The Need to be Right

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


“Everybody thinks of themselves as right.” I heard that the other day. People who do bad things justify those things by thinking of themselves as right. On both sides of any issue you will find people who think they are right in their cause or opinion. In every war, where you have believed one side good and the other evil, both sides justify their actions by claiming to be right. In every argument, both people believe themselves to be right. Think about the church split you experienced, or the family argument, or that crazy blow-up you had with your friend. Everyone involved thought of themselves as right, didn’t they?

Sometimes there are two right ways of looking at a situation but, most of the time, it is more likely that both sides have done wrong. That’s why a real apology and real forgiveness can heal these differences. Normal people can empathize with their opponents and back off their need to be right. As they do that, they find a common ground that addresses both sides as right and wrong.

But narcissists and legalists must be right. They base their identity on being right. Both the narcissist and the legalist believe they are weakened if their argument is shown to be wrong. The narcissist believes his/her image is everything. That image includes being right, and losing an argument weakens the image. The legalist believes his/her spirituality is everything. That spirituality includes being right, and losing an argument weakens that spirituality. You see the similarities? They both must be right.

And here’s where things get ugly. Because of their need to be right, both narcissists and legalists depersonalize their opponents. Depersonalizing, the unwillingness to see others as people like yourself, allows hurtful actions against an opponent without guilt. Just like you have no remorse at sending poison back to the ant colony through your ant traps, the narcissist has no remorse destroying a co-worker or even a former lover who challenges his/her space. Nor does the legalist have any problem calling those who disagree all kinds of names or criticizing their decisions and values. Once you no longer see someone as a person, you apparently become free to abuse that person. You can use, manipulate, marginalize, even slander an opponent. It doesn’t matter any more than cutting down a tree that’s in your way.

Thankfully, most people are not that dedicated to their own image or spirituality. It is not as important for most of us to look right. In fact, it is quite possible to be right and to look wrong. We can walk away from an argument and allow the other person to think of themselves as right, if they need that. And we can also entertain the idea that we might be wrong. We can listen to someone who disagrees with us and seek a way to come together. While compromise is a bad word for narcissists and an evil word for legalists, it is a normal relationship skill for most of us.

To do this, you must be capable of two things. First, you must be able to be wrong. You can’t be so committed to being right that you base your identity on it. Second, you must be able to see the other person as a person. If you can acknowledge that the other person has a right to their opinion and a right to peaceful existence independent of you, then you can find a way to live in reasonable harmony with those who disagree.

Recently we have encountered another group that seems to be as challenging as narcissists and legalists when it comes to arguments. I call them “ideologues.” It means they are so dedicated/addicted/committed to an idea that they refuse to hear any other idea. We haven’t seen this much in our culture until recent years. While we have always had narcissists and legalists, the ideologues are often tied to the kind of politics we see today. In the past democrats and republicans, for example, could live and work together—even though they disagreed on candidates or policies. Today, we see some people so dedicated to their party or idea or cause that they do not hesitate to offend or judge anyone they think might disagree. They appear to have developed a blindness toward other perspectives and find it easy to depersonalize others. And when others are depersonalized, they can be mistreated without guilt. So ideologues destroy property, reputations, businesses, and relationships without regard to the pain they cause. And they seem to take every word of disagreement as a personal insult.

If you run across an ideologue, you will wonder if the person is a narcissist. If that ideologue is connected to church or Christian topics, you will probably think of him/her as a legalist. While it is certainly possible for the person to be either (or both), the ideologue may not be building his or her own image, nor see you as spiritually compromised. The person might be generous and gracious, but still absolutely rigid and passionate when talking about the cause or idea. Even though these folks can seem to be nice, they can transform when their special topic comes up. Most of the time, if it is possible, it is best to keep the person off their topic. Talk about other things, and you will find a different person.

Being right is different from needing to be right. Those who are at peace within themselves can find ways to be at peace with others, even when those others disagree. Handling these people who need to be right is usually just a process of dropping or avoiding the topic. You don’t have to lie and say you agree, even if they pester you. You won’t win the argument, no matter how well you present your case, so find a way to move on. But be prepared for them to bring it up from time to time just so they can remind you that they won the argument.


Filed under Narcissism

15 responses to “The Need to be Right

  1. Rox

    I completely understand the ant colony analogy. After a few years of “no contact,” I still wonder how my N could have been so delighted to inflict pain and confusion on me. But, you are right. To our N’s, who don’t see us as people, we probably seem like insects who stand between them and their version of happiness.

  2. Hi Pastor Dave,

    Thank you for your site. It’s been a tremendous source of encouragement.

    Is there an email address that comes straight to you that I could send an email asking for some guidance on a situation I’m dealing with. Or do you ever take phone calls for a brief discussion?

    Thank you & God bless you! Linda

    Sent from my iPad


  3. I totally disagree with this post. You cannot get along with the ideologues. They will smear you, they will slander you to the point of violence. Just look at Black Lives Matter or the LGBT ideology. Both have entered my family. Both are fake victims. They have lost any reasoning skills, so when you try to speak any truth to them, they will come after you.

    Now here is where it gets tricky with the nicey nice Christians, the “why can’t we all get along Christians,” they run and hide. They will not stand behind someone willing to speak the truth. I am talking about simple truths like “no you weren’t born that way'” or “not all cops are racist.” They run and hide, and I’ve heard more than once, “Why do you always have to be right?” All I’ve done is speak a simple truth and I’ve spoken that truth as gently as I could.

    I know that I am being hard on you, I do not apologize for that. What does our culture look like when people finally start to wake up? Will we have to fight back with violence instead of just our words? Our world is changing very quickly and soon it will be in YOUR family, too.

    • In a way, you have helped to prove my point. Narcissists push until they bring out an “over the top” response from us. Then they point the finger at us and accuse us of being irrational. But that reaction in our hearts, that utter frustration and anger, exposes their narcissism. Sam Vaknin says that the most common reaction to a narcissistic relationship is rage. Feeling that same frustration and rage with the ideologues is at least partial evidence that they are the “crazymakers.” I feel for you, having to deal with these people in your family. I applaud you for standing up for what you believe, but you realize as much as I or anyone that they simply don’t listen. They are right and that’s the end. Unless you bow to them (whether narcissist, legalist, or ideologue) you will be punished. Speaking truth to a fool may be right, but the fool does not change.

      • Pastor Dave, you are very sweet to dialogue with me. Your comment is very gracious considering that I have said some very hard things to hear.

        You said, ” Speaking truth to a fool may be right, but the fool does not change.”

        What I’m saying is that the fool won’t change because nobody is speaking truth anymore. We must speak the truth and we must stand behind each other when we are abused for doing so. The time is now, our culture is going down the drain so quickly.

      • Carl Feather

        Casting pearls before swine comes to mind.

      • Redgum

        I have been trying to work out who has the most narcissistic tendencies – my h or me. But this about the rage hit me. As soon as h walks in the door i feel the tension and I’m likely to erupt easily when he’s around. I feel unheard used devalued confusion and injustice. The confusing thing is that he’d say the same about me. Your blog about not being able to feel loved and accepting an n’s form of love was also vey interesting. Each of your blogs speak to me in some way about this topic but I’m still struggling to work out the extent in each of us.

  4. Anne

    It sounds to me that you’re being the rigid one here. By saying “Black Lives Matter or the LGBT ideology… Both are fake victims.” you are claiming that YOUR view is the right one. And then say you don’t apologize. Maybe you should read the article again.

    • Cat

      Yes, ideologues exist on both sides of every argument. For instance, with regard to the issue of vaccination, I’ve seen, on the one side “People who promote vaccination are all shills for big Pharma” and, on the other, “Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are all sociopaths”. Both are equally wrong and equally unempathetic and inflexible.

  5. Tammy

    Pastor Dave it’s always a pleasure to read your blog and hear your wisdom communicated in such clear and direct terms.

    I agree completely. This definitely applies to legalists, etc. and of course to many subjects, groups and people. There is also a narcissist/borderline related issue where this applies in the mental health field.

    It’s a can of worms but it’s already open and there’s dirt everywhere already, so I’ll comment on it… There are those in the mental health field that hold onto the Gardnerian Parental Alienation theory despite its rare success rate in helping victims solve devastating legal and mental health issues. As Pastor Dave put it, they seem to take every word of disagreement as a personal insult.

    Yes it is a battle against powers & principalities but the legal & mental health system is way overdue for an overhaul in this area.

    I am grateful to discover a champion in this battle. He may be an atheist but he is tirelessly working against the status quo for reform and legal victory against this pathogen in both the legal & mental health field. Against pathogenic parenting and the popular culture term “Parental Alienation”.

    Chances are that some of a Pastor Dave’s subscribers are affected by this so if that’s you, search for Craig Childress, PsyD from Southern California. He wrote a book “Foundations” which explains how he has clearly tied this to accepted psychological constructs so it can be clearly diagnosed as CHILD ABUSE. Not by considering what the narcissist has to say, but by the child’s symptoms.

    Search for his blog if you’re interested in learning more about it. I am happy to see that several states are working on legislation.

    If you are a victim of pathogenic parenting or “Parental Alienation”, I pray this gives you hope!

  6. UnForsaken

    I have thought about ideologues a lot in the past. It seemed I could turn around and see people everywhere, even atheists, who held their opinions as strongly as the extreme religious legalists I knew. It can be found anywhere – any religion, any politics, any social sphere. Even if I agree with them on their position, it seems unwise and I feel ashamed if forced to identify with them because they are so absolutist. The one kind way I could come up with to look at them is that A FEW of them are just starry-eyed idealists. They have become so focused on the thing in their minds they really don’t remember the niceties of good manners and thoughtfulness. I do believe these people can benefit by a gentle reminder, but Only if they see you as someone non-threatening who cares about them….rarely experienced outside of being their grandmother! ( Who, I might add, they feel free to secretly look down on.) I really love the advice here for changing the subject. It has worked numerous times for me. I could never presume to know the person well enough to help if they wanted it, because they already looked down on me. There was no chance of my being able to change anything except the subject! It is highly freeing to the mind to be able to change something. 😉

  7. Elaine

    Every Friday I look forward to your post dropping into my mail box. It has really helped me – insightful, compassionate, honest and Christian. Just what I need – I have been cruelly cold shouldered by my 69 year old brother because he did not like the truth, even though I said it gently. As a result he is causing shockwaves throughout my extended family.

    Our wonderful Dad came to me for the last 3 weeks of his life. We had a blessed time – he was 91. Since then all the siblings plus partners have fallen out with my husband and I, the only Christians, and are ignoring us or making life uncomfortable by putting obstacles in the way of us having a relationship with my Mum, who is in a lovely Care Home and doing well.

    Dad and I were very close. Mum, who showed N traits disliked me and told me. Since Dad died she has seen me for the person my Dad knew I was. We got on well now. Praise the Lord – this is a real victory.

    However, it has been the hardest year of my life because of the way we have been treated by family.


    Reading Pastor Dave helps me to understand the workings and calculations of the Narcissistic Personality Type.

  8. Mark

    This post was very helpful. I have had a lot of relationships with well-meaning Christians who were very hurtful. Many of your comments against Narcissism seemed to really fit, but I always found that disconnect – for the most part these people didn’t seem to be personally antagonistic, but instead had bought into a theology or ideology that made them feel it was their right, or even their responsibility to say evil and hateful things or treat me with contempt.

    For the most part, my response has had to be similar to dealing with Narcissists – grey rock and zero contact – but often, since these people are not so much personally antagonistic, it’s been hard for me to say, “X” is an evil narcissist. In some ways, I used to be that X legalist/ideologue.

    Abby, I think your heart is in the right place, but I’m concerned about what you’re saying. There is a “core” to LGBT and Black Lives Matter, that I think is that people want to be treated with respect and equality, just as there is in Fundamentalist Christianity, but when the parties go beyond that core, it becomes ideologically driven. As a Christian, I have to figure out how to truly love and respect an LGBT person, even though I might disagree with the way that person thinks s/he should be loved and respected. That’s often a very difficult position. For Black Lives Matter, I feel the same way. I acknowledge that police violence is a problem, and I must acknowledge that there is a racial bias in how minorities are treated by police. However, I can’t agree that the solution is violent riots and retaliation.

    I find it incredibly frustrating to engage with ideologues. I’ve listened to their arguments, and then shown paper after paper that proves their claims demonstrably false, only to have the same defeated arguments tossed over the wall. It’s a Catch-22. If I don’t respond, they claim that everyone agrees with them. If I do respond, they resort to verbal bullying and fallacious arguments only to “win” the argument and claim that they are “right”. I think that’s the “answer a fool / don’t answer a fool” paradox.

    • UnForsaken

      So true, Mark! It’s hard to know when to say something and when to say nothing.

      We have a right to our opinions and also to our beliefs, but….we can become demanding and mix them up. Emotions cloud the view so easily and anyone can become illogical. When people get totally wrapped up in an issue, we begin to want everyone else to be on our side too. This can become a one-dimensional point of view that devours us. Music or clothing standards, politics of any kind, version of the Bible, dedication to ministry or missions, almost anything – good or bad – can become a stumbling block in our journey to look only to God. But if we are being our most rational selves we can see that there is a bigger world with more issues and viewpoints and feelings that need to be considered. At our center we can remain at peace in the knowledge of what God says in His Word being absolutely true, above and beyond any person twisting it or challenging it or claiming something else absolutely, including ourselves. From being with Him, our ignorance will begin to dissolve. He can teach us not to be afraid of being too open And Yet still not waver in what He is showing us. From that humble place we can try to share His Caring, and eventually a few may also want to listen to His knowledge. Why would they want to listen before that? They need to see His love in us first. As hard as that is!

      Sometimes God seems to be asking us to give ourselves a black eye even if someone receptive isn’t present. We have to do it. Or He tells us to shut up. One way or the other, it is GOD who changes hearts and cultures.

      I know what it’s like to be a legalist too. This sort of thing is a kind of security blanket in troubled and unsure times. In the long run though, meanness and fear underneath it undermine the truth and become contagious. Ideologues are useless for healing and showing love.

      Thank you for everything you shared, Mark. It was an encouragement!

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