It is everything to them, everything to be right. I'm sorry isn't in the vernacular. Nothing to be sorry for if you're always right.
If it's an acquaintance, you can let it go, maybe laugh it off privately, placate your friend. You intuit that this person needs validating, an emotional lift, an ego boost. Applause. So you give it. It's cheap.
If it's a colleague, someone on the team at work, or a fellow committeeman in an organization, a herd of industrial psychologists can't budge this person, will throw arms up in despair, slap together an agreement nobody likes. You just can't negotiate with some people.
When it's the boss, and it often is, well, you know who is right, and it isn't you.
Ditto, maybe, if it's family. History proves resistance futile, so you coach the kids,
Don't bother arguing with ___(Dad, Mom, Uncle Herb, etc.).
It's a waste of time.Those of you coping with this emotional system come to therapy, usually, because someone else can't cope with this person. And the someone else won't let it go, insists upon arguing with the one who has to be right. Maybe it's a child or a teenager in charge of the revolution, or maybe it's you, finally fed up, sick of letting the baby have his bottle. Everyone in the family feels this negative emotion; it's palpable. Family and/or marital therapy is an attractive option.
Mainly because there's no sex in the marital relationship anymore, so changing this is an incentive for therapy. Anger's just not sexy. Or one of the kids is off "doing his own thing."
The ones stuck being wrong all the time are the ones who volunteer for individual therapy. The therapist is empathetic, knowing how difficult difficult people can be. It's not easy always yielding, always being wrong, for if you live with someone who is always right, and you disagree with that person, then you're always wrong.
Which feels bad. You might even come to believe it, too, that you really are more wrong than right, especially if you start out in the relationship a quart or three low in the self-esteem department. If you start out full, you'll find it runs out easily if you're always wrong. (This is systems thinking.) Like the Dementors in the Harry Potter books who whoosh down and sap happiness from others, steal it, make it theirs; you get sapped of self-esteem, happiness, no matter how well defended.
Generally we think you get this valuable commodity, self-esteem, maintain it or lose it, too, in a social process: direct communication or meta-messages, messages embedded in messages, body language, tone of voice, spacial positioning. These all communicate one's value, good or bad. Very little gray in most messages like these.
Such a humbling experience, too, being on the receiving end. Our partners, our parents, are supposed to be the home team. They are supposed to value us, validate us, tell us we're smart, we're good. People are supposed to be pleasant to one another in caring, intimate relationships.
Like FD will tell me, "You're not so bad."
It helps to have positive feedback, and the running hypothesis here, surprise surprise, is that people who have to be right all of the time didn't get positive feedback when they needed it most, during childhood. Those critical years, the formative years, really are critical, they are formative. And they can be wonderful, full of awe and wonder, or not.
The have-to-be rights never experienced wonder years. No happiness or wonder for them.
Those of us who adore our children, who praise and encourage them, who use reason when they're out of line, as opposed to beating on them in one way or another, believe children should stay in wonder for as long as possible. We know that the world is full of let-downs, disrespect, wallops, lumps. Nobody knows us out there, few care, really, how we feel. If we have three good friends, we are very, very lucky.
By and large, life's about taking the punches, coping with rejection. And our friends and family, people who care about us, buffer that.
You apply for a job and there's not so much as a rejection letter for non-candidates. We used to get these, Thank you for applying. . . but. . . letters. Now we know that if there's no call back, there's no job. No communication is communication.
Thus the Rodney Dangerfields are everywhere, getting NO respect. No "I value your opinion, your thoughts, your skills." That's why parents have to do it first, get a quart of three into us when we're little, hope it keeps. Value, validate. The words sound alike. A giving thing, this expression of someone's worth. We don't have to agree with our kids, with anyone necessarily, to say, Wow, now that you've explained it, I see why you feel the way you feel.
In the Chicago Public Schools there's a new program, the WOW program. Teachers are supposed to say WOW, no matter what a kid does.
"You didn't do your homework? WOW, I imagine you just didn't have time!"Implicit respect. Wow, I see why you feel the way you feel.
No need to add the but; it's not a compound sentence. Validation means no qualifiers necessary. If I didn't ask for an alternative opinion, why give it to me? I may still be glowing in the Wow. The but can come later. And if there isn't any communicated respect, no validation, which takes some time, actually, in discussion, it's likely there's no interest in alternative thoughts and opinions.
This is the rationale behind the intervention you read on this blog relatively often, validating without regard for receiving validation in return, or unconditional validation in communication. Here the one who is always wrong (according to the one who is always right) patiently validates the one who clearly needs to be right.
To do this and not lose your mind, you actually need to know your subject, why he or she needs to be right, which can be very personal, very intimate information. But if it's a parent, or a partner, you have the right to know.*
So you snoop around and find, in all probability, that there's abuse in this person's background, shame and abuse, verbal, physical, emotional, psychological. This person has been labeled
stupid, retarded, fat, a wimp, a loser, maybe a fool.Something. He or she may have been slapped silly for being so dumb. Stupid and dumb are operative words. Children should be seen, not heard, you can assume this, in families like these.
A child learns to stay invisible, is afraid to venture an opinion, knowing that the opinion isn't wanted, commands no respect.
You would think parents would naturally know, would simply have the empathy necessary to know that kids need to be asked an opinion now and again, that they need to feel important, to have a say in their lives, that this is how they emerge from the Petree dish of family with some self-esteem, a modicum of self-worth. We all need the You are important message. You are someone very capable. Without this type of messaging a person suffers a hunger, a growling in the tummy that won't quiet down.
Although I like to think that a corrective relationship feeds the beast.
Childhood abuse and emotional neglect is transgenerational, zips right past go, starts somewhere in the lower branches of the family tree and grows, like ivy, up. Subsequent generations might copy the behaviors of aggressive parents, identify with the aggressor. But it is not so simple as this. More likely, if one has been muted, called stupid often enough, shut down, there is still a thinking brain, a healthy vector of self that whispers, mouths silently to the aggressor, on more than one occasion during childhood,
"Actually, I'm not always stupid. You're stupid. You know?"This voice grows louder inside, this shoot of a child's budding identity, this personality in progress, and grows very rebellious, even, over time.
I call it the Survivor Ego. Maybe others have other names for it. I've never read this in a book, to be quite honest.
The silent scream volleys hard,
"I am not always wrong, I am not always stupid, and damn it, one day, you'll all have to listen to me because I am not going away. You will contend with me when I am older. I live!"The beginning of the oppositional personality.
Having been shut down for so long, the Survivor Ego lives to revel in expression, thrives in the countering of opinions, thrills with the power of final say.
"I live, okay? They didn't kill me. Won't somebody please notice?"It is a micro-decision of youth, to respond this way, rather than cower every time, yield every point. It is the black/white of borderline. And the decision is unconscious by adulthood, that decision that turned the key, for evermore, the one that cheers the adult child on. "I'm right!" It's like a drug.
So you see why there has to be some psychotherapy, some good old fashioned psychodynamic therapy, to end the reign of terror, and the one who needs it is in no hurry, feels no need to get it. But when it happens, a person can change.
The change, albeit unstable at first, maybe forever, yields the point, many points, to significant others. The changed individual feels compassion for others, even empathy. This is possible for the memory of his history empowers him, substitutes for the other drug, having to be right all of the time. They believe me. They get it. They know I'm not stupid.
And when being right feels irresistible, when Mr/Ms Has-to-be-Right slips?
A raised eyebrow is enough, assuming you've agreed on that signal. In family therapy we're big on such things, signals.
*Just my opinion here, as usual, what you pay for when you read this blog.