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The Virtue of Admitting Fault

If you hate to admit that you've made a mistake or when you're flat out wrong about something, you're not alone. Our politicians dig in their heels, refusing to back down even when their errors are exposed. Businesses and health care professionals can't admit fault for fear of a lawsuit. We live in a culture that discourages admission of fault, but failure to admit fault can eat away at professional and personal relationships.


Why is it so difficult to admit fault? "Fear," says Tanja Diamond, Tantra teacher and author of Beyond Sex: Tantra. "We don't want to admit fault because we have an underlying fear of not belonging, of being shunned. Bad people don't fit in, so you don't want to admit fault. It's better to look at it as 'my action was wrong' or 'I made a bad decision,' not that 'I'm not a bad person.'"

"We don't like being wrong," says licensed professional counselor Aline Haeger. "It just doesn't feel good, and it hurts our pride. We live in a competitive society, where mistakes are often times frowned upon. When we admit fault, it can feel like we lost or we're just not good enough. It shows a side of ourselves that we sometimes want to keep hidden from other people. It shows that we're not perfect, and we have faults. Sometimes we're just not ready to admit that we're wrong. Admitting that we're wrong out loud can hurt, and it can lead to other consequences in our relationships."

Clinical psychologist and author Jan Harrell believes it's basic animal survival instinct. "We instinctively respond as though we fear we will be killed if we are vulnerable. Because we are a society that focuses on right and wrong, people do not like to admit fault for fear that it diminishes them in the eyes of others and their own sense of self-worth will suffer."


When you admit you're wrong, you make yourself a little more vulnerable, but you make the other person more vulnerable, too. "Admitting fault and creating that vulnerability is a building block to intimacy – you can't be intimate unless you're willing to admit when you're not in the right," according to Ms. Diamond. "Without the ability to admit you're wrong or that you're sorry, you have no hope of being authentic or being in a great relationship."

Ms. Haeger agrees. "Relationships are give and take. One person can't always be right. There's no way that you can connect fully with someone if you're not willing to see another point of view, or admit to being wrong. Admitting fault can also bring you closer in your relationship because you're being vulnerable with that other person. You'll feel closer in your relationship because you're able to be truly honest. You won't have to hide your flaws anymore, and your partner will know that you're willing to compromise."


Humanist life skills coach Jennifer Hancock believes that, "If we are to be successful, we can't just assume we are right, we have to actually be right. Admitting we weren't right gives us an opportunity to fix our mistakes and have a better chance of success. I would rather admit my mistake and succeed, than refuse to admit a mistake and continue to fail."

In professional relationships, "Admitting fault is a sign of integrity," continues Ms. Hancock."People who are never wrong are horrid to work with. I don't mind people making mistakes. I mind when they refuse to fix them.The only thing worse than being wrong is continuing to be wrong after you have been corrected."

"Admitting a flaw absolutely helps professional relationships," says Haeger. "Professional relationship or not, nobody is perfect. By admitting fault, you're modeling a great behavior and showing that you are trustworthy."


"When you discern you've made a mistake – and own it – it takes away the chronic anxiety and fear that if you're not perfect, that you don't belong," says Diamond.

Dr. Harrell takes it one step further. "If we believe that one purpose of our life - as it is true for all life - is to grow and attain personal enlightenment, every moment is an opportunity to become more aware and more empowered to be who we want to be. Rather than blame, we can take advantage of any difficult situation as an exercise in becoming more clear."

"To err is human; to forgive, divine.” -Alexander Pope (English poet, 1688-1744)

The bottom line is that all humans are subject to imperfection. We all make mistakes, but cannot hope to learn from them if we cannot admit to them. Admitting mistakes, first to ourselves, and then to others, allows us to channel our energies into self-improvement rather than waste them on covering up our human frailties.

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs!" She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites all around the web.


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