“Do you want to be right or happy?” – Dr. Phil
Some people seem to have the need to be right or at least convince others that their views are ‘right’ and the other person is wrong. If you enter into a discussion with them it quickly turns to a debate or an argument. If you do not agree with them they will often spin the situation so it appears they are right. If they are proven wrong they feel defeated, humiliated, and their ego takes a hard hit.
In a conversation with a right-fighter, it turns crazy real fast and you find yourself pulled into a competition where someone, usually you, is going to lose. For the right-fighter to be good with themself they must win and the other person must lose at any cost.
The right-fighter may actually use terms like, “In my humble opinion…” or “I may be wrong, but…”, yet if it appears like their position could actually be wrong the claws come out. It’s now a full-on fight. They seem to relish the fight as much as being right. They actually believe they are right without any doubt. Pride seems to be the fuel they run on.
If they are proven wrong embarrassment and inner frustration surface, then intense anger is triggered, which often leads to a full-blown explosion.
Mark Had All The Answers
Diane had gone home after the accident because of a very bad headache. The nurse at work advised her to rest with an ice pack on her head. She heard Mark come into the house yelling at her. She wanted to bury her head under the pillow and ignore his voice, but it got closer and closer as he walked toward the bedroom.
“There’s no way to avoid this,” she told herself as she slowly got up and walked toward the kitchen.
Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, defines the need to be right as a form of violence. At its mildest, it’s inflexibility. At its height, it manifests as dominance.
The primary emotion that drives the need to be right is fear. The opposite primary emotion is confidence. Tolle states that when a person functions in the opposite of “right-fighting” they will display humility and compassion with confidence.
When they are in right-fighter mode they will deflect any and everything that does not agree with them. If something gets through their defenses it is then flipped and blamed on the other person.
The Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12 states, “…whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”
People who have had to deal with “right-fighters” know it’s excruciating to be hammered until they give in and concede the right-fighter’s point of view, but we all know, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
They’re often blamed for causing an argument, for not agreeing when they must know the right-fighter is right, or any other number of accusations.
It seems like the “right-fighter” believes that accepting a differing view or even accepting that someone else has a different opinion is a weakness. Instead, acknowledging differing views can be a powerful act of understanding, compassion, and self-confidence.
A right-fighter is someone who struggles to win arguments, even if they doubt their own view. A right-fighter is someone who gets overly emotional or angry when people do not agree with them and their opinions or beliefs. A right-fighter is someone who insists on having the last word in an argument or refuses to back down no matter what.—Dr. Shawn Byler, Ph.R.D. in Psychology*
Hopefully, most people will (1) use active listening to really understand what the other person is saying, (2) consider the facts that s/he is putting forth, and (3) acknowledge that the speaker may have a point. That’s not saying that they agree or disagree, but that the opposing argument has given value enough to be considered.
On the other hand, the right-fighter will challenge any argument or idea, because his or her personal value is tied to the outcome of being right. Often, the subject doesn’t really matter. For the right-fighter to feel lovable and worthy, s/he must be right. It all comes down to a matter of low self-worth or low self-esteem.
Since s/he must be right, the others around are alienated, creating in them the feelings of not being heard or valued or appreciated or even liked.
According to Dr. Shawn Byler, “right-fighting is an acceptable form of violence or aggression. Because the right-fighting pattern usually ends up one-sided and includes a winner and a loser, the effects are similar to those of physical abuse.”
Valjean in Les Miserables found himself on the wrong side of the right-fighter Javert who said, “You are wrong. And always have been wrong. I am just a man, no worse than any man.”
Many of us, like Valjean, suffer the weight of the right-fighter’s unfair and unjustified inditment.
Any of us, who find ourselves going head to head with a right-fighter, must own our responsibility like Valijean did in the beginning of the story. Many of us learn to be submissive in order to keep the peace. Still, others fight back, which intensifies the confrontation. But, like Valjean, we need to learn how to forgive and walk away.
Toward the end of the story, Valjean learns that challenging Javert was not the answer. He set Javert free by showing him mercy, “You are free. There are no conditions, no bargains or petitions. There is nothing that I blame you for. You’ve done your duty, nothing more.” He required nothing from Javert, no apology, no setting the record straight, no need to show other his wrongs. He just gives him freedom.
Dr. Gray points out that “winning” at the other person’s expense is always a net loss for the relationship. Dr. Gray works with married couples, but this principle is true for any relationship.
I just listened to Dr. Joel Parker with Veterinary Practice Solutions on YouTube. He talks about new hires that are right-fighters. He listed two things to help get the person in line with company policy. He said to give them two weeks to see beyond their argument. If it doesn’t change, cut them loose.
Friends or Family
A friend and I talked on the phone on a weekly basis. We had been friends for years. Several times she launched into right-fighting. One time she asked me for some information, which I gave to her. She became indignant that I would give her information that didn’t agree with her viewpoint. We still talk occasionally, but not as often.
When the right-fighter is a parent, the child is the victim of emotional abuse. It can be particularly harmful to the child because s/he always feels like the “loser” and his or her opinions are never valid or important. Hence, they do not feel loved or accepted.
Don’t Get Sucked In
- When the right-fighter attempts to suck you into the encounter. Stop. Excuse yourself and walk away. If you continue it will only become and argument or a fight.
- Exercise active listen. Be aware of where the conversation is leading.
- Stay neutral.
- Everyone sees situations differently. There are no two people on this earth with exactly the same perspective. Respect it.
- Respect the person. That does not mean you have to agree or disagree.
- Take a serious look at your own perspective.
- Don’t give the right-fighter the right or opportunity to affect your identity or invalidate you as a person.
- Don’t get suckered into trying to show them where they are right or wrong.
- The most important factor is to follow Valjean’s example and forgive, admit when you are wrong, help to heal any and all wounds, give grace and mercy.
Scripture encourages us to abandon the need to win or be right and identifies the quality of confidence that is involved.
Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
How to Break The Habit
The first step to change is to become aware and acknowledge the tendency of being a right-fighter. You cannot change what you do not acknowledge. Does this sound like you?
If you learn to recognize the defensive feeling that starts to rise internally when you get into a discussion, you can exercise a new behavior and do the opposite. At this point, it isn’t an argument to win, but you are beginning to feel challenged. Defensiveness is a habit that you can break. As with any other habit, whether overeating, drinking, drugs, etc, you need to recognize that first desire to defend.
Accept the fact that right-fighting is not a healthy way of relating to others. Right-fighters demonstrate their low self-esteem. In other words, they fear rejection. Yet, when they are in the throes of the argument, and their defensiveness is rising, they do not see that they are actually pushing the other person away which leads to rejection.
Like other habits, you are able to release it. Right-fighting does not need to define who you are.
Hooked on Being Right
- Acknowledge that right-fighting is a destructive habit.
- Don’t beat yourself up over it – eliminate the shame.
- Accept that right-fighting doesn’t work – for you or the other person. It will never bring you the value, lovability and worth that you so earnestly desire.
- Accept that, like any other habit, right-fighting does not have to define you.
- Find safe people who sincerely love you that can help you separated being corrected from being wrong and help you see that you are valued and loved.
- Build up your own self-esteem by talking to and encouraging yourself. When you feel worthless or devalued tell yourself the opposite.
- When you feel the emotional charge of defensiveness starting to rise on the inside walk away. Don’t engage the other person.
- Remind yourself and act like you believe you are valued and are worthy. Talk to yourself.
- Allow others to hold a differing opinion than yours. Don’t allow yourself to get defensive over it. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself it’s okay.
Psalm 34:14 “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Mark Had To Be Right
After Diane’s car accident on Cumberland Blvd earlier that day, Mark, her husband, drove her car home from the office, where the Motor Pool had left it after repairs. Diane drove his car. From the time he walked in the door after getting her car, he did not stop talking.
“You know I don’t like the work they do at the Motor Pool. Why did you let them take it there?” Mark asked.
Before Diane could say a word he started in again.
“The guys that work in the Motor Pool are students. They don’t even know how to work on a car correctly. They’re just students. Now, we’re going to have problems with the car. I just know it. Why didn’t you call me?”
“I did call you, but you didn’t answer your phone, as usual.”
“No you didn’t,” Mark said as he pulled out his cell phone and started going through it, with a strange look on his face. “No, no calls.”
“I called your office phone. Remember, you said you never answer your cell phone at work,” Diane replied.
“That’s not true. I have never said that to you. You know I’m in and out and not always at my desk. You know that,” he said. “Plus, I didn’t get a message that you called from the operator either. You’re lying. You’re just trying not to take any responsibility for allowing our car, our personal car, to be taken to the Motor Pool. Maybe you have a thing for Ted who works over there. Is that it?”
Mark walked over to her and lifted her chin so he could look right into her eyes, with noses almost touching, “Is that it? You and Ted? I knew it. I’ve suspected it for a long time. You’re always talking about Ted. Now, our car is whacked and we can’t collect the insurance on it because you let TED fix the car. I can’t sue because you took it to TED. How dare you?”
“You are making all this up. You’re talking crazy,” Diane said with the pitch in her voice raised significantly. “I don’t have a thing going with Ted. I barely even know him and “no” I don’t talk about him. The car is fine. They fixed it.”
“No, it’s not. You didn’t drive it. Did the nurse send you home? Have you been laying in bed all day? I suppose you’ve used all your sick pay also, just laying in bed. I’m going to find a way to sue the city and the university.”
“You are talking crazy. I’m not talking to you anymore. I’m learning to not get suckered into your right-fighting. Good night.”
“Where’s dinner? You didn’t fix anything for dinner. I’m starved,” he said.
“Fix it yourself. I’m going to bed.”
He followed her down the hallway to the door of the bedroom. She went in, shut and locked the door. He pounded on the door several times, yelling threats and profanities through the door. Diane went to bed and put the pillow over her head to muffle some of the noise. He finally left and she went to sleep. He had to leave earlier in the morning so she hoped to avoid him. His right-fighting seemed to be getting worse rather than better.
“I wish I could get him to go see a counselor, but I’d just get another argument.”
We often learn from childhood to “fight for our piece of the pie.” As we grow older we learn to defend ourselves and convince others that we are right. Unfortunately, we all come equiped to fall into the mindset that we are “always right.” We all possess the ability to breed disagreement, conflict, anger, and resentment. It is a choice we have to make.
At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, hopefully, we learn that right-fighting is not a healthy form of conflict resolution. In fact, it never resolves a situation. It only creates more hard feelings.
We can learn and practice active listening which tells the other person that we are interested and trying to understand what they are saying. Arguments often escalate because one or both parties refuse to look at the other person’s point of view or ideas. Listening is a good first step to resolving an issue and avoiding conflict.
Ask questions to understand. Many of us don’t know how to listen to understand. But, occasionally, even when we do ask questions, the discussion can still end in conflict and argument.
If your conversation is heading in the direction of an argument pull out before it gets to that point. Ask for a time out. If you just walk away, it may cause more damage, so agree to continue at a different time.
I think we can all learn a lesson from Valjean in Les Miserables. He required nothing from Javert, no apology, no setting the record straight, no need to show others his wrongs. Just give freedom with forgiveness.