“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”
– James Joyce
Another week in the sex blogging world, and another company that purports to be ethical has behaved horribly.
I’m not going to name them here, because that isn’t the point of this post. I’ve removed all their links from my site and won’t be supporting them again unless I see real and meaningful change.
This post isn’t really about them. This post is about the fact that this shit keeps happening. Whether it’s ostensibly sex-positive companies or their owners tweeting misogyny, or kink websites perpetuating transphobia, or big-name educators turning out to be serial abusers, it feels never-ending.
I believe that very few people are inherently evil or incapable of redemption. In fact, I believe that for most of us, our mistakes are how we learn, grow, and become better people.
God knows I’ve made plenty of mistakes – big ones and small ones. I’ve fucked up and I’ve hurt people and I’ve caused harm. I challenge you to find me a single person who hasn’t.
But when you fuck up badly? Accountability is needed. You need to apologise meaningfully, make amends, and do the work to ensure you never repeat the same harm again.
With the enormous caveat that I am not an expert, here are a few things I’ve learned about doing better when you fuck up and get called on it.
Don’t double down
If you’ve been called out for shitty behaviour, it is very unlikely that doubling down and attempting to justify it is going to go over well. Unfortunately, doubling down often comes across as invalidating (“you’re misinterpreting what I said”) or straight-up gaslighting (“that didn’t happen the way you say it did.”)
Many people, when called out, will lash out at the people telling them they fucked up. Some will even act as though denouncing harmful behaviour is an act of abuse in itself. Seriously: do not do this.
If your behaviour was a result of baggage or unresolved trauma, that might be relevant context, but it can only ever be a reason – not an excuse.
Don’t expect a half-assed apology to fix everything
There’s a recurring pattern with the people and companies who fuck up in these ways: if they apologise at all, it’s only after multiple very public call-outs.
If you fuck up and get called on it, apologising is a good thing to do. But don’t expect it to fix everything immediately. People aren’t obligated to forgive you. They might eventually, or they might not. That’s their decision to make.
And if you’re not actually sorry you did it but just sorry you got caught and called out? Don’t even bother. Because we’ve seen this before and we can always tell.
Accept the consequences
It’s hard to be truly accountable without accepting the consequences of your actions. Sometimes, people won’t want to be friends or share space with you any more. Some might choose not to buy from your company any longer. You might lose sponsorship deals, speaking gigs, income opportunities.
All of these are likely to be proportional and appropriate responses to the harm you have caused. You’re not being silenced or cancelled or having your life ruined. You’re experiencing consequences for your fuck up. Owning and accepting them is actually part of the process of healing.
Work to ensure you don’t repeat the mistake
Apologising and making amends is useless if you just repeat the same harm again and again. So take the necessary steps you ensure you don’t. This might mean educating yourself, getting therapy or other professional support, or seeking help from your friends and loved ones (NOT including the person you harmed) to hold you accountable.
The best apology, after all, is changed behaviour.
I wrote this post as part of Quote Quest, a fun blogging meme by Little Switch Bitch. Click the logo to see what everyone else is writing this week! Oh, and if you enjoy my work, please consider buying me a coffee.
5 thoughts on “How to Do Better When You Fuck Up”
What wise thoughts!
So often in these situations it DOES feel like someone isn’t actually sorry at all, but they’re apologising because they’ve been caught. Sure, sometimes the public call out might be the reality check that someone needs to get their shit together, but more often it feels like an apology is only given when they might actually face consequences of their actions. And *asking* the people who are calling you out on your bullshit to suggest how you can be accountable isn’t good enough – you have to do the work of educating yourself. (Unless you’re going to pay those people for their emotional labour in holding you accountable!) Aah, this whole situation is incredibly frustrating – as is the rise in people saying that they are being attacked or cancelled because they’re facing consequences from their actions. Anyone can be an arsehole, but you’re not being “cancelled” if someone doesn’t want to work with them because they’re an arsehole! Anyway, great post.
It sounds so easy and yet is a hard thing to do.
I agree with you 100%.
Understand you made a mistake, apologise and do not repeat it.
I just had to write a paper for work/school that touched on how supervisors need to handle apologies better, and I liked this list:
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Speak for yourself and offer an apology for your actions.
CLEARLY STATE WHAT YOU’RE APOLOGIZING FOR.
FOCUS ON IMPACT INSTEAD OF INTENT.
STATE WHAT YOU PLAN TO DO IN THE FUTURE.
ASK FOR, BUT DO NOT DEMAND FORGIVENESS.
BONUS THOUGHT: GIVING IN TO AVOID A FIGHT ISN’T AN APOLOGY, IT’S A LIE.
I also feel we need to avoid the word “but,” listen deeply to the person who is upset, and accept that we may have hurt someone without knowing it. I’ve been there before. Those are the apologies we have to think the hardest about and the habits we have to dig deepest to change.