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How our Contempt and Self-righteousness Keep Feeding our Toxic Politics


Like many people, I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic adult. I was in a constant power struggle with my step-parent and our relationship was fraught with contempt and self-righteousness. At least on my part. I felt powerless and held onto this duo of emotions as a drowning person with a lifejacket.

Self-righteousness and contempt kept me afloat. Until they threatened to sink me and my chance for happiness.

As I carried these emotions into adulthood, I used my cloak of self-righteousness to keep and hold power over others. Notably, those closest to me. My “love” was contingent upon obedience to my will. Lack of obedience would result in my contempt; a lack of respect. I was behaving horribly to those I loved most. But why? What was I gaining that kept the cycle going?

Yes, I went to counseling. And several weekend personal growth seminars.

And I discovered that I was …OMG… wrong.

But I was not a horrible person. My early training with an addicted and dysfunctional role model had imprinted on me a sense that if I was “wrong” I might die. Literally, die. No wonder I fought so hard to be right and bend others to my will! I was programmed to believe it was a necessary to survive -- my payoff was survival. But I was wrong in my thinking and I didn’t die. Eureka!

What I didn’t realize when I was younger, was how much I gave up by clinging to my lifejacket of self-righteousness and contempt. I gave up happiness, because I was either in despair or resentful that the world wasn’t as I thought it should be. I gave up trusting people because they would always disappoint me. I gave up questions and curiosity because I already knew the answers (or pretended to). I gave up love, because loving made me vulnerable. And I gave up joy, because I wanted control.

Eventually, it came down to this question -- what did I want and value more -- being right or being happy?

The choice was really that simple....

Continue reading Debilyn's essay at the Living Room Conversations website here. Which of her practical pointers on healthy conversation have you tried?