Why is it so hard to admit you’re wrong?
Why does it take so much effort, so much acceptance of yourself to perform this fundamental act of healthy relationships?
According to psychology, it’s because we’re human.
Go ahead, take a minute and check! You’ll find that you are too.
And because we’re human, vulnerability can be a tricky thing.
To admit you’re wrong is to show a deep vulnerability of your emotions in your relationships.
But why is that so hard?
According to psychology, these 11 reasons play a big part:
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you break through the barriers that prevent you from admitting you are wrong. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
1. Ego protection.
The concept of ego refers to a person’s sense of self-importance and self-esteem.
Admitting you’re wrong may be perceived as a threat to your identity and self-worth.
Perhaps, like many people, your self-esteem is closely tied to competency, that is, you want to be right. Acknowledging a mistake may feel like a blow to your sense of self rather than an admission of typical human imperfection.
Ego protection ties into a fear of inadequacy. If you feel inadequate about yourself, you likely want to maintain a positive self-image because you can’t accept that you may not be perfect.
Furthermore, vulnerability can trigger inadequacy. It may be that you made a mistake because you didn’t know something well enough. That’s a hard thing for anyone to admit.
Social factors may play a role in ego protection too. In some social contexts, maintaining a certain reputation or status is crucial. Admitting a mistake may be perceived as harmful to your social status. Ego protection serves to maintain that status.
You will likely find this is most true in work relationships where admitting you’re wrong can make your work life a whole lot more complicated. Unfortunately though, omitting the truth or outright lying is often worse.
2. Fear of judgment.
Humans have a natural desire for social approval and acceptance.
Unfortunately, this can get in the way of owning up to our mistakes.
Admitting you’re wrong can pose a potential threat to your social standing, leading to fear that others will judge you harshly. You don’t want to look stupid in front of your peers, so you keep quiet.
Admitting you’re wrong may be seen as damaging to your reputation, which causes you to avoid admitting your mistakes altogether.
People often feel pressured to conform to social norms. Admitting a mistake may go against the norm, making you vulnerable to criticism and ridicule through teasing or negative comments.
If your peers are conscious of appearing perfect, you may fear you’ll be seen in a less positive light if you admit to making mistakes.
Lastly, some people use anger as a defense mechanism when they are afraid of being judged negatively. If they are aware of this, they may avoid admitting wrongdoing in order to keep the peace and avoid arguments.
Unfortunately, none of this is good for long-lasting and healthy relationships.
3. Cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort that someone experiences when they have conflicting attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.
For example, let’s say you think you’re better than everyone else and you do something that contradicts this belief. To avoid experiencing cognitive dissonance, you’ll try to avoid admitting wrongdoing. You might even re-interpret what happened to show yourself that you were right after all.
Consistency is often at the root of cognitive dissonance. The person is trying to exert control over themselves or the world around them to create consistency in their attitudes or beliefs, but that isn’t how life is. It’s not how reality is.
There are always inconsistencies because there are always gray areas. You can’t know everything; therefore, you can’t always make the right, informed decision. Mistakes will happen and trying to avoid cognitive dissonance by not admitting you were wrong only gives you the illusion of control.
If the likely consequences of your mistakes will create or worsen cognitive dissonance, it can make it even harder to admit you’re wrong.
For example, external punishment can increase dissonance because your positive self-belief is inconsistent with the negative consequence you must face, so you may avoid owning up to your wrongdoing so that you don’t suffer this discomfort.
This may minimize cognitive dissonance in the short term but creates bigger problems later on.
4. Confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is a phenomenon that involves the tendency to interpret, favor, and remember information that validates your preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.
Confirmation bias is a powerful barrier to admitting you’re wrong.
The tendency to interpret information to confirm your own beliefs causes you to disregard or overlook information that may contradict the belief.
If you’re wrong, you’ll look for all the reasons that you’re actually right, which leads you to believe that you aren’t wrong after all. This isn’t typically a conscious choice. It’s your subconscious falling into a behavior that provides the comfort and consistency that you desire.
Memory is also influenced by confirmation bias which can affect how you recall a situation. Your memory of a situation may be very different from what actually happened which reinforces your belief that you don’t need to admit any wrongdoing.
For example, take a situation where you’ve been taking your recent bad mood out on others by arguing with everyone. Instead of admitting fault, your memory paints a picture of you defending yourself from unreasonable attacks and so you believe you have no wrongdoing to admit.
Unless you proactively open yourself up to other’s views or beliefs, confirmation bias can be a hard trap to avoid.
5. Loss aversion.
The fear of loss can be a powerful motivator to avoid admitting mistakes. This fear is particularly strong when it comes to losing close relationships.
No one wants to sacrifice what they have unnecessarily, and some people don’t want to sacrifice even if it is necessary, so they avoid admitting wrongdoing.
Loss aversion may also extend to situations where you don’t want to lose credibility or social standing.
This fear of loss can also be linked to the sunk cost fallacy – if you’ve put a lot of work and effort into something, it’s much harder to let it go. Admitting that you’re wrong may feel like a loss of that valuable time and resource, whether it is or not.
Emotions play a role in loss aversion too, in that you may fear regret, shame, embarrassment, or guilt. Essentially you are afraid of losing a person’s respect.
The avoidance of those negative emotions may prevent you from admitting you’re wrong, even though the lingering tension is already creating regular discomfort.
6. Social pressure.
Social pressure causes people to choose actions and paths that may not be right for them due to social conformity.
The expectations of society may cause you to not want to admit you were wrong about something because it would reveal actions that did not align with expected social norms.
A fear of rejection, judgment, and loneliness may influence your decisions.
If you do something wrong, there is the possibility that other people will judge and reject you for your bad decision. That, in turn, may lead to ostracization from your community, which leads to loneliness, which most people want to avoid.
Leaders, in particular, are often expected to be a bastion of strength, good decision-making, and guidance toward the goal that the group is pursuing. A leader may fear owning up to a mistake because they fear they will lose face and the respect of their followers.
7. Fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset is a belief that your intelligence and ability are fixed traits.
People with a fixed mindset are often threatened by the success of others. They avoid effort that contradicts the belief they hold about their ability, and they avoid challenges that they don’t believe they can overcome.
A person with a fixed mindset often ties their self-worth to their ability and intelligence because they believe that these things determine a person’s identity. They hate being corrected because it makes them feel as though their self-worth is under attack.
If you have a fixed mindset you may struggle to see that embracing your flaws provides an opportunity to grow your intelligence and ability.
Any kind of setback may be seen as an insurmountable goal rather than a challenge to be overcome. Any kind of failure may be perceived as losing in a social ‘competition’.
People with a fixed mindset often believe they need to prove their superior worth, while no one else knows there’s a competition going on.
Insecurity, which refers to a lack of confidence and feelings of self-doubt, may play a significant role in preventing you from admitting that you’re wrong.
Insecure people tend to fear judgment from other people because they think it means they are incompetent rather than fallible.
A negative self-image is associated with insecurity.
An insecure person regularly compares themselves to others to try to prop up their own self-worth and self-esteem. Admission of being wrong is seen as a personal flaw rather than an opportunity to grow and experience the good things that come from it.
Impostor Syndrome is common in insecure people and feeds into the fear of admitting wrongdoing.
In Imposter Syndrome, people don’t feel like they deserve their achievements or accolades because they believe they are incompetent or unable. Consequently, they may fear admitting wrongdoing because they worry it’ll be interpreted as confirmation that they don’t deserve what they’ve achieved after all.
9. Need for control.
A need for control may arise for different reasons.
Anxiety is one cause and occurs because an anxious person subconsciously tries to exert control over their surroundings as a means of self-soothing.
To admit you are wrong, you need to be able to let go of control. You can’t control the outcome of your admission, how other people will judge you, or whether or not the wrongdoing can be fixed or resolved.
The need for control can also emerge as a result of feeling like you are more capable than others around you.
Admitting you are wrong is a challenge to your perception of being more able and in control than others. It requires you to be vulnerable enough to admit you’re wrong and willing to accept the judgment of people who you feel are less capable than you.
For some people, that’s a step too far.
10. Emotional investment.
We often get wrapped up in how correct our viewpoints and opinions are.
Some people invest so much of their emotional energy into these beliefs that they have a difficult time separating the emotion from the viewpoint because it becomes a personal attachment.
Instead of the wrong action or belief just being seen as a thing they can fix, they may feel it’s unfixable because they believe their emotions are ‘right’.
Emotional investment contributes to cognitive dissonance.
Discomfort comes from having your beliefs challenged, which is essentially the same as having your emotions challenged.
Admitting you’re wrong may intensify that discomfort which causes you to want to avoid it. Many psychological hurdles go along with challenging your cognitive dissonance that some people just can’t handle.
Fear is an emotion that may play a role too. If you’re emotionally invested in a wrong action, you may feel that admitting you’re wrong is a personal loss.
That fear of personal loss causes some to avoid admitting their mistakes because the loss feels more personal than it actually is.
11. Lack of self-awareness.
A lack of self-awareness plays a big role in the inability to admit mistakes.
Typically, a person who lacks self-awareness often has blind spots about their shortcomings because they lack the ability to reflect on their own thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
They have a difficult time seeing they’re wrong at all.
Even if others can see they’re wrong, they may have a difficult time accepting feedback because they don’t believe the feedback aligns with their actions. They may believe that their actions aren’t serious or harmful to others because the same action wouldn’t be harmful to them.
People who lack self-awareness may engage in attribution errors as well. They view successes as a reflection of their ability while viewing failures as being the result of external factors beyond their control.
In essence, people who aren’t very self-aware often deflect personal responsibility for their failures.
Personal growth requires the ability to admit when you are wrong.
And it’s okay to be wrong. We all are sometimes.
Admitting you’re wrong may bring with it some negative consequences, but it often brings good with it, too. Many people admire and respect a person who is willing to say they made a mistake.
Furthermore, you should be able to admire and respect your willingness to face that discomfort yourself.
Not everyone can do it.
If you can, that’s a personal victory that will lead to a happier, healthier you.
Still not sure why you find it so hard to admit when you are wrong?
Speak to a therapist about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours.
They can help you to dig deep into the reasons for your reluctance to admit fault and provide specific advice to help you overcome those issues.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address.
And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome behaviors they don’t really understand in the first place. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.