The I Need to Be Right Way of Thinking
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Whether you point your finger in blame or extend the hand in partnership is only a matter of perception. – Virginia Satir
One of life’s biggest set-ups for being lonely is living with the erroneous belief that your way is the best way of doing things and insisting others agree with you. Some people seem to have taken a life course called, How To Be Absolutely Sure of Everything! It’s like their reality testing mechanism is stuck on “It so because I think it is so.” People who feel constantly threatened and angry when others question their actions substitute being right for living a happy life. Living daily always on the defense, being in charge of the rights and wrongs of the Universe, is no fun!
Wanting and insisting on getting your own way is a set up for unhappiness. Rigidity in thinking leads to power struggles or submission from others and distancing. As Andre’ Maurois said, “Everything that is in agreement with our personal desires seems true. Everything that is not puts us in a rage.” People who are prone to anger have a set pattern of beliefs, attitudes, expectations and behaviors that insist on getting their own way. They have a strong case of the “shoulds” and “musts” for others. They believe that there is a certain way that others should act and become angry when their expectations are not met. They need to be seen as good, innocent and superior in their knowledge and how things should be done. They may use charm or anger and intimidation to get their way.
A system is two or more individuals who interact. A couple, a family, a neighborhood and our planet are all examples of systems. Systems can be put on a continuum from open to closed. In open systems, people talk and exchange ideas and feedback so the people stretch and grow. A closed system is one which keeps new information out to protect the status quo. Closed systems do not stretch because no new ideas are allowed in. The feedback loop continues the same way of thinking, precluding change and growth. The person who needs to be right all of the time is a closed system big time! He cannot allow his ideas to be challenged shuts down input from others. People in closed systems are rarely happy. Unfortunately, the need to be right is accompanied with a rigid stance and anger. Others distance from them and they cannot experience intimacy and connection. They cannot understand why their partner is so angry with them–their rationale is that the partner should just change! They do not want to be confused with facts when their mind is made up!
The ego always acts to preserve the sense of well-being and sets up defenses to avoid feeling fragmented. Turning the problem around and blaming the other person is a defense that reduces inner tension. Putting the problem outside of one’s self brings up more feelings of self righteousness. The unwanted parts of the self are projected outward on others as an ego defense against internal feeling of anxiety that conflict brings up. In severe cases, reality is distorted, aspects of memory forgotten and fantasy created. The person assumes that others are out to do them in. Defenses protect the person’s sense of well being. Defenses keep the pseudo self-worth that has been built on self-righteous beliefs from plummeting.
People who must defend their rightness are often preoccupied with imagined shortcomings of others and perceived attacks form them. They often feel betrayed by others. They justify their criticizing and blaming others to avoid the insight that they themselves might be in error. They fear losing power and will use anger to keep others from asserting themselves. Life becomes miserable for the family because it is fear and control based.
It’s part of being human to want to have our way. We all have a touch of the need to be right and control others. We all have areas of self-righteousness where we believe that we know better than others. To the extent that this need to be right and resulting defensiveness permeates one’s life, the less connected you will be with others. It’s sad, but true, the more of you have of the following characteristics of rigidity of thought, the more anger and disapproval you will get from others:
_____ An insatiable need to be right which masks a deep fear of being wrong
_____ A high need to expect others to see it your way
_____ An inability to say, “I don’t know.” and “I was wrong.”
_____ Feeling threatened when new ideas come from other people
_____ Fear of hearing new information that threatens your beliefs
_____ Fear of letting go; need to be in control of self at all times
_____ Preoccupation with winning approval from others
_____ The need to always be seen as tough, powerful and strong
_____ Pride at always being rational and logical
_____ Uncomfortable with expressing sensitive feelings
_____ Shame and fear of being vulnerable and insecure
_____ Fear and severe discomfort about having bad feelings
_____ Believe that others who disagree with you are wrong and should “just get over it”
_____ Use charm, anger, withdrawal or blaming to settle arguments
The Archie Bunker Style–The Fear of Feelings
Fear is the major dynamic operating in this condition. People who have the need to be right usually are very strong physically. They are not usually afraid of the most common fears of physical pain, heights, snakes, public speaking, etc. Their hidden fear is feeling vulnerable, emotional and out of control. They have a low tolerance for emotional pain and cannot tolerate feelings of shame. They use the sense of being right as a narcotic for uncomfortable feelings. They feel threatened when other people bring up a differing point of view–this is the fear of being wrong. Freud called this dynamic “omnipotence of thought.” He considered it a psychological defense to avoid inner anxiety and a sense of becoming fragmented when there is disagreement.
The “need to be right” defense was probably learned early in life when you did not have power and someone else was critical, angry or abusive with you or others in your household. Refusing to yield to the needs of others is learned by the young child as he observes that mean adults or bullies, who were the loudest and angries, often got their way. The child learns that putting power trips on others is rewarded. He then rationalizes that this is okay, and it becomes a habit whenever he feels threatened inside. Defending against taking in new information becomes a generalized way of thinking and acting that comes up whenever there is a threatening situation. Others yield to avoid your anger and you inadvertently shut down avenues of growth for yourself. New information is squelched. Refusing to hear new data closes down your mind and your consciousness.
People who cannot feel and express emotions are called repressors in the psychological literature. Uncomfortable emotions are repressed so that they do not have to be known and experienced. Repressing of the negative emotions is more likely to be found in men and may be related to high levels of testosterone, the male hormone. A new study of 1704 men aged 40 to 70 suggests that men who have high levels of testosterone in their blood are less happy in life. High testosterone levels often results in aggressive behavior and alienation of other people. Men high in this male hormone have double the divorce rates of men low in the hormone. Men who have an inability to connect on a deep level with others often cover this up with a sense of bravado and aloofness. The higher testosterone powered men in the study reported finding less pleasure in life and did not look forward to the future. Most often, this stance softens as the person grows older and learns to express feelings.
Tool Time: The Antidote – Learn to Feel Your Feelings
As you get more in touch with your feelings, you can learn to deal appropriately with things that upset you. You don’ have to be afraid of feelings. Feelings are only feelings. They are meant to be felt. They come and go. Face the fear of feeling bad. Uncomfortable feelings need not be feared. The best thing to do with uncomfortable feelings is to just watch them and then learn from them.
As you develop your intuitive, creative side, you complement your logical, rational side making you a full- functioning human being. You stop using charm, anger and intimidation with those you care about. You open the way so that others feel comfortable in approaching you to talk.
As you learn to deal with anxious feelings that challenges by others brings up, you become more self sufficient. You can learn to self-soothe that uncomfortableness instead of reacting to others with defensiveness and anger. You can learn to substitute feeling good about finding an area of yourself where you can grow instead of becoming anxious and resorting to old needs to prove that you are right.
Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” As you relinquish self centeredness and look to the needs of those around you, you develop intimacy and connectedness.
As you dismiss the belief of “I have to be need to be safe through having it my way,” you have more self understanding. Life becomes an exercise in taking responsibility for your part in conflict. Conflict is seen as an opportunity for growth. Self-esteem increases when you face a deep fear that you might be wrong and work it through.
As you release your need to only see things in the way that you have seen them before, you open up new possibilities. Rigidity of thought fosters predictability which does help keep anxiety at bay. With new stress management tools to deal with anxiety and uncertainty, life becomes more exciting. Choices and alternatives increase–there will be more adventures in your life.
As you let go of your need to control others, you have more energy to spend on things that are really important. It is a heavy, consuming job to be in charge of everything! You actually become more powerful when you learn to share the power! Life is more fun when you no longer are in charge of making things right in the world!
As you learn skills of safely expressing anger and ways resolve frustration, anger and grudges, your self esteem soars. Anger skills can be studied and learned just as any other task or subject. Take an anger management or conflict resolution course to learn constructive ways to deal with anger.
What Do You Really Want?
What we all want down deep when we strip away the defenses of control is to be loved. We want to feel safe. We want to be heard and understood. The fear of losing control and resulting hostility is always a sign of needing the experience of deeply being loved but not knowing how to get it. Alas, anger to get what you want is a cry for love being armed with tools for war.
A whole set of tools are needed to help deal with feelings in building a whole, healthy human being. You become more secure and are less upset as you understand that things don’t always have go the way you want. Life becomes less threatening as you understand that feelings are only feelings and uncomfortable states of emotions can be endured and regulated. Learning to deal with vulnerable feelings will help you become a more well-rounded individual, going from “I need to be right” to “I choose to be a real person, uncomfortable feelings and all.” As a wise woman said, “We are as happy as we are able to be responsible for our own feelings and behavior.” The superior man or woman is always open to consider that there may be another reality other than the one that they see through the lens of their life. Putting down the tools of war and picking up the tools of communication, conflict resolution, connection and commitment can create a life that produces long lasting love.
Ways to Break into Rigid Thinking and Get a Happier Life!
The need to be right, as a defense in life, can be broken into IF you are willing to observe yourself and catch yourself in the act of being adamant and inflexible. Being willing to own the behavior and then forgive yourself for doing it WILL boost you to a higher level of consciousness. Breaking into rigidity will give you an increase in personal power. Instead of having power over others, you develop a power over yourself. This is real self-esteem!
Being inflexible can continue because you have not known how to break the pattern or you do not want to give up being in control. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy? Do I want to get my way or do I want to feel closeness with others? Am I willing to balance my logical, left brain with my intuitive, feeling right brain to make me a well-rounded person?” Check each unhealthy coping behavior from the list below that contributes to your closed mindedness and rigidity of thinking.
Defensive Coping Strategies of People Who Need to be Right
_____ Braced yourself and constricted your energies to avoid invasion from another person’s words or actions
_____ Thought “You can’t tell me what to do and I don’t have to listen” when a parent or teacher corrected you
_____ Felt overly proud at being rational and logical at the expense of being intuitive and experiencing feelings
_____ Needed be seen as tough, powerful and strong
_____ Decided that your ideas were better than others so shut their opinions off
_____ Became angry when you expected others to see things your way and agree with you and they didn’t
_____ Felt embarrassed about admitting and saying”I don’t know.” and “I was wrong.”to yourself and others
_____ Felt threatened when you feared you were wrong
_____ Judged others harshly when they disagreed with you
_____ Became overwhelmed when information presented was too much to process
_____ Felt threatened when new ideas came from someone else
_____ Feared hearing about new information that threatened your beliefs
_____ Feared letting go of control of a task to someone else
_____ Devalued the sensitivity and feelings of others
_____ Felt uncomfortable with your expressing sensitive feelings
_____ Felt discomfort about having bad feelings
_____ Felt entitled in doing what you had to do to get others to go along with you
_____ Decided that someone who disagreed with you should “just get over it”
_____ Used smiling and charm insincerely to get win another person to your point of view
_____ Started blaming and putting the other person down to settle the argument
_____ Feared the anxiety and feeling fragmented when there was disagreement
_____ Felt satisfied and pleased because you manipulated someone to get your way
_____ Overrode the boundaries that someone else was trying to set
_____ Refused to see the problem from the other person’s perspective
_____ Responded with sarcasm instead of trying to solve the problem
_____ Decided that the issue didn’t affect you and assumed it did not affect others
_____ Argued your point of view in thoughts or words and refused to hear the alternate argument
_____ Badgered and intimidated someone to shut him down
_____ Became agitated and stubbornly attached when your ideas were attacked
_____ Became irritated at an assumption of the other person and stopped listening
_____ Minimized the importance of a personal problem you were being confronted with
_____ Refuse to deal with a problem because you thought it was temporary
_____ Refused to ask for help on a hard problem and decided you needed to do it all yourself
_____ Refused to ask for help on a task because you were embarrassed
_____ Lied and falsified data to convince people you were right