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Own Up To Your Mistakes & You’ll Suffer Less

cognitive dissonance, self-justification, accountability, responsibility, mistakes, Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson, confirmation bias, confabulation, identity, self-worth, brain, shame,

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to like to reveal why you struggle to own up to your mistakes, and how to overcome that suffering and paralysis.

First a quick update: 

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Why you struggle to own up to your mistakes, and how to overcome that suffering and paralysis

It is so frustrating, isn’t it?

Your partner or friend just won’t accept that they are wrong or made a mistake – and they won’t change their opinion.

After all, you know that you are not biased – they are.

And you know that if you made a mistake, it’s just a momentary lapse (you are human after all) and it is not a reflection that you are a bad person. However, you also know that when they make a mistake, they deserve to be criticized for who they are, not just for their ‘grave mistake and ill intentions’!

We all do it, we fail to see our errors but quickly see everyone else’s mistakes.

And when we are challenged or criticized, we immediately go into self-justification mode: we look for every reason possible to defend ourselves – even if we need to lie or change our story.

“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.”

– Carl G. Jung

Why do people do this?

Why do you fail to own up to your mistakes?

The Pain & Suffering Of Owning Up To Your Own Mistakes

Like me, you believe you are a good, decent, honest, smart, kind, and lovable person. And when someone reveals your mistakes, it creates awful discomfort. “If I am guilty of what she accuses me of, then I must be a bad person. Now, I feel worse; I don’t feel worthy; my self-esteem has been shattered; I am not who I thought I was…I must be stupid…I am worthless.”

This is known as cognitive dissonance – conflicting ideas, beliefs or attitudes which create stress and discomfort. Therefore, to ease that pain and distress, we justify to ourselves and to others our foolish beliefs, hurtful acts, or bad decisions.

“We self-righteously create a rift with a friend or relative over some real or imagined slight, yet see ourselves as the pursuers of peace – if only the other side would apologize and make amends.”

Carol Tavris, co-author of “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me”

To own up to your mistakes would just be too much, it would be too painful, and it would smash your self-image and self-identity.

Accordingly, you become a prisoner of your own attachment to your self-image and identity.

“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any.” – Carol Tavris, co-author of “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me”

Remember, the US – Iraq war from 2003 – 2011?

It began on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When it was found out there was no such thing, politicians went into self-justification: We will bring stability and democracy to Iraq and the Middle East. And as the situation worsened, again politicians went into more self-justification by blaming the people and government of Iraq for the bad result. Who was willing to admit that a grave mistake had been made? Who was willing to accept responsibility?

“In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the greater the pain we inflict on others, the greater the need to justify it to maintain our feelings of decency and self-worth.”

More Pain When You Refuse To Own Up To Your Mistakes

Once you begin to self-justify, you make things worse, because you will dig your heels deeper into the ground, and next you will blame and criticize the other person. ‘So what if I shouted at him in front of others? He deserved it anyway; he’s not a nice person.’ And the more energy you devote to not own up to your mistakes, the more you will attack the other person and erode and destroy your own morals and values. You will fall prey to confirmation bias, and therefore, you will refuse to listen or look at the evidence provided, and you will select only that evidence that supports your argument – your self-justification.

Confidence, Identity, Accountability, and Why You Do Not Easily Own Up To Your Mistakes

You are confident that you are right; you know that you are not prejudiced; you know who you are. Your problems in life are the result of others’ actions. ‘I was abused as a child; my parents divorced early; my mom was depressed; that is why my life is a mess.’

Now, with that belief system, you cling to the need to be right, and you believe that you are no longer responsible for the things that are not working out in your life.

You believe that your identity must be consistent and that it is also unchangeable. Therefore, if you need to, each time you retell a story, you will change those details to fit your identity and to prop up your fragile self-image.

And thus, for couples the greatest cause of conflict is the need to be right based purely on self-justification: ‘I must prove that she is wrong…I must justify why I cheated or lied…I cannot admit I was wrong…my mistakes are innocent…his/hers are serious and intentional…’

Solution To Help You To Own Up To Your Mistakes Without Crushing You

When you are faced with having to own up to your mistake which shatters your self-image and leaves you thinking you are a bad person, the reasoning parts of your brain shut down, and the emotional circuits light up. Your brain works hard to hold onto the idea, the decision, or the identity that you have created for yourself.

Of course, if your partner or other people around you reinforce the idea that your mistake is you, you are the mistake, then you will become more resistant, and you will engage in even more self-justification. You might even become more aggressive, or you will withdraw and hide in shame.

Now, if you choose to be willing to make your identity more fluid, and, choose to admit that you can make a mistake and learn from the mistake, but you are not the mistake, then you will be empowered!

And thus, we come full circle once more: the key to feeling powerful is to actually be vulnerable. The key is to be willing to own up to your mistakes and to awaken to the truth that you are not the mistake. Mistakes do not define you, but you can learn and grow from them.

Separate your behavior from your identity. Do not attack people: criticize the behavior or the mistake, not the person.

View your behavior as malleable. “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I am sorry. I understand what I did was wrong, and I will learn from it, and I will remedy it.”

Life is full of mistakes: We all make mistakes; we are all imperfect. You are not flawed because you made mistakes.

If you choose to adopt a growth mindset – embracing mistakes as pathways to growth, then it will be easy for you to own up to your mistakes, and you will gain extraordinary confidence knowing you can safely be vulnerable and build strong connections and relationships. Accordingly, challenge yourself, challenge your own judgments and beliefs – you might actually see the truth that your judgments are more biased than you thought.

Finally, instead of attacking people that reveal to you your mistakes, own up to your mistakes and thank them for teaching you; thank them for helping you to see what you couldn’t see. Remember, it is just your brain that wants you to avoid discomfort and pushes you into self-justification. Instead, push back, and be open, responsible, and accountable. The rewards are far greater than self-justification.

If you or a friend need help to overcome a pain from a past event or to become more confident and vulnerable, do what others have done: Resolve it rapidly and be set free of the pain by experiencing my SRTT process. Book a one-on-one session with me.

You can add to the conversation below.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.

Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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