One of the hardest things in adulting is learning that I don’t have to have the last word. Whew…seriously, this is hard for me “the therapist”. Society has kind of decided that we professional emotion and mind helpers aren’t supposed to have those kinds of issues, yet – I choke this particular bit of wellness down coughing and gagging at best. But I manage. Here’s how you can, too.
The need to be right is ingrained in me (and most other humans). Freud would call this an ego issue, and I don’t completely disagree. We have an innate desire to be right, particularly when we are.
To quote Fraiser Crane’s character, “I’m passionate and right and passionate about being right!”
For example, a while back someone made a joke about me not pitching in to pay for a party I’d helped organized about a decade ago. Had I not been surrounded by strangers and young children I adore I might have cried or jumped back into my car and left. The statement was made in front of people who don’t know me well. I felt insulted, embarrassed, hurt, and like I had been called a bad person for not paying. I knew I had paid, though. I knew I was right and the other person was wrong.
All the way home I was silent – fuming. Once at home, I’m logged into an old and now closed bank account I had a decade ago looking for the statements from the month of the party. Indeed – I had paid for the catering and some other related items. I saved the bank statements and attached them to an email.
My cursor blinked on my screen. I sat there staring. I counted to 10, got up, went out for some air, came back in and deleted the draft.
I made a list of questions for myself:
- What do I gain from asserting my rightness in this situation?
- What will this really change in my future dealings with this person?
- How might this impact my family/associated network overall?
- Does my asserting my rightness help me in some profound way?
- Does asserting my rightness help others?
- Is it kind for me to assert my rightness? OR Am I/can I assert my rightness kindly?
- Is my rightness 100% factual and concrete?
- What feelings does my desire to be correct in this situation arise from?
Ultimately I chose not to declare my correctness in the situation. The only thing I gained was the feeling of vindication. I realized after answering my questions that with this particular person they work overtime at painting me as less-than in most situations and asserting my rightness would only create an alternative route for them to do so. (“See how silly she is looking up decade old bank statements?!”) If not that I don’t pitch in it would ultimately be something else.
It would’ve created additional conflict in the network I share with the person and at no real gain. I can’t change the person or their beliefs about me with some bank statements. Their opinions of me and treatment of me are a reflection of them, not me. Asserting myself as right wouldn’t do anything to help me or others.
I could’ve done it kindly, but again it wouldn’t help. While my being right was totally provable – heck, I had paperwork on it! It just didn’t serve some grander purpose; only my ego. My desire to be right in that situation was derived solely from my desire to be approved of. I can’t control other people’s approval of me or how they treat me.
The assertion that we’re right in a relationship is often the desire to have the last word or close a topic but relationships where this becomes an issue sort of revolve around this type of conflict. No matter how much you hope it will be the last word on an issue, it likely isn’t – and your rightness won’t have an impact on the other person’s behavior.
Being right is a good feeling, but before you go asserting it, check in with yourself using these questions. A basic cost benefit analysis of sorts can help you determine the best course of action and help you separate yourself from the drama that a lot of our relationships often come with.
Ultimately sometimes the best medicine is “killing with kindness” and just allowing people to go on with their behavior. If you notice it, it’s likely that others do too and that’s the best vindication in many situations.