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All about Always Being Right

Most people quite like to be right. When we can answer questions on TV quiz shows, particularly shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Mastermind or University Challenge, we can get a sense of achievement. We feel that we are smart and even superior when the contestant either can’t answer or is wrong. But we also don’t really mind if we are wrong or can’t answer ourselves, as we might learn something. However, there are some people who cannot bear to be wrong, they have an inbuilt need to be right, and they must always be right.

What is the distortion of always being right?

Always being right is an irrational way of thinking characterised by a person’s need to always prove themselves right, often by proving others’ actions or opinions wrong. People with this unrealistic mindset, known as a cognitive distortion, cannot accept that they can make mistakes or that they can be wrong. They will do everything in their power to show others that they are correct.

Cognitive distortions is a term used in psychology to refer to the thoughts that occur when a person’s mind convinces them of something that is untrue. When these inaccurate beliefs influence a person’s thoughts, emotions and actions, they can feel anxious, stressed, angry or depressed about themselves, or about the world around them.

Cognitive distortions are consistent unhelpful, unrealistic or irrational thoughts, or errors in our thinking; the way that we are thinking about something doesn’t match up with the reality of what is happening. For many of these people, cognitive distortions occur as automatic thoughts; they are so habitual that the thinker often doesn’t realise that they have the ability to change them, and they grow to believe that’s just the way things are.

Always being right, or perhaps more accurately put, always wanting to be right, is one of the most common desires in human nature. In debates, in confrontations, in conflicts, in arguments, and even in polite differences of opinion, all sides will normally strive to be proved right. Depending upon the situation, being or wanting to be right is not a problem at all. Wanting to be right can be a great motivator to improve, and to make good judgements and decisions. There are also some situations where there is a need to be right; for example, doctors need to be right in their diagnosis in order to prescribe the correct treatments; students need to be right in order to pass their exams. However, in other situations, when a want to be right moves to needing to always be right, it can be very destructive. The need to always be right is an incredibly unhealthy perspective that can wreak havoc on a person’s personal and professional life.

Always being right has some overlaps with other cognitive distortions, such as “should statements”. A person who tells other people that they should have, shouldn’t or should do or say something in a particular way is really saying, “I know best, I am always right”. There is also an overlap with the personality trait perfectionism. This is when a person insists on perfection and accepts nothing less than excellence. This can manifest as criticism of themselves and of others in attempts to control situations and people.

Someone Always Thinking they are Right

Factors that influence always being right

One factor that may influence a person’s need to always be right may be that our brains are designed to protect us, so if we feel personally attacked by being told we have made a mistake or may be wrong, we will protest and insist that we are right.

We learn from a very early age that being right is good. We teach children that getting things right is to be rewarded, with praise, high marks at school, or treats etc. We are given examples and role models of people who are right, who make the right choices, who know the right things; these people are often powerful and successful. With so much credit being given to being right, it is hardly surprising that this mental paradigm can get so deeply ingrained in us that we often carry it into adulthood.

As we mature, we should be able to recognise the difference between actually being right, and always being right, irrespective of whether or not fact bears this out. The latter is how a cognitive distortion is negatively impacting our thought process.

Always being right can be highly influenced by a person’s ego, and their self-esteem; having either a high or a low self-esteem can influence them to need to always be right.

Some people have very high self-esteem and a strong sense of their own importance and, usually, inflated egos. People who fall into this category have a strong incentive to insist on them always being right, even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. People with overly high self-esteem may overestimate their skills and may feel entitled to succeed, or be right, even without the abilities to back up their belief in themselves. Occasionally experts in their own field can fall into this category, as acknowledging mistakes or that they could be wrong is an anathema to them, and might taint their reputation and standing if they were to do so.

Contradictorily, another category of always being right are the people whose egos and self-esteem are fragile. These are people who have an innate need to prove themselves or to prove that they are superior or better than other people because they don’t feel confident in themselves. Always being right provides people with an illusion of being in control, of having the upper hand.

Fear or insecurities can also influence a person’s need to always be right. Usually this is fear of failure, so these people will frequently avoid owning up to their mistakes for fear of repercussions. Insecurities lead to the fear that other people won’t want to associate with them if they cannot appear to be right. This type of insecurity is often something that is ingrained in a person as a child through dysfunctional or abusive family dynamics.

People who experience anxiety are often overly sensitive to criticism. They tend to take measures to avoid it and this includes always needing to be right. They may also go to great lengths to prove that others are wrong.

Many other mental health disorders such as depression, paranoia or bipolar disorder may cause a person to need to always be right as a way to keep things in their mind and life simple and predictable. Significant disruption and unexpected surprises can be upsetting and trigger the worsening of their condition’s symptoms.

Another mental health condition, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), in particular, has an influence on a person’s need to always be right. Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Arrogance or egotistical behaviour
  • Extremely high sense of self-importance and a desire for high status
  • Feeling of uniqueness and superiority
  • Lack of caring for others
  • Preoccupation with beauty, power or success
  • Requiring extreme admiration and envy
  • Sense of entitlement

Always being right helps to support these symptoms, providing feelings of power, strength, righteousness, being infallible, being smart, and superiority.

Sometimes it is a particular person that will influence and trigger an individual’s need to always be right. They may get extra competitive with or have a desire to feel respected by, for example, a sibling, a partner, a friend, a work colleague, or a boss. This leads the person to always have the need to have the last word and never to concede defeat.

At other times culture can influence the need to be always right. Western society promotes the ethos of winners and losers, and needing to be ahead of the opposition. There will be shame in showing flaws, errors or weaknesses, so people will defend themselves and their opinions to retain their “winner” position rather than admit to being mistaken or wrong.

Examples of always being right

A classic example of always being right is when a car driver insists that they know the way, refusing to take direction from anyone or they will not resort to satnav instructions even if they appear to be veering off course. They continue to drive their route until they eventually reach their destination even if that means taking far longer than necessary. They then proudly exclaim, “I told you I was right, that I would get us there”.

Comedian Harry Enfield exemplified the cognitive distortion of always being right with his catchphrase, “You don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this”.

Other examples of always being right include, but are not limited to:

  • Someone who quits a game in a temper when they are not winning, preferring to give up rather than to lose.
  • People who are involved in debating, whether live such as in Parliament or a TV debate or on social media such as X (formally known as Twitter), never letting anyone else have the last word. They argue their point that they are right, on and on until their opponents concede or withdraw from the debate, sometimes continuing over a number of days or even longer.
  • A manager who blames the member of staff when something goes wrong, even though the staff member has followed the manager’s instruction to the letter. The manager takes the stance that the instructions were right, it must have been the way they were executed that was wrong.
  • During a family discussion, one family member insists that their memory of an event is correct, dismissing others’ recollections even if they all concur. The amiable gathering descends into a row and can even result in family members falling out.

There are some phrases that typify when a person is engaging in always being right cognitive distortions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • “Give it to me. You don’t know how to do it!”
  • “I told you that would happen!”
  • “You only have yourself to blame!”
  • “With all due respect…”
  • “Why do you never listen to me?”
  • “You are wrong!”
  • “Who is doing this!?”
  • “Listen to me!”
  • “You’ve changed something!” or “That wasn’t there before”
  • “NO!!!!!!”
  • “I have more experience than you”
  • “Yes, but ….”
  • “If I want something done properly, I’ll have to do it myself!”
  • “Well, I can’t agree with that!”

There are also some behaviours that may signal that a person is engaging in always being right cognitive distortions. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Always needing to get the last word
  • Being short-tempered or even angry when things are not going their way or people are not agreeing with them
  • Disputing opposing viewpoints even in the face of overwhelming evidence
  • Following someone else’s anecdote with their own anecdote, a form of having the upper hand, or following someone else’s anecdote with their own version of the same event
  • It’s their way or the highway
  • Interrupting or talking over others, not allowing others to have their say
  • Never allowing anyone else to have the last word, or never losing an argument
  • Spending time and effort to ensure that they can prove themselves right
  • Taking over, even when not invited to
  • Tending to do everything themselves as they don’t trust others

The effects of always being right

The need to be right all the time can lead to alienation and loneliness as the actions and behaviours they display make a person a poor communicator. They frequently fail to listen to others which affects their ability to build and develop relationships with others. Relationships, both personal and professional, tend to be shallow and filled with all levels of conflict, or they lack understanding and connection as the person is centred on themselves rather than others.

Far from raising a person’s fragile self-esteem or lack of confidence, the need to be right all the time can lead to having the opposite effect on them as they often feel under attack by others who disagree with them, and they are forever needing to defend their opinions, which can make them feel vulnerable. This can also increase a person’s stress and anxiety levels and can lead to them either developing depression or exacerbating any depressive symptoms that they may have.

The need to be right all the time can inhibit a person’s self-development as they tend to remain in their own comfort zone. Most people learn from their mistakes and increase their knowledge by taking on board new perspectives and new information. The person who is always right will dismiss or ignore anything that opposes their view and close themselves off from anything new.

Never trusting others to do something because they may not do it right, or the way that the person who is right all the time wants it done, can be exhausting for that person. It may also have the effect that some things do not get done at all. In the workplace, not trusting others enough to delegate to them will impact team cohesion and development, and may lead to burnout as well as impacting productivity.

People who need to be right all the time often suffer from anger issues. Anger is a natural, instinctive response to threats; however, when opposition to a person being right is perceived as a threat, anger can become a problem, especially when the person has trouble controlling it, causing them to say or do things they regret.

How to change thinking patterns

Everyone has irrational and negative thoughts from time to time. It is when these are or become frequent and intense that we need to take notice and take action to change our thinking patterns. The key to changing irrational thinking such as always needing to be right is identifying those distortions and consciously taking the time to alter the thought patterns. It is not easy to get rid of the need to always be right and it is often uncomfortable; however, there are strategies that can help, for example:

Start to take notice of when you are thinking or saying statements that mean “I am right”. Notice what effects that has on your behaviour; are you speaking or acting in ways that are unkind, harsh, judgemental, critical, arrogant, egotistical or aggressive? Start to also notice the effects that your always needing to be right has on other people. Even if you are right, and the other person is wrong, it is rarely helpful to point it out.

The next time you are discussing a topic with someone else, try to ask more questions rather than voicing your opinion immediately. Try to elicit their perspective – why do they think like that? Whenever a statement seems illogical or wrong to you, do not jump to conclusions that they are wrong and that you are right; instead, keep on asking more questions and really listen to the answers. This doesn’t mean that you have to change your own view, but give yourself a chance to get proven wrong.

If at the end of the discussion, you still find that you think that they are wrong and that you are right, rather than stating this, try simply saying “I disagree with you, but I do hear what you are saying” and then move on, don’t labour the point.

The need to always be right can be ingrained and you may have avoided situations where you may be liable to make mistakes such as trying new things. Try taking small steps, trying out new things or taking on new perspectives on subjects that don’t necessarily hold too much importance to you to start with. Note how it feels to be wrong. Does it really matter? Has the world come crashing down? What have you learned from the experience and what new knowledge have you gained? There is a saying “Pride goes before a fall” and not “When your pride goes you fall”. What does letting go of your need to be right really feel like?

Mindfulness helps you observe your thoughts without judgement and be more present in the moment. Try breathing deeply, remaining present in the moment, and noticing small details of your surroundings, sights, sounds, smells and sensations. Mindfulness means being present and grounded in the current moment rather than fixating on the past or future. Meditation and other relaxation techniques can also help you to let go of your fixed mindset.

Always Being Right

Overcoming the problem

For some people the need to always be right is a coping mechanism to protect themselves from more serious issues and for that reason they may need to seek professional help in order to overcome this cognitive distortion problem.

If you are struggling with ‘always being right’ thinking, particularly if it is affecting your mental wellbeing, there are a number of therapies that are available. These therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims to teach people that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with situations. The NHS talking therapies services finder can help you find out which services are available in your local area.

Psychodynamic therapy is another therapy that helps increase your ability to see yourself clearly. It also helps you understand your emotions and how you interact with others. A psychodynamic therapist will help you look for unconscious thought patterns and help you to understand them.

You can find accredited CBT therapists and psychodynamic therapists through the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

Final thoughts

We all probably know someone who always needs to be right. Dealing with this type of behaviour can be tricky; however, there are things that you can try:

  • Don’t take it personally – it is inevitable to feel as if you are being attacked when talking to someone who’s always right. However, remind yourself that their need to be right isn’t a personal attack, and you will be able to move on from the conversation more easily.
  • Don’t play the blame game – being compelled to point it out that they may not be right makes it difficult to resolve anything and move forward. This situation is often best handled by calmly but assertively stating your position and moving on.
  • Focus on one issue – people who always want to be right often tend to incorporate irrelevant information into their arguments. Bring the discussion back from wandering and keep the focus on the issue.

When you are constantly dealing with people who want to be right no matter what, it can be stressful and exhausting. There may be times when to take care of your own mental wellbeing, you may have to just walk away.

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Liz Wright

Liz has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she manages content production, as well as planning and delegating tasks. Liz works closely with Freelance Writers - Voice Artists - Companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. Outside of work Liz loves art, painting and spending time with family and friends.

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