• David Sales

The Unhealthy Need to be Right

What if I'm wrong? Ever ask yourself that? Are you brave enough to be curious?

I always slow the progress of my personal recovery when I'm not curious. A refusal to listen to fresh ideas, look from a different perspective, or consider additional information that forces me to question a belief, can leave me stuck in the same place. To be curious requires a willingness to find out I'm wrong. I'm not always that brave.

I am trying to be more courageous, but it is uncomfortable. The older I get, the harder it is to admit I have been wrong. To build a stronger recovery, I've had to step out of my comfort zone, often. With core beliefs, I've had to stop playing the defense lawyer and be an investigator, rational, curious, and emotionally unattached to the outcome.

Why is it so hard to question a belief I hold? It seems to be the same culprit that makes everything more complicated in recovery - Emotion. The Big E.

My need to be right - even if it's bad for me, is always emotion based and emotion seems to detest facts. In my case, to make a mistake or to be wrong, was so much more than just being in error. It defined how I saw myself as a human being. To be wrong means I'm a stupid, horrible, worthless person who deserves punishment and abandonment. It's not hyperbole, that is my truth. With emotional stakes that high, of course I had to be right.

Does that sound irrational? It does, and it is. Emotion often is.

Ever point out a simple error to someone or question something they said and get blasted by an aggressive, over-the-top reaction? Ever enter a discussion on social media over an issue only to find yourself engaged in a barrage of personal attacks? Of course, we all have, it's 2020.

In past relationships, if you questioned me, pointed out a shortcoming, or noticed an error - you were attacking me. How dare you tell me I'm a stupid, horrible, worthless person. How does one communicate effectively with someone like this? Being right at all costs can cost all. It cost me plenty in relationships and for a long time, kept me trapped in addiction.

I have had to do a lot of work with my counselor, and continue to explore on my own. I am still adversely affected when I have to challenge my own beliefs, but the more I do it, the easier it get. More often now, I can see constructive criticism for what it is... a chance to be curious, rather than just another sign that I should get the rope out.

In a TED talk - Why you think you're right - even when you're wrong, Author Julia Galef, explores this very thing. She encourages us to ask ourselves:

"What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs? Or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?"

Clarity is better. Recovery, healing, and finding sobriety is sufficiently emotional and confusing already. So yes, give me the facts.

Being wrong doesn't mean I am stupid. It's not the making of mistakes that's necessarily bad. Refusal to admit and correct them is. Lying about my mistakes or blaming them someone else has caused far greater wreckage than the mistakes ever did. Understanding that has been a rough journey, but I'm getting closer to living a new mantra.

I can make mistakes, but I will correct them. I won't be perfect, but I will be accountable. I might be wrong, but I will be curious.

It's hard not be curious too, what life might have looked like had I lived those principles before.

Would I have become a stronger, more honest person? Would I have carried fewer resentments into new relationships, allowing me to feel more secure and trustworthy? Would I have been kinder and more encouraging of myself and others? Would I have been less fearful? Would I have taken more risks in chasing my dreams? Perhaps, but it doesn't matter.

Today, if someone asked me the old question; "Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy?" I think I would want clarity. When I find defending something I believe in is causing conflict, tension in relationships, or evoking strong emotional reactions in myself or others, I try to step back and ask myself these sequential questions:

  • Could I be Wrong?

  • Am I willing to be curious about it?

  • If I am, am I willing to accept it?

  • Am I willing to change because of it?

  • What would my life look like if I do?

When I do this in my recovery, sometimes I get through all the questions, other cases not. Sometimes, I revisit the same situation months later and I try again. However, in most cases where I have discovered, then accepted that I was wrong, changed to align myself with a new reality, my recovery advanced. I grew up and felt more comfortable with myself.

I need to give others the chance to change too. What is true today may not be true tomorrow? People change all the time. I think it's important, especially today in the divided times in which we live, that we offer acceptance to anyone who displays the courage to be curious, find truth, and change course. There's no rule that says we can't change our own opinions.

If nothing changes, nothing changes.

But let us be curious.

References and other articles:

Check out the Ted Talk referred to in this article

Julia Galef - Speaker Profile

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Disclaimer - I base my articles on my own personal experience as a recovering alcoholic and addict. I share about what has helped me, what I have learned about myself, and are to provide insight into my recovery. I encourage anyone struggling with mental health and addiction challenges to consider talking to a professional clinician. You are worth it.