The Art of The Apology
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Anyone who knows me knows my biggest vice is television. I am an unapologetic TV junkie, and realty TV is my drug of choice. It’s a vice I can indulge while I’m pregnant, when I’m sick, when I’m home alone or with a friend, and there’s no shame in my TV watching game. So from time to time, I’ll be writing about my reactions to my favorite series, the Real Housewives. I also indulge in Married to Medicine, but I don’t have time for much else.
Recently I was catching up on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Beverly Hills because the two seasons overlap. A theme I noticed that does not only apply to these franchises or this particular season, is how poorly these women apologize. Apologies are few and far between, and when they do happen, they often take the form of “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if you got hurt.” If you’re thinking, “what’s wrong with those? I say that all the time.” stop what you're doing, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let's break these down.
I’m sorry you feel that way. This faux-pology is really saying that the other person’s feelings are the problem in the situation, not your behavior. That’s not an apology. If you really don’t think you did anything wrong, don’t invalidate the other person’s feelings by telling them you’re sorry they feel that way. Just don’t attempt to apologize for something that you’re not sorry for
I’m sorry if you got hurt. On the surface, this might sounds good. However, the meta-message here is, I’m not the one who hurt you. A vague, “you got hurt” faux-pology almost makes it sounds like an Act of God. This isn’t an airline flight delay, if your behavior hurt another person then say it. Also, if the person tells you that you hurt them, don’t invalidate their hurt by saying “if.” No, not if you hurt them, they just told you that you did hurt them. For fun, Google “Real Housewives ‘I’m sorry if’.” It’s never ending.
Instead, here is a better way to provide an authentic apology.
Identify the behavior. Apologize for what you did, not who you are. Saying “I’m sorry I’m such an idiot” or “I’m sorry I’m such a jerk.” just sounds like a passive aggressive attempt at getting the other person to assure you that you’re not an idiot or a jerk. Instead, saying “I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary” or “I’m sorry I raised my voice” identifies what the actual problem is. You are not the problem, your behavior is.
If you hurt someone, say it. “I’m sorry I hurt you….” Again, it is important to make this behavioral and follow it with what you did. “I’m sorry I hurt you when I said ‘yo mama’ when we were arguing.” That apology is what Dr. Heavenly (from Married to Medicine) SHOULD have said to Mariah…but I guess it wouldn’t be great train wreck television if they communicated well.
Identify what you will do differently. If you know what you did wrong, you can identify what you will do differently in the future. If you don’t know what you can do differently, ask. “If we are ever in this situation again, how can I do things differently?”
Apologizing is an act of vulnerability. You do not apologize so that the other person will forgive you or stop being angry. You apologize because you were wrong, you take responsibility for that, and you work to change your behaviors in the future.
“Saying you’re at fault…is an act of introspection and fortitude” (Ryan, 2018).
Surprisingly enough, the Housewife who got it right this season was Teresa Giudice. Although I wouldn’t normally consider her the pinnacle of introspection, she did a pretty good job with her apology to Danielle Staub’s daughter.
Teresa said “If I could take it back, I would. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you don't think. But the words that came out of my mouth, the actions, was my doing. I take full responsibility for what happened, and I'm truly sorry.”
In the land of reality TV, an apology doesn’t get more authentic than that.
Irene Summers Temple, PhD is a licensed Counseling Psychologist in private practice at Irene Summers Temple, PhD LLC in Rapid City, SD. She specializes in multicultural counseling, coaching, and consultation, serving helping professionals, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals, fostering mental wellness and identity development.