- Mental Health
Obsessive Defensive Disorder - the Compulsive need to Never Be Wrong
Are you Being Overly Defensive?
Avoiding Responsibility and Playing the Victim
Admitting that you were wrong about something is anything but a normal, human attribute. If a mistake is pointed out to us, it's all-too-easy to turn that pointing finger at someone else. They'll in turn point the finger at the next person in line, and so it goes until eventually, the dog is to blame for all of the potentially negative aspects in your life. Why is it so hard to own up to making a mistake? Why do we feel the need to justify our actions or make excuses for our poor choices and negative behaviors? What makes us as human beings want to avoid taking the brunt of the blame for anything - including our glaringly obvious mistakes.
It's all over the news, especially in light of the decline of the economy. Company CEO's blame the managers. Managers blame the policies or their employees. Employees blame the next person down the totem pole until there's simply no one left. Eventually, someone is left holding the bag - even if they had nothing to do with the root cause of the issue in the first place. It's unnatural to own up to our mistakes. While it's easy to point out the flaws in others, it's nearly impossible for us to admit our own shortcomings - especially when they're nearly identical to the flaws that we're all-too-quick to judge about someone else.
It's often said that the flaws we're prone to see in others are the flaws that we inherently recognize within ourselves, but are just too proud to admit. In a society where blame is considered to be a four-letter word, taking responsibility is a mark of true maturity, and it's one that's too easily overlooked or justified.
Who's to Blame?
The Ego Avoids Responsibility
From the time that all human beings are young, they are taught to develop a sense of their own identity. This is known as the ego. It's how we see the world, and it's how we see our place in it. It's hard to see ourselves realistically - especially if something we deem important is at stake.
When our mistakes are pointed out to us or our actions are questioned, we experience an uncomfortable sensation that is commonly referred to as cognitive dissonance. Suddenly our self-image is threatened, even if the person pointing something out to us is someone that we know and trust. Cognitive dissonance occurs when we are confronted with the reality of two conflicting ideas at the same time. They cannot both be true, but more often than not, we wish that we were. The human mind is programed for patterns and continuity. We don't like conflict as a general rule, especially when it involves our fundamental sense of self. We then naturally try to justify these conflicting ideals in order to restore our sense of self-awareness, and we become incredibly defensive whenever these self-affirming beliefs are challenged. Being called out for making a mistake is an incredibly difficult reality to face. Therefore we try to justify our actions or make excuses for the mistake - and that often includes pointing the finger at someone - anyone - else.
Arguments Abound when Cognitive Dissonance Takes Hold
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance:
Most people like to consider themselves to be honest and moral people. If you get caught in a lie, however, those eternal beliefs are automatically questioned. When faced with this uncomfortable scenario, you have two available options. You can either admit that you lied, and own up to the ramifications of your actions like a mature adult, or you can try to justify the lie - or find an excuse where lying becomes acceptable so that it doesn't conflict with your own view of yourself.
Another example can be found in the realm of relationships. You think of yourself as a good person, and you've spent a fair amount of time trying to distance yourself from a lot of the typical negative behavior found in the dating world. You tried to demonstrate to the person that you were dating that you weren't like others that they'd dated before - but then they catch you fooling around or you simply don't return the feelings that they've developed for you. This results in cognitive dissonance. You can either come clean and admit that you simply aren't looking for the same things that they were, or you can admit that you were wrong about yourself in regards to their former dating relationships. While neither option seems pleasant, you're much better off admitting to your mistakes and taking the heat for them rather than trying to excuse or justify them outright.
The Internal Effects of Cognitive Dissonance
Then Unsurprising Result
For anyone familiar with the basic principles of psychology, it's not surprising to learn that most people, when faced with a seemingly impossible decision, go for the easy way out, and refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes. When our actions don't fall in line with the perception that we want others to have of us, we easily become defensive and on-edge. This turns into a finger-pointing blame game, and when push comes to shove, we're far more likely to find a way to pin the mistake on someone else than we are to accept the responsibility (and the consequences) for our own actions.
The bigger the stakes seem to be, the less likely we are to own up to our own behaviors. If a mistake is pointed out to us that seems to shake the foundation of our own self-identity, we're likely to strike back, and we're also likely to lash out quickly and vehemently when necessary. This lands us in a continual state of denial. The more we try to assuage our own guilt and our own responsibility, the harder it becomes to admit to the initial mistake over time. We see this as a threat to our identity, our happiness and our security, and our first response is often to retreat into ourselves and to protect ourselves by any available means - even if that means digging ourselves into an even deeper hole. We don't see these forms of justification as dishonest. In fact, the human brain is hard-wired to start believing them, especially if we have spend a considerable amount of time and effort trying to convince others of the same. Eventually, the more we try to justify things to ourselves, the foggier our memories of the events start to seem. We lose track of what actually happened, and start to remember things the way that we want them to be - not the way they truly were. What we used to see as our greatest ally now becomes one of our worst enemies. We are programed to remember the positive things about ourselves, while the negative aspects of our actions, personalities and behavior is far more likely to become foggy quickly. When the true event starts to come to light, this creates even more cognitive dissonance that we feel like we need to defend ourselves from.
While understanding these functions of the brain can help us to examine the reality of our situations much more clearly, it often causes a lot of internal stress as well. The ego is not always a bad thing - in fact, our ego is the very thing that protects us from self-obsessive behaviors like codependency, where we're continually second-guessing all of our choices, actions and words and wondering if we've continually said or done the wrong thing.
Recognizing that we may have made an error in judgment is only the first part of a two-part process. The next step deals with owning up to our mistakes in a productive and positive manner, while simultaneously recognizing the importance of such actions in the overall scheme of things.