It’s Time to ‘Fess Up

My bad.

My mistake.

That one’s on me.

I blew it.

I really screwed up.

I was wrong.

Be honest: how often do you have thoughts like these? How often do you say them out loud? And, most importantly, what difference would it make if you did?

We humans like to be right about what we think, what we say, and what we do. And many of us have a hard time owning up and ‘fessing up when we are wrong. Sometimes, our ego gets in the way. Or, on a deeper level, we have a strong need to avoid feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt. We may be driven to protect our sense of “a perfect self,” fearing that we will think less of ourselves, or that others may think less of us if we admit fault. It’s little wonder that so many admissions of fault, wrongdoing, or misguided thinking are left unsaid.

Benefits of admitting when you’re wrong

If you are in a relationship with a spouse, co-worker, or friend who can’t admit when they’re wrong, you know how difficult it is to sustain healthy and open communication. It’s exhausting! When you hit that roadblock of avoidance, defensiveness, or denial, a part of you shuts down and the trust between you takes a hit. The irony is that by taking responsibility for our mistakes:

  • We demonstrate that we can be objective about ourselves.
  • People can relax with us and be themselves, leading to deeper levels of communication and understanding.
  • Our relationships can grow stronger because others perceive that we care about and value how they think and feel.
  • Others respect us. They see us as more trustworthy and confident!

There is one other, powerful benefit of owning our mistakes:

We free ourselves from the tyranny of perfection while deepening our self-confidence and self-respect.

Take a moment to think about that: by placing a higher value on honoring what is right, we reinforce that we are a person of integrity. And when we do that, we feel good about ourselves in a profound way that has nothing to do with “being right.” Owning a mistake, any mistake, is one more expression of how you take responsibility for your words, actions, and consequences. Now that’s something to feel very good about!

Get more comfortable with admitting when you’re wrong 

  • Separate your actions from your character. Doing something wrong is not the same as being a bad or flawed human. Just because you mess up doesn’t mean that you are no longer a good person, a kind person, a smart person. This distinction is at the heart of getting comfortable with our sometimes “imperfect” words and actions.
  • Remember that everyone makes mistakes: no one is perfect. The corollary is that you don’t need to be perfect. Being human is so much healthier.
  • Remind yourself that feeling embarrassed can be a good thing. It may sound crazy, but embarrassment signals authenticity. Others respect our willingness to be vulnerable and respect our strength and integrity, which in turn makes them trust us and want to cooperate with us.
  • Focus on what you are learning from this mistake. It is easier to move forward when we can take away something positive from an experience. Ask yourself: What can this experience teach me? What can I do to prevent making this mistake again? What do I gain from owning my mistake?
  • Keep the big picture in mind. A healthy relationship with yourself translates into inner peace. A healthy relationship with others creates a rich life. Count me in.

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