THE BLOG
06/16/2011 03:08 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2011

Self-Righteousness: Why Do Some Of Us Think Only We Are Right?

When we are trained in clinical psychology, we are continuously thought how not to judge and how to observe using our researcher's mind. We are told to feel but to move above our emotions in a way that makes us able to help the client at the point where he or she is, and to not impose our beliefs onto others but to help the client based on what his or her needs are. "It is not about your needs," they teach us, "but your client's needs."

This is a challenge; it is hard for all of us not to judge, because we tend to have a comfort zone and see things outside this comfort zone as "unusual." But some of us go further and see anything outside of this comfort zone as "totally wrong" or even "threatening." We seem to forget that we all have our unique perceptions based on our life's experiences and the stage of life where we find ourselves. It is not about being right or wrong but about being open to life and adding to our comfort zone to make it bigger, and modifying it when needed. A comfort zone that is more of a whole that includes some of everything and not too much of anything; it's a comfort zone that has a built-in balance point. The more we can do that with our comfort zones, the more comfortable it gets for all of us.

While we all do a little judging here and there, mostly innocently and unconsciously, some do this routinely and in a way that creates feelings of anger, frustration, guilt and even rebelliousness against whomever does not fit this comfort zone. Some almost give themselves the right to violate the other person's rights because he or she is different. Still others feel superior because they think that their comfort zone, the little box, is better than other people's comfort zones. Many of us get trapped in this, but I think after enough training and awareness, we can all get to the point of realizing that the world is a big place with so much variation out there. This is an opportunity for all of us to learn from this diversity. The more we get out with the intention of learning life, the more we see and the more we open up. Mind training is the key to this opening up and development; a well-developed mind is capable of seeing that its comfort zone is not the only place to be but one in an unlimited world of experiences and is, after all, important but insignificant.

Now, going back to the subject of this article, I was gathering information for my article and was thinking about what I want to give my readers. I did what I usually do: I reviewed my information, put my knowledge about the subject together and then did some meditation to see what I need to do with it. Then I happened to read one of the comments on my previous posting. Comments are in general as different and various as life itself, and that is the beauty of it. But this particular comment gave me the idea for this article. This individual had commented on an article I had written about psychology and God, and his comment started with his truth based on his life's experience, but at the end of the comment, he said, "Anyone who thinks different is misguided, mislead and mistaken." Now this wasn't new to me; growing up in Iran, I was familiar with terms like, "You should be like me or else," "You have to think like me or you're bad," "I am better because 'my' God is this way and yours is not, and if you think differently from me, you're wrong," and the list goes on and on. All the silly things we humans do to feel special and/or superior! And I am, in an unusual way, thankful for that comment, because it gave me the idea for this article.

The way we think is a big part of the way we are and how we interact and function. The more open and logical our thinking pattern gets, the bigger our comfort zone becomes. In simple terms, we open ourselves. As the world is unfolding, so is our need to unfold and open.

We often engage in internal dialogues with ourselves, some of which we never evaluate or examine. They keep going on and on, driving us to judge and react to situations and people without even being aware of why. We all do these self-talks, but we mess up when we let these have power over us rather than the other way around. There are many irrational thoughts that have no basis in reality. Here are a few of the irrational thoughts that bring about a state of self-righteousness (i.e., "I am right and you are wrong"):

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: When one sees things in black-and-white terms and has very limited vision. If something, someone, or some belief falls short of what this individual sees as perfect, he or she sees it as worthless or a total failure.
  2. Overgeneralizations: People who over generalize take a single negative incident and exaggerate it. These individuals have a lot of use for words like "always," "never," "all" and "no one," extreme words that by themselves can create radical thinking.
  3. Mental filters: This is when a person picks one or a few negative events and dwells on them to make them look much bigger, darkening his or her vision of reality. It is as if you drop one droplet of ink into a whole bucket of water.
  4. Discounting the positive: This is when the person rejects anything positive related to a situation, thinking that they "don't really matter."
  5. Jumping to conclusions: This is when a person comes up with conclusions when there are no logical, scientific, or unbiased facts to support those conclusions.
  6. "Should" statements: This is when a person tells herself that everyone and everything "should" be the way she thinks, functions and is comfortable with. People who make a lot of personal "should" statements usually experience a lot of negative emotions like guilt and frustration, or even anxiety. Should statements that are directed at other people, or at the world in general, lead to anger and frustration (e.g., "He shouldn't think like this")? This way of thinking is counterproductive, because it creates feelings of rebelliousness and separates you from those who don't think the same way.

After all, how many of us have heard these statements or something similar to them: "If you don't believe in Muhammad, then you are repulsive," or, "If you don't think Jesus is your savior, then you are damned," or, "I read in a book that this piece of land is mine, so you need to get the hell out, because I can't live with you." Sure, reading it, it sounds funny and almost childish and silly, but aren't we witnessing these silly statements creating tension, conflict, war and violence all the time? When do we stop, and what needs to be done to stop it? We need to start questioning these more and more and taking steps to make some positive change, and that comes with changing ourselves and our way of thinking. When we get into the habit of competing over our beliefs, wanting to impose them upon others and not being able to relate to those with different views, then we limit the unlimited life. It may be time for us to realize that if we stop competing, there is enough life for all of us.