The "I am Right, You are Wrong" Trap


Often we get caught up in the content of a conflict. We establish that the other person has done something that has injured us, e.g., disregarded our rights, disagreed with our views, or dismissed our feelings. We fixate on the issue, decide that we are right and the other person is wrong. We attempt to negate the other person and to inflate ourselves.

Understanding the Needing to Be Right

One often overlooked reason for needing to be right, is that in a conflict we are cut off from our connection with the other person. Our relationship has been disrupted. If we are unaware of how much we need the other person to supply our relational needs, we have no explanation as to why we get so distressed when they are disrupted.

The following is an example to illustrate how needing to be right and being cut off from connection are related. Mike is a highly successful project manager at a rapidly growing technology company. Things at work were going great until he began to get work passed off to him by another department. The new work overloaded Mike and his team and he became enraged. Mike felt as if he and his team were being dumped on and not respected.

Finally Mike got in touch with the fear underneath his anger. With so much extra work being dumped on him, he feared not being able to stay on top of things and losing his positive connection with his boss. Much of Mike's good feelings about work depended on his very positive connection with his boss, who was supplying Mikes relational needs for respect and recognition.

As in the case with Mike, we are at a loss when our relationships are disrupted or are fearful they will be. We have strong emotional reactions and we try to defend ourselves from the feelings that are triggered. One way we tend to defend ourselves is to assume an emotional posture that relieves our anxiety, i.e., by inflating ourselves with our rightness, we hold ourselves together. In this way we do not experience the loss of connection and all the ways that relationship supplies us with our sense of well-being and aliveness.


The need to feel connected to others is at the core of our social existence. We are relational beings from the beginning of our lives, to the end. Babies grow, thrive and develop their sense of self in relationship. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, or a relationship ends, we get in touch with how deeply connected we are to others. We immediately experience how much we thrive in the mutuality of relationship, and how much we can suffer from the loss of relationship.

Focusing more on understanding the nature of the loss we experience when we are in conflict can help us to regulate our emotional reactions. Connecting to our own emotions and expressing our real feelings can help us to move out of the right/wrong entrapment. It enables us to find alternative ways of taking care of ourselves. It is much easier to reconnect to others when we are not making them wrong.

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