If you haven’t realized, I have a bit of a stubborn streak. I like to be right. It’s a thing I do. Once, when I was arguing with someone because I knew I was right and I just couldn’t let it go, he said, “I can tell you really like to be right.” It was just an observation – not a judgment. He even said it kind of nicely. “You really like to be right.”
And I was like, “YES, I like to be right? Why would I not? Do you go around letting people think things that are wrong?” And he looked at me like, yeah, that’s an option.
Blew my mind. And I wasn’t sure I agreed.
Years later, I looked back at this moment and realized that sometimes, it’s not all about being right – it’s also about being happy in this precious life we have. And we often thing being right will help us feel happy…but that’s not how it works. So I started to wonder… Why was I – and so many others – so driven to be right?
One reason is that we are trying to protect ourselves. There are a lot of us out there who have a limiting belief that we are somehow damaged, broken, not safe, or not good enough (or all the above!). These ideas usually started from the messages we received when we were a lot younger from our primary caregivers and others who had a lot of influence in our lives.
Most of the time, when we have this type of belief, we also try to keep it stuffed away because it feels pretty crappy. Maybe we start to see glimpses of these beliefs arise in meditation or in our disproportionate reactions to certain things – but usually, but we try to keep it all tucked away so it doesn’t interfere with how we’d like to see ourselves.
One way we do that is through this psychological defense mechanism called reaction-formation. This means that when we have a really painful thought, we turn it into its opposite. Like the insecure guy who acts like a pompous ass acting better than everyone else. Or when we get judgy and put others down so that we can see ourselves as superior.
Another way this appears, which I see a lot with my clients, is in the need to be right and to have others agree that they are right. It’s a way of compensating for feeling out of control.
I definitely identify with this. I grew up in the ‘hood – a poor and violent neighborhood and I was told that my brain – academics – would get me out, and that it was my only way out.
My intellect helped me make sense of the world, keep order, and plan and rely on the future and take care of myself and those I love.
So when it’s challenged – when someone says I might be wrong – it feels vulnerable AF. In order to keep control of the world, and to feel safe, I try to control being right.
Think of that one person you know who is always believing and acting like they know what’s best, no matter what’s going on. You notice in the words they use, their tone, and their body language. And those messages they’re sending can be hurtful to others… especially kids, who use those experiences to shape their belief about their worthiness and lovability.
So when we are emotionally attached to the need to be right, any other idea, opinion, suggestion, or perspective must be “wrong.” That need to be right tells us that we’re OK. It addresses those limiting beliefs by trying to provide proof that they are wrong. So of course we fight hard to be right!
It’s usually not even about the thing we’re arguing about. It’s about what we make it mean that we are being challenged. It’s about the tender, wounded human behind all that, who hurts when someone disagrees with them because it threatens our loveability, our worthiness, our safety.
When we fight hard to be “right,” it actually creates so much suffering for everyone involved. We feel crappy about it after the glow of being proven “right” fades, and the people we argued with – colleagues, partners, family, kids, friends – often feel just as bad. Maybe they were just sharing. They probably didn’t mean to say anything about our worthiness or lovability. But it sure feels like that
So how can we learn to let go of being right, and allow happiness in instead?
As it often is, the first step is awareness, because this pattern occurs automatically. We can notice the need to be right and our attachment to it. Mindfulness is a great tool here. Learning the art of the pause, getting curious about that feeling, and not judging ourselves for having it.
Next is we can offer ourselves self-compassion. We can’t go further without it, otherwise we’re just resisting uncomfortable emotions and trying to grow when we still don’t feel safe.
One we’ve become aware we are hooked and can see our attachment to being right and offered ourselves some self-compassion…THEN we can ask ourselves: Would I rather be right, or happy? This is a powerful question. It helps us realize that trying to be right is a choice – a choice requiring vulnerability, but opening us to true happiness.
Which is more important – being right, or being happy? Which is more in alignment with how you want to feel and show up in the world? Which brings you closer to those you love and care about?
When we argue to be right, instead of the other person feeling close to us, they feel distanced, pushed away. And instead of us feeling understood, when the glow of being right wears off, we also feel distanced and separated.
So this week, rebel, ask yourself: would you rather be right, or be happy?
Which would bring you closer to your people – and to your values?
In this Episode you will learn:
// What being “right” has to do with being safe and loved
// How the need to be understood can push people away
// The different ways we create more pain when we try to be right
// Three steps towards learning to be “wrong” and letting go of being right (even when you kow you are;)
// Why being to be willing to be wrong is better than being right
// Episode 44: The Power of the Pause
// Episode 51: Self-Compassion
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can get coached on things that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.
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