We’ve all met them. Bosses, co-workers, spouses, even a parent. They’re always right. It’s “my way or the highway.”
So here’s the dilemma. What if you find yourself dating or married to a man who insists that his judgment is always superior, and whatever decisions are to be made, you’re wrong and he’s right? What if you’re the adult child of a parent who behaves in this manner?
How do you feel about what amounts to a “do as your told and shut up” approach to discussion, which is demeaning, disrespectful, and inappropriate?
Right, Might, and Ready to Fight
If you’re about to argue with someone who is in a position of power, the stakes can be high – dealing with a spouse who holds all the financial cards, or the boss, with the power to promote, demote, or fire. I think of the expression “might makes right,” and know this sort of interaction can be tricky business.
Yet I wonder. Is there gender conditioning behind the need to be right? Is there always some sort of psychological twist – or several – that yields the controlling, superior partner, the domineering boss, the close-minded father? And why is it that some people are ready for a fight over every little thing, insisting that their position is the only position, and that their “right way” is the “one” right way?
Psychology Today offers clarity on just how wrong “always being right” is – for any relationship. In “Why Being Right Can Be Wrong For a Relationship,” Executive Leadership Coach Christina Curtis reminds us that:
People selectively hear and see what matches their beliefs and experiences. They then lace each action of the event with meaning, and seek validation from those around them.
To some degree, it seems we all want to be right, and think we are. We find greater substance in arguments that support our beliefs. The problem of course is ignoring the possibility that we’re wrong. We’re adamant, dogmatic even, about having our way.
Ms. Curtis goes on to explain that it’s important to find common ground during conflict by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, and using language and behavior to assist in resolving issues productively. But does this apply to the person who never listens, who is convinced that he’s always right, and who belittles you in the process?
The Narcissism Primer
Just a quick reminder of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is certainly the first thing that comes to mind when I consider the “my way or the highway” guy. And let’s not forget, there are plenty of narcissistic women around, too.
This is a partial list of NPD symptoms, courtesy of Psych Central:
- Overblown sense of self
- Preoccupied with fantasies of power
- Believes himself to be unique
- Demands attention and admiration
- Takes advantage of others
- Lacks empathy
- Discounts opinions of others, is arrogant, haughty
“Discounts opinions of others.” Did you hear that one? Ever find yourself fighting just to get a word in, much less have your input considered of value?
How to Argue with Someone Who’s Always Right
At times, I’ve determined that it’s not possible to argue with someone who always needs to be right, though ideally, I would prefer to reason rather than argue.
Having lived this situation for many years, I am certain I handled things entirely wrong. I allowed my buttons to be pushed, I allowed myself to be argued into a corner (by a superior debater), and I felt myself getting upset. This was in my personal life, though in my professional life I was more able to do exactly what these circumstances call for:
- Try to understand the reasons for the behavior
- Recognize your relationship (what you have to gain or lose by how you handle yourself)
- Pick your battles
- Be certain of your position (and your facts)
- Stay calm and measured
All of that is easier said than done, naturally. Especially if you’re feeling backed into a corner, stressed from lack of sleep or worry, and if there are threats – direct or indirect – for example, the possibility of marital breakup, loss of job, exploitation of financial vulnerability and so on.
My Life, My Choices
In the years that followed the end of my marriage, I was putting together a new self, an evolving self, a try-this-on-for-size self, though my focus was primarily on doing right by my children. My married life, which now seems like a bit of a blur?
I allowed myself to be overruled, silenced, diminished.
I repeat: I allowed it.
In the long, hard process of climbing my way out, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of clearly articulating what I want and need, then standing by it. So does that make me a “my way or the highway” person?
I certainly hope not, as I try to keep an open mind and consider options other than my own. But I have become super-sensitive to not permitting myself to fall into old habits – associating with individuals whose ego I mistake for strength, and whose narcissism I take to be confidence.
It’s a balancing act, a sort of vigilance, a constant set of reminders. But for me, it’s the only way to ensure something akin to equality and respect, whatever the relationship.
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