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Keywords:

  • apology;
  • forgiveness;
  • reconciliation

Abstract

There is no consensus in the psychological literature regarding the operational definition of an apology, nor is there a comprehensive theory of apology. The object of this study was to use a hermeneutic phenomenological approach and grounded theory methodology to develop a theory of apology based on lay people's interpretation of apologetic responses. Data were methodically gathered by interviewing 23 people who had been wronged by an intimate partner. The analysis of the data suggests that there is not a single discrete definition of an apology, but that it is more appropriate to conceptualise apology as a process that consists of one or more of three components: affect, affirmation, and action. Each of these components has two categories; one that reflects a self-focus on the part of the wrongdoer, and the other a self–other focus. What will be accepted as a good enough apology appears to depend on the severity of the consequences of the wrong, the level of responsibility attributed to the wrongdoer, and the perceived wrongfulness of the behaviour.