Admit Fault And Move On

Admit Fault And Move On

What gets you stuck?

The Practice:
Admit fault and move on.

Why?

Have you ever watched two people quarrel, or otherwise be stuck in a conflict with each other? Usually, if either or both of them simply acknowledged one or more things, that would end the fight.

Recall a time someone mistreated you, let you down, dropped the ball, made an error, spoke harshly, was unskillful, got a fact wrong, or affected you negatively even if that was not their intention. (This is what I mean, very broadly, under the umbrella heading of “fault.”) If the person refuses to admit fault, how do you feel? Probably dismayed, frustrated, uneasy, distanced, less willing to trust, and more defensive yourself. The interaction – and even the relationship – gets stuck on the unadmitted fault and is shadowed, dragged down, and constrained as a result.

On the other hand, if this person had admitted the fault, how would you have reacted? Probably pretty well! When someone admits fault (always broadly defined, in my usage here) to me, I feel safer, on more solid ground, more at ease, warmer toward them – and more willing to admit faults myself.

Turn this around, and you can see the benefits in admitting faults to others. It cuts to the heart of the matter, reduces a cause of their anxiety or anger, let you move on to other topics (including your own needs), takes the wind out of their sails if they’re lambasting you, and puts you in a stronger position to ask them to admit fault themselves. And as part of admitting fault, it’s natural and important to sincerely commit to avoiding this fault as best you can in the future.

Then you can get beyond the hassle and bad feelings of the unadmitted fault, and move on to something more positive.

For example, recently our adult son called me on a certain – ah – intense positionality I sometimes expressed when he was growing up. I sputtered and deflected awhile in response, but then had to admit the truth of what he was saying (and acknowledge him for his courage in saying it) and told him I wouldn’t do this anymore. When I said this, he felt better and I felt better. And then we could move on to good things – like more sushi!

How?

Start by reminding yourself how it is in your own best interests to admit fault and move on. We might think that admitting fault is weak or that it lets the other person off the hook for his or her faults. But actually, it takes a strong person to admit fault, and it puts us in a stronger position with others.

Sort out your fault(s) – mistake, unskillfulness, misdeed, error, etc. – from the other pieces of the puzzle of the interaction or relationship. Don’t overstate your fault out of guilt or appeasement. Be clear and specific in your own mind as to what the fault is – and what is not a fault. You, not anyone else, are the judge of what your fault is.

Admit the fault directly. Be simple and direct. It’s alright to express or explain the context of the fault – like you were tired or upset about something else – but avoid justifying the fault, or getting lawyerly about it; and sometimes, especially in charged situations, it’s best to simply acknowledge your fault without any explanation wrapped around it.

Try to be empathic and compassionate about the consequences of your fault for the other person. Remind yourself why this is good for you to do! Stay on the topic of your fault for a reasonable amount of time; don’t jump quickly to the faults of the other person, but don’t let the other person repetitively pound you for your fault after you’ve admitted it.

Make a commitment inside your mind, and perhaps to the other person, not to do this fault again.

When it feels right, disengage from discussing your fault. Then it could be appropriate to bring up ways the other person could help you in not doing the fault in the future (e.g., getting home in time to help with dinner will help you not yell at the kids). Or bring up a fault of the other person.

And then – sheesh! – it’s time to move on. To more positive topics, or to stepping back in the relationship, or to more productive ways of relating with the person.

Last, to plant a seed I’ll explore in a future JOT, it’s also good to admit a personal fault to yourself . . . and then to let go of guilt, self-criticism, and inadequacy, and to move on to self-compassion, self-care, self-worth, happiness, and inner peace.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

Get the Just One Thing
Weekly Newsletter

A simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You can unsubscribe at any time and your email address will never be shared.