What if I’m wrong?

Here are a couple of thoughts on the business of being “wrong.” First, the question itself begs a certain dichotomy to form in a relationship. It implies a one-up, one-down position. It can make one person more powerful, keep another at a distance, or in extreme circumstances serve as an opportunity to belittle or berate. What does being “wrong” imply about the relationship, the importance of keeping a relationship, or the way that people will continue to relate to each other? Is it worth it to damage or hurt a relationship to be “right”? If one person is “wrong”, then how is the relationship handled in the future? How do people move forward?

Next, being “wrong” might be rephrased as being technically inaccurate. If you are responding in a way to that does not match reality in a reasonable sort of way, you may be considered “wrong.” However, in some circumstances this begs the question of differences in opinion, perception, feelings, and agendas. A person can have a valid point of view, see things differently, or see aspects of a situation that another person is not able to see. This can prevent communities from being rigid, thinking “inside-the-box”, refusing to consider alternatives, or being racist or non-diverse in their thinking. Trying to understand the validity in where others come from can help us be more understanding, have better relationships, be more forgiving, and become less “stuck” in the right/wrong dichotomy. If you are technically “wrong”, this also might be your opportunity for self-correction, learning, or growth. Consider teasing out the differences of being “wrong” vs. being technically accurate, and if being “wrong” has anything to do with conflict around perspective, perception, intention, or emotion.

In addition, there is a certain cost to being “wrong.” Everyone at some point in their life has probably had an experience in which they thought something to be true, accurate, or reasonable but found this to not be the case. The cost to being “wrong” is often related to embarrassment, shame, humiliation, or perhaps the loss of trust or leadership. Are you able to correct your actions based on what happened? Can you tolerate the pain of your own humiliation and consider what really matters? If the inability to bear the cost of being “wrong” results in isolation, criticism, withdrawal, and becoming more adamant that you were “right”; you may want to give some thought to what it is costing you in terms of your relationships.

Here are some final questions for you to consider:

  • What are your intentions? Sometimes we are in long term work, romantic, or family relationships that must be giving careful consideration.
  • What are the intentions of the other person? (Are you sure, or are you assuming? What evidence do you have?)
  • What is the true cost of being told you are “wrong”? What do you have to gain by making sure others know you are “right”?
  • If you are “wrong,” can you tolerate your embarrassment enough to grow, learn, regroup, or reconsider how you will handle future situations?
  • Is it more important to be right than to be effective? (Consider what the relationship means to you and if your own self-respect in handling the situation is on the line).
  • Are you unforgiving of other people when they are “wrong”, thus unable to forgive yourself? Is your own criticism preventing you from moving on, getting unstuck, or responding in a way that is potentially painful but perhaps necessary?

Keeping relationships you want to keep by addressing shame and building mastery

Shame is an extremely powerful emotion that gets people to avoid, withdraw, shut down, freeze up, and avoid eye contact. People that feel an immense amount of shame often experience themselves as grossly inadequate and avoid relationships at all costs.

Avoiding relationships can lead to several beliefs:

  • I am incapable of having relationships
  • Something is fundamentally wrong with me (that doesn’t appear to be wrong with anyone else)
  • I am not likable
  • The positive experiences that others seem to get from relationships isn’t available to me
  • I don’t understand what sets me apart from other people
  • Maintaining relationships is not possible
  • I will never have the types of relationships that I want

One way of treating shame is to avoid avoiding relationships! Some people feel a great deal of shame for things that other people may not think of as shameful. Other people have done things that are very hurtful or harming to relationships and don’t know what to do about it.

Relationship repair work is a tricky business! How do you do it? The benefits of doing good repair work include reducing shame, building a sense of mastery and accomplishment when our human failings get in our way, realizing that we make mistakes, realizing that not everyone will like us, and empowering ourselves to keep trying to initiate and maintain relationships that can be potentially rewarding. Being good at repair work can help us to feel better about ourselves.

This is the first time that I am offering an online training series for people who are struggling with relationship repair. The best thing is that you don’t have to be anywhere near Boston to benefit from it! Just go to my website, click on the online training, and purchase the package. You will get three audio downloads taking you through the steps. Included is an example of relationship repair and some tips for when relationship repair doesn’t work.

Let me know how it goes!