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Why Do Narcissists Always Have to Be Right?
If you've lived with a pathological narcissist, you know that they have to be right. Nobody likes to be wrong, but narcissists take it so far beyond where most people would. They will make up lies, they will invent facts, they will attack you personally and even physically in an effort to get you to admit they are right. But why? Why is it so important to them to be right that they will even go so far as to engage in abuse in order to win?
Losing is Not an Option
Part of it is that they really do think they're right. They know better and they're sure of it. They never saw the movie you're talking about? Doesn't matter. They're still right about it. They never heard the conversation you're recalling? Doesn't matter. They're still right about it, and more importantly, you're still wrong. To the narcissist, every situation they find themselves in is a contest where they have to be the winner. It doesn't matter that you didn't know you were competing. It doesn't matter that you don't want to compete. Nothing matters except winning. If narcissists don't win, they've lost -- and they take losing very, very personally. Losing is, well... for losers. Narcissists cannot tolerate this.
Shame & Self-Loathing
That's what's underneath the smirky, snarky, nasty exterior of the narcissist. To be wrong - even about something really small or silly - means losing. Losing or being incorrect represents a failure to the narcissist. Narcissists cannot take the feelings of self-hatred and shame that come from even very small failures or mistakes, and those feelings are triggered very easily. That is why they often explode when they feel criticized or make a mistake, even if it's really not that big of a deal to everybody else. Those feelings simply must go somewhere and narcissists are unable to carry the feelings themselves. They have to give them to someone else to carry because the burden is just too great.
They try to stave off those feelings as long as possible, with arguing in circles, personal attacks, denial, derailing the conversation... anything to not have to accept that they are wrong about something. If you ever do succeed in breaking through the denial and proving to the narcissist they are in fact wrong, you will be accused of cheating, of fabricating evidence, of colluding with people against the narcissist or whatever else they have to say to convince themselves that they are still not really wrong. It isn't you they are trying to convince. It's themselves -- and anyone who may happen to be listening.
If accusing the other person of wrongdoing fails, you will often see a complete reversal of position in which they now claim it is they - not you - who have been providing the correct information all along. The fact that this completely contradicts reality does not matter to them at all. People often ask me how narcissists can do that, and the answer is that narcissists have no truth and they don't care about the specifics anyway. Not really. What they care about is being right. Being wrong means failing. Failing again, creates feelings of shame and self-hatred which are very painful and overwhelming to the narcissist. This can even lead to self-harming or suicidal feelings over very small mistakes. These are miserable, sad, unstable people, even though many of them don't appear to be that way.
Deny, Deny, Deny
That's why they argue so hard and so viciously. Most people - people who are not narcissists - will accept that they are not going to get anywhere in a conversation or a debate after a certain point. Narcissists cannot accept that because they need validation from other people. If the other person does not validate them, that is to say, if the other person does not say the narcissist is right, the narcissist feels rejected and attacked. Invalidated. It is not about the subject of the argument for the narcissist, and it never was. It's about the person they are arguing with validating them and proving they have worth.
When the person continues to tell them they are wrong or mistaken, the narcissist understands this as a personal attack and they see the person as the cause of those horrible feelings of shame and self-hatred. This is senseless and unfair, but the narcissist does not see that. They believe they feel badly because the other person is attacking them. They react in self-defense of their very lives, which looks like a huge overreaction to the other person, who does not understand why the narcissist is so upset over something so small. To the narcissist it does not feel small. They walk around all day every day for their entire lives feeling worthless, unlovable and wrong. They feel wrong all the time, about everything. That's why everything is a competition to them: they desperately want to get rid of the feeling that they are a useless loser. A failure. So they make everything a contest and sadly, because they are only fighting to win, they are still wrong more often than they are right. This just makes them feel worse, so it becomes an endless cycle of argue, attack, deny. Narcissists are in such deep denial about so many things that they cannot see reality in it's true perspective at all.
The Bottom Line
These things are why getting through to narcissists is so difficult and why it is so difficult for them to change their behavior. In order to change something, a person must first acknowledge that it is a problem. Narcissists simply cannot do that.