What? Be Happy or Right? I can’t have both you might ask. Well, it depends. You can be right without needing to be right. In that case, happy and right can peacefully coexist. Or you can have a deep-seated need to be right. In this case, the subconscious need to be right will get in the way of your prolonged happiness.
You see the need to be right stems from a belief that you are not good enough or ok or acceptable “as is.” It is one of the many ways that low self-esteem asserts itself. It is a protection device. And like many protection devices the ego cooks up for us, it comes at a high cost. The cost of being right is often unhappiness and alienation.
You may or may not be consciously aware of your need to be right. And there are varying degrees of the need to be right from mild to extreme. The original cause (or causes) of the need to be right can be as varied as the way it presents itself.
My dear friend Jane (not her real name) has a functional need to be right because she doesn’t want to appear stupid. As a child she was reprimanded for making mistakes and was called stupid by teachers and her parents. Now in her 40s, Jane limits her possibilities and avoids stepping into her full potential for fear of making a mistake and proving that she is indeed stupid.
Jane’s need to be right shows up as extreme perfectionism, fear of failure, avoiding risks or perceived risks, trying things she doesn’t know how to do, and being afraid to speak up. While this behavior does get in her way and limit her ability, she does experience moments of happiness. Yet those moments of happiness are tinged with a fear that the other shoe will drop and something bad will happen. That triggers her need to please others and be a “good girl” or a “nice person.”
When you are feeling good, nice and kind, it is an authentic part of your behavior. When you act good, nice and kind when you aren’t feeling that way you are undermining yourself and your self-esteem takes a hit. The key here to understand if you are doing this because you want to or because you want others to like you, need you or do something for you.
When you are doing things because you want to, you are empowered. You are being true to you. Happiness enjoys being in an empowered state and can thrive there. When you are doing things because you feel you must or should or something unwanted will occur, you are in a disempowered state and trying to protect yourself. Happiness can’t take root there because of the low-level fear you are feeling.
The need to be right has shown up in my own life and I’ve witnessed a couple of friends and family members sink into a sea of denial, self-pity and misery when driven by the need to be right.
A close family member had one of the strongest needs to be right that I’ve ever encountered. She would always argue that she was right and would refuse to accept she was wrong, even if you could prove it. One example I remember is a song she heard and insisted it was by a specific artist. Even when she was shown a CD that contained the song proving the artist and song title were different than she thought, she insisted she was right. Even after listening to the song, she insisted it was a different song and she was right.
She had very low self-esteem and always felt broken and unlovable. Her need to be right was her way to compensate for feeling wrong. Her need to be right took some dark turns. She would draw situations to her that proved her right in her beliefs that people would rip you off or this bad thing would happen. And to her, it did. She wasn’t a happy person. Her drive to be right drove happiness out the window and isolated her from the people she wanted to love and approve of her.
Here’s what can happen when you have the need to be right:
- You wind up annoying or alienating others
- You avoid doing new things for fear of failure or looking foolish
- You beat yourself up over any little mistake or perceived mistake
- You overcompensate
- You secretly feel that you are not good enough
- You may think you really are foolish or not very smart and beat yourself up over it
- You may apologize for things that aren’t your fault, or never apologize
- You refuse to admit when you are wrong
- You wind up in arguments with people you care about
- You don’t believe in win-win situations or compromise; it must be win-lose or you don’t feel like you’ve won anything
- You have to have the last word
- Your happiness is fleeting at best and is often more of a temporary feel-good for being right about something
- You might also be a bit of a “know-it-all”
The need to be right isn’t the only obstacle to happiness. There are a few other insidious “needs” that trip us up. On the surface these emotional needs seem like no big deal but look closer and you’ll see they point to ways that we self-sabotage. They aren’t real needs like food, air, water and shelter, they are false needs controlled by the ego. Yet they are powerful motivators.
A few of the other needs that steal our happiness are the need to be liked (or loved), the need to be or feel special or important, the need to be appreciated, the need to be perfect, and the need to be accepted.
All of these stem from an underlying belief in not being enough or worthy. And when you don’t feel like you are enough “as is” then you are always trying to prove something. When you are always trying to prove something how can you be truly happy?
When you are driven by an unconscious or conscious need to be right (or any of the other false needs) you are diminishing your self-esteem and eroding your potential for true joy and happiness.
Everything you do, every decision you make, and many thoughts you have are colored by this emotional need compensating for your belief that who you are is not enough. It may seem you must be right or perfect or nice or special in order to be loved and accepted by others. The truth of the matter is that you are enough. And the only person who can give you the love, acceptance and appreciation that you seek is you.
Once you are willing to love yourself, then you begin to stop looking outside of you for approval and acceptance. You can choose to be happy simply being you. You are worthy. You are deserving. You are enough. Yes, you are!
If you feel a need to be right might be getting in the way of your own happiness at this time, here are some questions to journal about or dialog with yourself about… you can even talk about these with a friend.
- Where are you trying to be right – at home and at work?
- Who always makes you feel wrong or not good enough?
- Who or what makes you feel stupid, unprepared, ill-equipped, or foolish?
- What do you avoid doing because you’re not sure how to do it or what the outcome might be?
- What situations always make you feel unsure about your abilities?
- What situations trigger your need to be right or perfect?
- What people or types of people trigger your need to be right or perfect?
- Where did this need or desire to be right originate? (think back to your childhood)
- What are you afraid people may think of you?
- What are you really afraid of?
- Are you ready and willing to let go of the need to be right?
- Are you ready to choose to be happy?
- Are you willing to love yourself “as is”?