Atonement is defined as the reparation given for an injury or wrong. Also known as a Moral repair it is in essence, making amends. All of us in our life have varying degrees of transgressions that relative to our age, gender, culture, social norms, generation and religion constitute the need for atonement.

Atonement is different from an apology which is defined as the regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure. Atonement goes a step further in that it offers satisfaction for the wrongdoing that has been acknowledged. 

Koesten & Rowland (2004) proposed 5 characteristics of the rhetoric (persuasive communication) of atonement;

1) Acknowledge wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness

2) Based upon reflection offer a thorough change of attitude and relationship

3) Take steps to develop a different kind of present and future

4) Through public action or private mortification (great embarrassment & shame) demonstrate the authenticity of the apology

5) Seek atonement in a public forum

Koesten & Rowland (2004) were examining the rhetoric of atonement for countries and public officials. Their characteristics still work on an individual level, however, and my understanding is the need to apologise, show why you know the action was wrong, demonstrate how you will ensure to protect from this wrong occurring again in the future and most of all, be authentic.   

Koesten & Rowland (2004) argued that the atonement process confronts wrongdoing and then purges guilt in order to repair the relationship. I find the purgation (cleansing) of guilt interesting in this process as it is stressed that the burden of responsibility is placed on the offender rather than the victim. So why is the purgation of guilt important? My quick research was unable to discover an evidence-based answer but intuition tells me that perhaps we need to often let go of our own guilt in order for a healthy relationship to blossom. 

Atonement is a part of our life from a young age and it spreads to all facets of society including social norms, laws, generational wrongs, environmental issues and our relationship with yourself. Hopefully, these characteristics can assist you when it comes to your own time of seeking atonement, and remember that if it is not authentic (genuine) it's not going to work. 


Koesten, J., & Rowland, R. C. (2004). THE RHETORIC OF ATONEMENT.Communication Studies, 55(1), 68-87. Retrieved from