“I told you so!”

Do you squirm inside with annoyance, even feel angry when someone says that to you? Probably more so when it’s said with a self-righteous attitude or there’s a tone of ridicule in the voice. The assertion that you were wrong and that they were right can and does often create resentment, even between close friends and loved ones. The needless confirmation that one’s judgment was off can cause some people to feel embarrassed, even put down, for others it can result in diminishing confidence in their own sense of what is right and correct. These are bruises to a person’s psyche if he or she is in a vulnerable state of mind, more so if they have already had a hard time trusting their judgment because they have made many mistakes in the past.

Yet who hasn’t?

No one likes to be wrong, and making mistakes can often be costly to the purse as well as the ego. We know this intellectually, our rational minds and common sense advise us of the fact that no one is right or wrong all the time. If we are mature and reasonable in our expectations of ourselves we handle being wrong at times with grace and when appropriate, good humor. When we look back and view our past objectively we are able to balance the scales and note that there have been many cases in which our judgment has proven correct. Ought not this to assure us that we are not total idiots or always foolish?

Being right feels good, right? It raises self-esteem. It boosts the morale and confidence in most people, especially in those whose self-esteem is low and self-worth is based on always being right.

For some people being right is a like winning a contest; for them life is a constant win-lose proposition, and it’s a matter of pride for them to be able to prove you or anyone else wrong. These individuals, on the spectrum of “self concept evaluation” are at the extreme end. Winning is more important than anything else for them, so no one’s feelings are ever given consideration. These egocentric people can humiliate others with their zealous approach to being the top dog in any situation. “I’m a winner, you’re a loser,” they proclaim. They are fully aware that being a “loser” can be a degrading experience in a world where winners are given the spotlight and made into adored generously paid heroes in most societies. Being a loser is the equivalent of being a failure in many people’s eyes, and one of the worst insults you can give a person is to call him or her a “loser.”

On the other end of the spectrum there are those who all always fall prey to the aforementioned individuals, for they never make choices and decisions on their own for fear of being wrong. They are totally non-committal about nearly everything. They seldom have a definite opinion or position on any subject. They seek out advice for every choice to be made. Being wrong to them means being humiliated, receiving harsh criticisms, even punishment of some kind, (most likely childhood experiences influencing their every day current life). They depend on those whose judgment they believe is more trustworthy than their own. Poor self concept and low self-esteem causes people to doubt all of their abilities.

Some people fall in and out from the middle of the spectrum of self-trust, they tend to easily succumb to the persuasion of others; in spite of the fact they have their own ideas and preferences, they allow themselves to be talked out of what they want or feel is right for them. Afterwards they may regret it because they end up with what someone else wants and not what they want or what is right for them.

The true middle of the spectrum people use a combination of their own judgment with the good council from those better informed and whose wisdom has proven reliable. They accept that being wrong at times is a fact of life, and do not judge themselves harshly if proven wrong. Being right all the time isn’t a necessary attribute of their self-esteem.

Where do you come on the spectrum?

Keep in mind that even the best athletes neither lose sometimes, or come in second or third place, nor always show. No actor wins the Oscar every year, and no intellectual genius is 100 percent correct in his or her theory, nor is a brilliant diagnostician correct in every diagnosis or prognosis. Long time winners of Jeopardy, for example, eventually get answers wrong and new champions take their place. What would be the point of a competition if only one person or the same person was assured of winning every time? And high-ranking officials in government and the military make serious misjudgments and calculations, costing millions of dollars and lives. I wonder if those opposing their positions and decisions on that case ever say, “I told you so!”

No matter how smart we are, or how wise we may be, we are not perfect. (See blog “Are you trying the impossible?”).

Life isn’t a competition; it’s a challenge many times for sure. Yes it requires that we learn and grow and get wiser through experience. And we ought to be able to learn from the experiences of others, too and when appropriate turn to wiser more experienced people for input. There are, after all genuine experts we all need to turn to for counsel when we are not well advised or adequately informed on a subject or lacking the necessary skills and experience to make a good choice. Often seeking second and even third opinions helps us sort things out for ourselves.

Ultimately though we must always take full responsibility for our choices and actions.

For those who would say to you, “I told you so” you might want to reply with, “Yes, you were right this time.” And leave it at that. I suggest you not linger to hear all the why’s and wherefores of your errors, but move on with the awareness that being wrong does not make the other person better or of more value than you.

And if you are the one who is a position to say, “I told you so,” Please don’t say it. Say nothing at all; or simply reassure that person that he or she made the choice that felt right at the time and that you too have been wrong at times and it isn’t a crime or sin worthy of self recrimination.

And retaliation to an “I told you so,” with, “Well, you’ve made mistakes too” or, “What about when you ….” is only going to antagonize or cause him or her to become defensive, which results in a battle of he said and she said to no useful end. In arguments between people the subject often gets lost in the determination to win, to get the other person to back down or admit being wrong. These kinds of combats can become emotionally intense and all too often escalate to verbal abuse and even violence in some cases. I’ve seen that when I work with couples to resolve the conflicts between them. I have to teach them that no one ever actually wins an argument like that, and the relationship is never better for it; I teach them to disagree agreeably.

There are some people who will never admit when they are wrong. They will defend their point to the point of being ridicules. There’s no use arguing with them, and trying to get them to see reason; it’s best to let stubborn people learn the hard way, and stay out of their way if all possible.

When proven wrong in a choice or action it’s also wise to not attempt to use what is referred to as hindsight. We are told that hindsight is 20/20. Actually it is not. Retrospectively we are seeing with insight; hindsight is kind of like looking into a crystal ball upside down. Even the best seers, fortune tellers and crystal ball gazers are not 100% accurate either. In fact rarely are they 50% accurate.

The insights we get from experience are valuable indeed when we acknowledge them.

The truth is that we always have good reasons for doing what we do, for making the choices we do and taking the actions we take. We seldom if ever act knowing better of it: Even when we do there are reasons, some rational and other not so rational reasons for not going with what we know would be better in the end. I’ve often heard people say, “It was against my better judgment.”

And there is something you might not hear from others. Intuition isn’t always right either. When we’re told to trust it absolutely, I must remind people that the so-called “gut” feeling can come from many sources, and knowing from where it comes enables you to determine if it’s trustworthy or not and what to do with or about it.

And if you go against what is really good advice from someone wiser than yourself, there is a reason for that too. Maybe you automatically resist being directed by others; you don’t like being told what to do, and you want to demonstrate your independence. Or maybe you know the advisor is good at giving advice but not so wise in how he or she makes choices.

That reminds me of something my Mother used to say, laughingly, “Here, take my advice, I’m not using it!” She knew very well that there were times, to her regret, when she didn’t listen to her own inner voice. She knew too that giving advice is easy, because from the outside looking in we can indeed be clearer in our thinking, for our emotions are not involved and emotions often tend to overrule common sense if we are not careful. Also when listening to the advice of others we must be aware of the fact that giver may have an agenda of his or her own.

So it’s a matter of trusting yourself to recognize when your own judgment can be as good if not better even than someone else’s, and employ your common sense in balance with the information available at the time and your own sense of things as you know them in the moment. If it turns out to be the wrong choice, for whatever reason, (and there could be many variables that were not taken into consideration, and circumstances change, and new information becomes available, only too late) ,you need to keep in mind that it’s easier to recover from an error when you accept it as one of life’s lessons and that many mistakes in life can be corrected and are not life threatening, nor should they be a threat to your self-esteem.

Also that it’s not a matter of being a winner or loser. To live well and do well we must always be aware of how important it is to be wrong graciously.

And, to be right just as graciously.

And again, take full responsibility for the choices and decisions you make, then you won’t blame others for advice given, nor will you cringe if someone says, “I told you so.” You will smile with philosophical good will in your mind and peace in your heart.

All the best, always, from Elaine Kissel

P.S. Regarding advice, there is a saying about it that I will quote here, “Advice? Wise men don’t need it and fools don’t heed it!” So be careful giving it and recieving it too.