while playing the part they "get into character" or in some ways really at the moment of impact become that character.

Liars are just good at getting into character, however we always know instinctively if someone is lying or not, it's usually when we are willing to settle for a fake apology rather than nothing that we just accept it.

Don't Be This Guy

"Making Excuses Is Like Pushing "Them" In Front Of The Bullet"
Taking The Bullet

Taking the Bullet is the point

Not Pushing THEM In Front Of It!

Realize also when in pain all we want to do is cast the pain away from ourselves. We want to blame someone to get closure and to feel at least someone else is suffering with us. When you apologize and show compassion completely selflessly you give them that venting (the yelling that will inevitably follow your taking responsibility is a gift you give them when you just listen and don't react to it) as a gift.

You have to brace yourself and expect that they will react negatively, because depending on the amount of pain you caused (even if that was completely not the intention) they will have to expunge that pain.

Until they can remove the pain, and you, being the one who caused it, need to take that responsibility to become an outlet for them to release it a sponge of that reaction, they won't be able to think rationally about it, or even you or your intentions.

The pain is often the roadblock to them healing and them even being able to process what happened. The good news is once they do release this negative energy they are going to feel better, they are going to be more receptive, and they are far more likely to hear you out. Then the real healing can begin and your words will actually carry some weight.

Don't let your pride get in the way of healing the wound! Don't let their reaction govern your reality- realize even if what you did wasn't in any way supposed to be hurtful- that to them, it was, and perception is reality!

The reality you need to comprehend here is that regardless of your own feelings or the reality of the situation, the goal should be the focus. The focus is to penetrate their pain so you can explain yourself but first you have to take responsibility for hurting them, even if they are only hurt because they mis-percieved the reality of your intentions.

If you were wrong, and your intentions selfish, hurtful out of a "heat of the moment" out-lash, and you later realized that your outlash wasn't deserved, rather it was the result of built up frustration of your day and they were just the proverbial pin being pulled in the grenade of your stress- the same rules apply, but in this case you will need to grovel because regardless of the source of your lapse in reason, your at fault- for the accidental out-lash, and for hurting them.

When they completely get it out there then realize they are not alone, and you are accepting responsibility its like you took the bullet for them. An amazing thing happens next, they feel compassion for you (unless you react then they feel disdain!) because they now see the pain they just unloaded on your shoulders.. a certain distillation process happens that defuses this bomb and now communication can pick it apart and heal it

2. My fault; Taking Responcibility (crucial step)

When you take responsibility for your actions you show it in many ways (most of which cannot be faked):

  • Body Language
  • Verbal Language, Including tone, volume, infliction, pauses and where they appear and so on
  • The connection of the two are like a mental checksum to the person your talking to

The difference here, however, is the interpretation of these same pieces of evidence your broadcasting. Primarily the words you use. Making excuses for your "bad" choice of actions that hurt them, is a huge no-no.

It doesn't matter what your intentions were, it matters how they perceived them at the time and the only way they will be able to forgive you for your actions is for you to first take responsibility. Your not necessarily admitting guilt, but rather that you acknowledge that you did something that hurt them, purposeful or not.

When you do this you give them your humility, and they let down their guard/wall. This opens the doors for communication and often if you do this they will see in your body language that you didn't mean to do it the way they saw it (if that's the case).

Appology Path

Remember it's not what you intended that your apologizing for its the pain that happened as a result of your intervention with something that included or Affected them

Appology is for THEM

So long as they hold this pain alone and it infects their emotions, rational mind, and livelihood they are damaged goods to themselves and anyone else. Receiving an apology is a way to release this pent up anger and pain.

In a way it's stage one of a two stage process. Stage 1, shock- closure opens the doors for purging emotions that were pent up and confusion that set in (that amplified emotions). Stage 2, rationality, thinking things through without the hassle of emotions and confusion blocking progress.

It's not always what you did to them that you're apologizing for, it's sometimes just to take the burden of them blaming themselves or to give them closure for their pain that your apologizing for. If you had any part in their pain directly, indirectly, consciously or unconsciously.. Your apology serves to help them. That's what "Apology is for them" means in the title of this article.

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Rumors - One example of indirectly doing something to apologize for is a rumor.

A Lot Of Apologies Are The Result Of Rumors (indirectly passed)

A rumor that you didn't spread consciously for example is an indirect attack you may have started without realizing you were arming unscrupulous types with bullets to use against them.

You didn't mean to give them these bullets your intentions may have been to compliment the other person.

Sometimes even saying positive things about someone can be misconstrued and twisted by others who don't pass on the "whole story".

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Your error in judgment of these bad guys so to speak caused your friend pain so it's not the act your apologizing for most of the time.

It's compassion for your friends pain you want to heal (a pain you likely didn't mean to cause).
The tragedy of rumors is that even the twisted or malformed versions of the rumor often carry the original persons name so you can see how someone may think YOU spread a negative rumor when you likely didn't or didn't mean to!

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Man's Eye
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Preparing For Blow-Back Emotional Responses To Your Apology

Will Help You Rationalize That It's Not Always "Personal"

You apologize to help them heal not to justify yourself. Trying to justify an apology is the same as slapping them in the face as if your saying, I'm not sorry but I'm saying it because I feel like I have to. An apology is offering mental Neosporin and is completely about them not you. A true apology doesn't need reciprocation from them. This is the second mistake people make. They apologize and expect the other person to immediately feel bad for their reaction to your mistakes (intentional or not).

Expecting a C.O.D. on your apology is a bad idea

If you yourself deserve (or feel you deserve) an apology from the other person, you should really assess if you do. Chances are your hurting them caused them to react negatively and yes they should apologize to you, especially if your intentions weren't to hurt them and they over-reacted.

BUT they need to first reach closure that will allow them to think clearly about the situation.
Chances are, if your patient (all things in good time), they will eventually realize they over-reacted and will feel bad. A true apology is one way, none the less.

You should actually try to be more understanding about their reaction if what you did hurt them and not expect an apology back. It's about maturity not yin for yang.

If you told them you were sorry and meant it and they blew up at you and said its all your fault, for example, this shouldn't change your stance on compassion and wishing them healing.

By realizing that there will be blow-back from an apology- and only a real apology will really trigger their release (which is anger that once they dispel the energy/emotions) leading to rational thinking, thus likely a full emotional lashing- your better equipped to handle this.

You will likely realize they are just "venting" and the irrational anger they are feeling will pass. Most of the time, even if you intentionally hurt them, the anger is reactive so it will pass.

Realize this anger is based on their perception (not always reality) that your the source of their current pain.

How then can you get mad at them for feeling this? You need to comfort them and ignore their outbursts, expect them even, but don't take them personal. Again this is about their healing not your justification, especially if your actions that hurt them were purely unintentional and you actually have a reason to justify yourself (you can do this when they are in the right frame of mind and open to hearing you out, not filtering your words through the perceived pain of betrayal).

It all goes back to the same concept we all, as kids, tried with our parents when wanting to get a positive response to a question like "can I borrow the car?". Would you ask your dad to borrow the car when he's in a non receptive or bad mood? of course not! So why justify yourself when someone feels you betrayed them?


Maintaining humility, you say something like this (of course formatted and tailored for your own situation):

"Yea your right, I didn't mean to do that, But I can totally see where you saw that, if it were the other way around I can't say I'd of seen anything different.

I didn't mean to hurt you, that was never my intention, but I did and I want you to know I'm sorry and I feel bad about what happened".

Notice that in this apology your still not blaming anyone, not even yourself really, your just stating the pure facts that matter. (and in this format you can even "mention" but don't elaborate on, that you didn't mean to hurt them- BUT DID- being the real issue here.

You humiliated them, hurt them, whatever it did, your putting the cards on the table and realizing regardless of your intentions you were a key player in their pain.

Once you take responsibility this invokes the law of reciprocation, and they feel and understand their part in it:

"wow, I didn't realize you felt that way, and in some ways that's true, but I know you didn't mean to hurt me, but you did and I appreciate you taking responsibility for that part. I like that we can communicate without blaming each other. I want you to know that maybe I should have been more attentive to what was really happening and maybe I wouldn't have gotten so hurt and reacted the way that I did, so I'm sorry too."

When you take responsibility you remove the defensiveness of the situation. You need to deal with the perceived reality of the other person, remove the pain, then you can get to the facts.

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3. How can we make this right again

The last part and often ignored is what makes the mental Neosporin work. This step is crucial to salvaging the relationship and creating an actual mend of the situation, not leaving a scar built in distrust or animosity.

When you're dealing with this part you're getting into what's called the emotional bank account. When you hurt someone you are making a huge withdraw from their emotional trust of you. You have to pay that back usually with interest to show that you're good for it.

If you apologize then take responsibility but make no efforts proactively to prove you feel remorse, the wound will heal but the scar will always remind that person of your causing them pain. You must find a way that to them, not just you, is like not only taking it away but drastic enough to show you've suffered for your part and really mean you're sorry.

This has to be something you do; you should ask them what you can do then over deliver on it. If they say no its ok, don't worry about it, you should still try to do something to show your sorry, even if its just being a good friend to them and making sacrifices for them that they know are important to you.

Even annoying someone with over delivering shows more remorse than doing nothing proactively. Depending on the degree of your crime, you will have to not only maintain close cohesion of proof that you won't repeat the offense, but you will likely have to be patient and give them time to recover and trust you again. Some things may not be forgiven at all.

Things like outright betrayal, cheating, and lying are amongst some things I could forgive eventually but never forget, and never trust again on. I'd forgive because I want to release the emotional hold it has on you if you don't, but trusting someone who lied to me is something that would be hard- cheating is grounds for termination of the relationship. Period. So although an apology could help give them closure, don't expect every offense to be forgivable (to the point where your record is expunged)...

To Forgive
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In closing I want to make the distinction between apologizing and forgiving.

Forgiveness is about you. To forgive is to release yourself from the anger, resentment and pain their memories their involvement in your life are causing you. When you truly forgive your not liberating the other person you're liberating yourself from their control over you, even if only in spirit or experience. You're saying you can no longer hurt me. You don't need their permission, or for them to even know you forgave them for it to be effective.

A lot of people attribute this to apologizing. Apologizing is not about you at all. You're not apologizing so you get closure, so you feel less guilty for what you did, or anything of the sort.

Apologizing is not forgiving, it's a selfless act if done correctly. Selfless acts require no reciprocation, not even forgiveness but it often breeds their forgiveness as a side effect.

A real apology is about remorse, and wanting them to heal. It's about realizing you hurt someone regardless of if you did it on purpose or not. I never believed in parents forcing kids to apologize to other kids they hurt in a forced manner.

My way of doing this is to take the child aside, and show them the reality of the situation (that they hurt the other child and their feelings were hurt), then guiding them through the reasons they should apologize- just telling a child to say they are sorry without any real lesson about apologizing is asinine and ridiculous. Many would say, "well your showing them how to be polite" but in my opinion, your showing them how to cop out apologize, not really meaning it!

I believe to teach the kid why he should feel bad then giving him the choice to apologize (or you keep working on teaching him how bad it was till he does make the choice to apologize) so when he does its felt by the other party not something they know you were forced to say (which does not a dam bit of good).

It's pretty ironic that people completely swap the polarities of forgiveness and apology.. And when you do that they mean nothing, and no healing happens on either side!

The sad fact is that most kids are taught to apologize with no real interaction to teach them the true meaning, and they grow up having no idea. I believe most people grow up learning to be polite not to actually apologize and they become confused when saying sorry sounds like just another excuse to bypass taking responsibility for what they did!

I hope this brings you some peace, and helps you to realize what will work and what doesn't. Good Luck!

Apologies Open The Door To Healing.



(almost forgot one important 4th step)

An apology is only good and real if you don't do whatever you did again. I should say "try" because some things happen even through the best of intentions (the road to hell is paved with good intentions)... but if you blatantly do something you've apologized for again, this null in voids the apology!

Updated: 04/16/2012, Jerrico_Usher
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Jerrico_Usher on 04/22/2012

True, and voice inflection, tone, etc... too :) this is why an apology shouldn't be carried on over FB, text, or any other internet medium- although online many of the people we meet we don't actually know in person do we :) I thin the words can convey an apology by restating what was done and acknowledging how we made the other feel, may just work :)

LadyGuinevere on 04/22/2012

Great article! One thing---it's hard to show body language over the internet.

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