Alpha males. Alpha females. Your husband, sleeping peacefully after an argument.
I could go on. And on. There are many examples of those who need to be right. I’ve known my share of people with this particular trait – of both sexes, all ages, and not necessarily narcissists.
I’ve learned to read the signs and steer clear when it comes to romantic entanglements, but it isn’t easy. Our culture is filled with Good Citizens Who Need To Be Right.
Our educational system seems to feed off this need – or create it.
Our politicians seem to epitomize this compulsion. And we don’t even question it.
Our marriages are rife with the daily damage that is caused, as we talk across each other (insisting we are each right), rather than being receptive to a more open exchange. Or, we find ourselves living with an emotional bully. And part of the manipulation is an insistence on being right.
The Importance of Being Right
I came across this article in Psychology Today which deals with the importance of being right. The author, Mel Schwartz, is a therapist and a marriage counselor. He explains:
Being right affirms and inflates our sense of self-worth… As a marriage counselor I often ask people if they’d rather be right or they’d rather be happy. Although nearly everyone says they would prefer happiness, the battle enjoins over right or wrong.
This compulsion to be right sidetracks our lives and impedes our learning and happiness.
We may be dipping into issues of control (in order to feel safe?), or expectations of gender roles (the dominant male?), but apparently the need to be right is more pervasive and more involved. It’s about identity. Ego. Our competitive culture.
Being right boosts confidence and shores up self-image. We even manage to recreate history at times, painting ourselves as right, as justified in past actions, as the Good Guy in every scenario or, at the very least, less of a Bad Guy.
Admitting You’re Wrong
I recall that my mother – a narcissist extraordinaire – was utterly incapable of seeing herself as wrong.
She vehemently defended her motivations, her actions, her words, her judgments, her every decision. Admitting she was wrong might have paved the way for correcting a situation (or behavior) that went awry. It certainly would have alleviated tensions, lessened unnecessary battles, and made enjoying her company more likely.
Never admitting she was wrong perpetuated the difficulty that many people had – not just me – in maintaining an ongoing relationship with her.
Don’t get me wrong – this particular trait can coexist with other aspects of personality that are a pleasure – humor, charm, curiosity. But the need to be right can erode friendships and romantic liaisons, just as it can familial relationships.
Being Right: Pervasive, Invasive
I used to wish my mother could acknowledge the blindness which characterized her “world view.” She was a brilliant woman, yet her view was absolute, and insinuated itself into every aspect of dealing with her.
I had hoped that as she grew older she might mellow, accepting that people and situations weren’t exactly as she labeled them. But with age, she became more insistent that she was right. It was though she needed to cling to her beliefs in order to survive.
Perhaps my ease with being right or wrong stems from the shadow of her unpleasant fortress of an ego. As an adult, I’ve learned to stand my ground when I argue my points, to look for compromise if appropriate, and saying I’m wrong – and apologizing – doesn’t threaten my sense of self.
In his article, Mel Schwartz points out the ultimate consequences when the need to be right runs rampant:
From the more personal and mundane battle over who said what in the midst of an argument to the larger issues of politics, religion, abortion, health care, gun control or climate change, being right is mandated… It is the raison d’etre for most acts of hatred, violence and warfare.
Do You Need To Be Right?
My sense of self doesn’t depend on being right; it does depend on being true to myself – which includes retaining an open mind.
- Have you ever found yourself arguing in circles with someone who refuses to accept that they’re wrong?
- Are you someone who needs the reassurance of being right?
- If you’re wrong about something, how hard is it for you to admit it?
- Are we conditioned to some degree by an educational system which emphasizes being “right” (getting the correct answers) rather than learning, and a competitive culture of “winning at all cost?”
You May Also Enjoy