The Right To Be Right

Welcome! Today I hope that you are finding joy and happiness in everything you do.

Maybe you have the same experience I do. You feel a compelling desire to correct others for their mistaken beliefs, perceptions, judgments, and recollection of events. The more clear and sure you are that you are right, the more you feel compelled. The more you feel attacked by the behavior, judgments, or comments of others, the more compelled you feel to correct them.

From the time I was a child, I always felt compelled to correct people. For me it was my method of fighting off criticism. It was me battling against injustice. As I grew into adulthood, attended college, and began my career, I ingrained in myself the powerful need to be right.

The system called upon me to correct people and things all the time, and the compelling behavior to be right and correct others paid me dividends. The positive feedback for being right in school, technical jobs, and personal problem solving gave me ammunition to fight the fear that I was not enough. When I was right and avoided or solved problems, people were grateful. In that moment I could believe I was enough.

The problem is that I had to be right about everything. If I thought someone thought I had screwed up, I was compelled to correct them. The hypervigilance and constant energy output to make sure I was right and that other people knew it was exhausting. While the affirmations gave me ammunition to contradict my inner fear of not being enough, it did nothing to change that inner belief, an inner belief that I was desperate to disprove.

This inner battle lead me to crazy extremes as well. I’d stay up days in a row to complete projects and “make things right.” I’d labor endlessly just to prove that I was good enough. I would abandon plans and personal activities in order to make it happen, step-up, and deliver.

It was the sweet dance of my hypervigilant, anxiety driven, over-achieving personality. However, it rarely worked. The projects were still seen as failures, people resented me, and I felt shame and guilt for the crazy things I’d do in the name of “being right.” The final straw for me was that, in the end, my achievements of being right didn’t really matter to others as much as I needed them to.

Now comes the funny part — it was the same compelling need to be right that got me into therapy. I needed to fix my panic and fear along with everything else. I couldn’t remain broken. So the same process that drove me crazy was the main motivator that put me on the path to change, heal, and grow.

By 1999, I was beginning to realize that the cost of my anxiety around projects and work tasks was anxiety and panic. I had begun to change my thinking about what my role on a team was and how I should be approaching projects.

I attended a presentation my dad gave on how he gained sobriety. I remember leaving the meeting with the thought that my problems were being introduced entirely because I was trying to run from the truth. I would fix it by getting honest. I would start looking for and admitting when I was wrong.

This led me to the conclusion that I needed to stop telling other people they were wrong, because about half of the time, they weren’t. This realization demonstrated to me that if I’m quiet, I can hear the perspective and information of others, and that while their perspective may anger or scare me, it also can help me discover when I’m wrong. This led to my second breakthrough. I remember putting it all together when I read a quote from Ghandi: “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”

I decided almost instantly to try to embody Ghandi’s approach. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. To seek to understand first, I have to not only stop talking, I have to listen and find the truth in what I’m hearing. I not only have to allow myself to be wrong, I have to let others have their own experience without my perspective.

It took serious work to stop the habitual compulsive need to fix things. For a few years, to learn to change, I had to stop giving feedback of any kind. It was like making an agreement to not use my right hand. I couldn’t stop myself, and for months found myself giving feedback without even realizing what I was doing. Each time I’d catch myself, I’d discover some other aspect or new depth to the reasons I couldn’t stop trying to be right. I had all kinds of excuses for my behavior, but in the end, my need to give feedback was compelled because of a deep-rooted fear that without it, I was worthless. My only value in the world was to solve problems. Down deep inside, I thought that if I didn’t fix other people’s problems I would be abandoned and die.

Through the process of changing my beliefs and attitudes I started to really understand the consequences of my behavior to my own self-esteem. I learned how not allowing others to be wrong was really enforcing my own belief that I wasn’t enough.

So today I can let the truth be the truth. We can each have our truth. Freedom from being right is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself. I do slip back into old patterns from time to time, but I believe that I do not have to fix things to be happy.

The path has been a hard one. If this is a struggle you have, I offer up the following:

Allowing others to be wrong and to not need to correct them starts with allowing yourself to be wrong and not correct yourself. You are your own harshest critic. Look upon your criticism of others as a knife that slices both ways.

Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate you and hope that you are feeling good today.

3 thoughts on “The Right To Be Right

    1. Anawnimiss, I’m glad to hear that. It always brings me good feelings to hear I’m not unique in my problems or my way, and sharing my story is important to me for just this kind of response.

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