What Does It Feel Like to Be Wrong? Our strong need to be right and it’s impact on our lives

 In Negative emotions, Relationships

What does it feel like to be wrong?

According to Kathryn Schulz, it doesn’t feel any different than being right, UNTIL . . . we realize we’re wrong. Then the humiliation and feeling of failure can engulf us. Kathryn is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error and a TED speaker on the same topic. She points out that when we’re certain that we’re right, we assume the other person who is correcting us must be one of three things:

  1. Stupid
  2. Ignorant (not stupid, but uninformed)
  3. Malicious (not stupid or uninformed, but knows the facts and is pushing the wrong answer for some evil intent)

Our feeling of being right can cause us to disrespect, show contempt, and put-down others who disagree, which is easier than ever with today’s electronic communication.

This immense desire to be right and difficulty in conceding we may be wrong has a few origins. One is our highly competitive culture where being right or wrong impacts our identity. Being right feels like it should help us get ahead, gain respect, and impress others. But when you see someone confidently arguing their “rightness,” what impression do they make on you?

A second reason relates to our upbringing. From the time we’re little, we’re told that being wrong is bad. This is reinforced heavily in school where our grades represent our wrongness (and our ability to succeed in life). If we speak up in class, we’re worried about being judged if we’re not sure we’re 100% correct. But what if students were rewarded for taking risks with their answers and for asking good questions?

Another origin is our brain’s wiring. When we’re certain, our brains perceive a reward response and we feel good. But if we experience uncertainty such as realizing we’re wrong, we have a similar threat response as if someone were trying to harm us so it’s natural to feel highly defensive.

When I was younger, I can remember arguing my answer, so sure I was right and needing to correct the other (stupid, ignorant or malicious) person. I still struggle with admitting I’m wrong, but today I’m less pushy with my “rightness” because I find I’m less certain of so many “facts” in my old age. Maybe it’s distrust of my often overwhelmed memory…

The next time you’re defending your answer because you know you’re right, consider how you’re treating the other person. Consider that you might be wrong and that’s OK. Try being more tolerant of the other person’s conviction of their answer, realizing why they also feel the need to be right.

Wishing you much peace & happiness!



Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is a positivity speaker, trainer, & author. She is also the founder of The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping create more positive attitudes, positive work cultures, and positive results.

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