• Being labeled as stubborn is common over the course of our lives; however, the reasons behind our stubborn behavior can vary and may have unique psychological drivers.
  • It’s important to note that being stubborn isn’t always a bad thing—there are both beneficial and detrimental motives for stubbornness.
  • It’s okay to be stubborn if you’re ignoring negative criticism, going through a tough life transition that requires you to stick to your guns, grappling with a toxic relationship, or working on improving yourself.
  • It can be difficult to determine when it’s okay (and not okay) to be stubborn, but it’ll become clearer when you consider your motives as well as the motives of the individual accusing you of being stubborn.

Being stubborn is a quality that many of us have heard ascribed to ourselves. Maybe we choose to do things our own way. Perhaps we refuse to ask for help when we need it. And yet other times, we might write people or situations off without truly understanding them.

Being stubborn is a state of mind we’ve all been in—but it’s not necessarily bad to be stubborn. 

In fact, with the right approach, we can take our stubborn qualities and use them to our advantage. And since we’re typically labeled as “stubborn” by others, we can learn to more objectively absorb their feedback in order to understand whether we’re being stubborn for the right reasons. 

Psychological Drivers Behind Stubborn Behavior 

One of the most curious qualities about stubborn behavior is that it’s usually subjective—meaning that other people point out instances where we’re being stubborn. Each of us has our own reasons for displaying stubborn behavior, and they can define our personal and professional relationships

But some of these reasons may only be relevant to the situation at hand, while others may be unique to our life experiences and viewpoints. Some of the psychological drivers behind stubborn behavior can include factors from both the past and present, such as: 

  • An unstable childhood environment that left decision-making primarily up to you: Those who suffered adverse childhood experiences may be more likely to be mistrustful of others as adults, meaning that the influence and suggestions of your peers may not be so helpful—but instead make you suspicious. 
  • Insecurities that cause you to shut down as a self-defense mechanism: You may be afraid of receiving feedback, considering the viewpoints of others, or admitting to having fears or uncertainties. It isn’t uncommon to become closed off to different perspectives because you’re hyper-sensitive to other people picking up on what you feel most vulnerable about. 
  • Being a goal-oriented person: Those who are motivated and driven to achieve may walk the straight-and-narrow path toward what they want; they may be aware that considering too many other opinions or viewpoints could be distracting. As a result, goal-oriented people can be stubborn as well. 
  • Having a disagreeable personality type: Personalities that tend toward disagreeableness can come off as being stubborn. This is because they tend to place less of a value on getting along with other people, often at the expense of their social reputation and relationships. 
  • Hubris: Leaders in many different positions often have a psychological quality known as hubris—the belief that whatever they do, they can do it better than anyone else. This can lead to stubborn behavior—as leaders are often responsible for making balanced, focused decisions. When these decisions don’t align with those around them, they can appear to be stubborn. Despite sounding like narcissistic behavior, it’s actually a form of self-confidence, but one that needs to be moderated, like anything else.

When Is Being Stubborn a Good Thing?

As previously mentioned, when we’re being stubborn unless we’re practicing self-awareness, or working with a licensed therapist or counselor, other people are often the ones pointing it out. That’s why being stubborn is usually about our relationships with other people, and the ways that we compromise—or don’t. Compromising isn’t always an easy thing to do, and it’s not always necessary, either. 

In fact, that’s why being stubborn can be a good thing under the right circumstances. You might want to be stubborn if you’re dealing with: 

  • Overtly negative criticism: Receiving harsh or unwarranted feedback from others might have to be ignored at times, especially if heeding their words would hinder your ability to reach your goals. 
  • Your current life circumstances require it: Perhaps you’ve gone through a major breakup, divorce, job transition, or health crisis. In these circumstances, you have to maintain and continue to develop resiliency—the ability to not give up, despite undergoing extreme duress. 
  • You’re dealing with a toxic friendship or relationship: Whether it’s with a family member or romantic partner, someone who’s continually trying to cut you down because of their own issues may label you as stubborn if you tune them out. 
  • You’re working on improving yourself: Whether it’s by learning to cut out bad influences, harmful behaviors, or crowd mentalities, self-growth requires focus and determined effort. This may come across as stubborn to others, who may not understand. 

Being stubborn can actually be helpful, especially if that stubbornness transforms into resiliency. During times of our lives when we need to focus on ourselves, our priorities, and our sense of emotional and physical well-being, we might very well come across as stubborn. But stubbornness is all about perspective. 

There’s no need to derail yourself if you’ve received feedback that you’re being stubborn—but it’s helpful to consider the perspectives of others in order to evaluate whether or not you’re being stubborn for the right reasons. 

How to Know When (and When Not) to Be Stubborn

For all the stubborn souls out there, you don’t need to radically change yourself in order to find a happier balance between staying on track and offending others. What might be useful is interpreting the feedback about your stubbornness more objectively. If someone points out that you’re being stubborn, evaluate whether: 

  • They’re motivated by their own goals and desires (which might not be the same as yours): If you’re slowly transitioning between friend groups, distancing yourself from unhealthy people, or setting new boundaries to help you achieve your goals, others may label you as stubborn because you want something different than them. They may become upset if you don’t shift your boundaries, either. If you believe your goals to be healthy, and you aren’t hurting anyone in your attempts to reach them, it’s okay to not overthink this sort of “stubborn” behavior. 
  • They’re sharing constructive criticism that highlights a real issue and offers a solution that you can be a part of: If someone takes the time to share their criticism or views constructively, this is a green light for you. In this case, being stubborn, when someone else is self-aware enough to share potentially-helpful feedback in a considerate manner, may not be the best move
  • You’re being stubborn because you’re self-conscious or fearful: If someone is pointing out habits, actions, or opinions that you refuse to change, perhaps you’re resisting because what they’re asking you to do makes you uncomfortable. We’re all guilty of this at times, but this isn’t usually a good reason to be stubborn—and can emotionally stunt us and limit our ability to empathize and relate to other people’s experiences and perspectives.
  • You have an unmended relationship with the person telling you that you’re being stubborn: If you’ve hurt or offended someone, purposefully or accidentally in the past, they may be accusing you of being stubborn because of their own perceptions. It might be more helpful to address the rift in the connection you share, rather than to completely change course—especially if you believe you have a valid reason for being stubborn.  
  • Your stubbornness is keeping you from improving as a person: Whether that’s in your career, relationships, emotional maturity, or other areas, stubbornness can hold us back. Sometimes our most vocal critics can be our most valuable teachers; when we don’t see everything as a personal attack, we can more readily see the positive aspects of compromise and personal change.

Whatever our reasons are for being stubborn, they’re just as unique as each of us are as individuals. Typically, when we’re called out on our stubbornness, there’s a subjective motive that’s fueling the other person’s feedback. And on our end, there’s a personal reason for why we’re sticking to our guns. But with a little objectivity injected into the mix, we can learn to be situationally stubborn—for the right reasons.