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Need to Be Right Every Time? Here’s Why (and the Real Cost)

by Andrea M. Darcy

Do people tell you that you are obsessed with being right, but you aren’t sure it’s true?

Signs you need to be right

Balk at being told you are righteous? And immediately have reasons to protest why you are not?

But reasons that, well…. put you above others? “It’s not my fault I’m smarter than most”, “I studied more, of course I’m right”, “I have been at this job longer, what do you expect?”. 

A need to see yourself as better than others is a telling sign. 

Also honestly consider if you:

  • interrupt or talk over others
  • follow someone else’s story with your story
  • always get the last word
  • often say ‘yes, but’
  • or literally say the phrase ‘you are wrong’
  • tend to do everything yourself as you don’t trust others.

Why does it matter if I always need the upper hand?

Always needing to be right gives you the feeling of a quick win and can temporarily raise your self-esteem. But long term, it’ s actually a very costly habit. Consider the following effects of always needing to be right on both your career and personal life. 

1. It limits creativity.

By limiting others and overlooking their gifts and perspectives with your overriding need to be right, you also stop others from inspiring you, or pushing you to go further with ideas.

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2. It keeps you in your comfort zone.

And if you don’t let yourself be pushed but stick to what you know, you are actually stagnating. Being right blocks personal growth and career growth.

2. It’s bad for productivity and progress.

need to be right

photo by Mimi Thian

Many people who want to be right all the time are bad at delegating, which requires trust. If you don’t trust your partner or friends to do things right, you are stuck arranging the reunion yourself. If you only trust your colleagues with menial tasks, you can end doing the bulk of a presentation yourself, and not focussing on just the tasks which use your real strengths.

Being right is the fastest way to go slow.

3. It leaves you lonely.

Sure, the approval you sometimes get from seeming smarter can mean you temporarily bask in the glow of attention.

But in the long run, righteousness is the lonely road. The need to be right makes you a very bad listener, which stops you from understanding others and having real connection

And real intimacy involves being vulnerable. This can’t happen if you are too busy being right. Your relationships can be shallow, and intimate relationships can involve so much conflict that there is no room for intimacy anyway.

If you are trapped in your own perspective there is only room for you, and not others.

What’s behind an endless need to be right?

It can’t be overlooked that Western society promotes the cult of the individual, of winning and losing, and the ‘getting ahead’ that comes with capitalism. But why are you more obsessed with being right that others?

There can be genetic leanings. The general theory (albeit constantly challenged) about ‘nature vs nurture’ is that we are born with genetic leanings and ‘personality traits’. But that our personality is then developed by the environments we encounter. We might be born with a fast mind prone to analysing, and with high levels of neuroticism, or even with low cognitive flexibility. But how that develops will be based on things like our family and personal experiences.  

It might be that we learnt by example. One or both of our parents might have been obsessed with being right. The environment at home might have been one of constant conflict.

It can rise from sibling rivalry. If you had a sibling who criticised you, or who you were compared to, or who you had to fight for attention? It could have cultivated a need to have the upper hand, and a misguided unconscious belief this was the way to gain ‘love’.

Which leads to parenting. Good parenting is not about having a nice house and clothes. It’s about the healthy attachment of feeling unconditionally loved and accepted. If you had to perform to receive such things, be a ‘good’ or ‘smart’ child, if your parent was inconsistent, or cold, or preferred a sibling? These can all lead to coping mechanisms such as defensiveness. Which can look like righteousness.

A need to be right and low self-esteem

At its root a need to be right is connected, no matter how confident you may seem, to low self-esteem. Somehow, somewhere within, you don’t feel good enough just as you are.

There will be shame about your seeming ‘flaws’ or weaknesses, and possibly a  low sense of self or identity issues. Who are you without your intelligence and savvy and ‘winner’ label?

A study at the University of Southern California used neural imaging on people with strong political beliefs who refused to be swayed by facts. It found that such people confused political identity with personal identity. The brain scans were registering an attack on political beliefs as an attack on their personal selves. Our brains are designed to protect us, so if we feel personally attacked, we’ll protest and… insist we are right. 

This low self-esteem and lack of identity can again come from poor attachment and inconsistent parenting. But it can also come from adverse childhood experiences like neglect. And it is a common side effect of childhood trauma, such as any sort of abuse, which decimates a child’s sense of self and sense of worth.

How can I stop needing to be right all the time?

So how can you give up the ‘need to be right’ habit?

1. Practise self-compassion. 

Self-compassion, the art of treating yourself like a friend, is a buzzword in therapy circles lately. And rightfully so, as it’s a powerful tool for raising self-esteem and helping us more easily connect with others. The more we learn to let ourselves off the hook, the more we let others off the hook, too.

2. Learn the power of perspective.

Behind a need to be right is a poorly developed ability to see other perspectives. You might think you do, but do you spend time sitting down and really stepping into others shoes, or a bigger perspective entirely than those of the people involved?

3. Learn to listen. Properly.

Listening is really a bigger and better form of communication than talking. When we learn to listen properly — fully focused and present, not planning what we’ll say next or making comparisons in our head — we then ask powerful questions. We see things we used to miss. Read more in our article, “How to Listen like a Therapist.” 

Get some support.

Again, a need to be right can at heart be a coping mechanism, to protect you from others getting close, or from feeling not good enough. Coping mechanisms can be hard to break alone because they are so deeply connected to our brain’s obsession with survival.

So support is a great idea.  For many people, the therapy room becomes the safe space they can experiment with being ‘wrong’ in, without fear of judgement or repercussions. You can look at your ideas of what constitutes right or wrong in the first place, while expanding your ability to be compassionate to yourself and others.

We connect you with London’s most experienced counsellors and psychotherapists who can help you raise your self-esteem and relate better to others. Or use our booking site to find UK-wide registered therapists and online counselling you can access from anywhere

Andrea M. Darcy mental health expertAndrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and mentor, with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy


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Blog Topics: Relationships, Self Esteem

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