two girls getting scolded by their teacher

What Causes the Need to Always Be Right?

I have an insecure need to always be right. It’s tempered down much, but there was a time when I would argue with anyone and everyone to let them know that my thoughts were right. I still have instances where I feel shame for being wrong, even though I may not express it. I know that I’m not the only one.

Let’s Start from the Beginning

My hypothesis is that the need to be right always comes from school and the need to be perfect to receive favorable grades. I was an A student, and in hindsight, I wonder if that harmed me more than it helped me. With mathematics, in particular, your answer was either right or wrong. I remember leaving math tests feeling ashamed because I knew I had made a mistake on a problem, or I was ashamed for not knowing the answer to a question. No one ever really told me that it was okay to not know. Because I didn’t know, I kicked myself as often as I had to take tests.

If I’m going to be truly vulnerable with you all, it probably occurred the moment I was sent home with a math assignment riddled with wrong answers when I was in the sixth grade. This was the beginning of “real school.” We were learning the most elementary additions and subtractions. I’m sure my parents just wanted to make sure that I did good in school and this was the start of something much worse, but as a result of the results of this math assignment, I was punished for every math problem that I got wrong.

Wrong = Bad

As a child, you synonymize punishment with being a bad person (we do that now). I think I may have subconsciously assigned being bad at school with being a bad person in general. From that point on, I vowed not to be wrong again. it started a road to perfectionism while in school. Not because I needed to learn, but because I didn’t want to be punished. The external punishment led to internal punishment as I got older. To not feel the emotion of guilt and shame, I had to be right.

Most of us believe that we are right because we trust our thoughts. And why not, they are our thoughts. We’d like to believe we created our thoughts, but every single thought we’ve had has had influence from the outside world. The mind is very much synonymous with a garden. The seeds are planted from outside sources. If we believe in these seeds, they are planted into our minds and result in the expressions of these thoughts. Issues ensue when we attach to these thoughts that were never ours to begin with.

Letting Go of the Idea

The admission of error takes a lot more courage than not letting go of an idea. Each time we do admit that we are wrong, I feel like we die a little bit inside. It should be more commonplace to admit when we are wrong because we are probably more wrong than right most of the time. Yet, we work hard to conceal it. Concealing an error is self-preservation. No one is going to admit they are wrong if it is going to result in poor evaluation. No one is going to admit they are wrong if there is fear of a hurt reputation.

When we can’t let go of our ideas, especially within an argument, we are operating in a form of pride. When we engage in argument, not only do we believe that we are right, we believe that we are superior to the other person because of their misguided ideas. Much like being wrong with my math problems, we feel that if someone is wrong, they also must be stupid. We assign a character flaw to our opposition. It doesn’t matter if we are conscious of the fact.

Using Knowledge as a Measure of Superiority

Knowledge is very much used as a weapon in power dynamics. The person who is seen with the most knowledge is also seen as the most admirable. We put a value system on random facts. Why do you think we have influencers? It’s the same thing when parents reprimand their children for talking back because they don’t haven’t lived on this earth as long as they have. I’ve had managers tell me that I shouldn’t question their strategy because of how many years of experience they’ve had. However unintentional, we are placing the other person in a lower status than us by discrediting what they know and their experience (limited or not).

It feels good to be right. I’ve had so many “I told you so” moments where I patted myself on the back. It didn’t matter if it brought shame to the person who ended up on the “wrong” side of the argument. I believe the continued praise for being right, whether it be at school or in social settings built an ego that wouldn’t allow anyone to make me look like I lacked knowledge in any subject presented to me. That’s quite the ego. An ego that leads to disconnection at the expense of wanting to be right all the time.