“Of all the horrid, hideous notes of woe, Sadder than owl-songs or the midnight blast; Is that portentous phrase, “I told you so.” – Lord Byron
“I told you so.”
Are those fighting words, or what?
It’s a terrible blow to the ego when you realize that you were wrong about something when you really, really wanted to be right. But it can get worse. So much worse. That injury is magnified exponentially when someone suggests to you that the reason you were wrong was due to shortsightedness, naïveté, or just plain stupidity. “If you’d just listened to me”, they say, “you wouldn’t be in this situation”.
Oh, you’ve got a wound? Here’s some salt for you.
“I told you so” is pretty much universally despised; when you’re on the receiving end, those words feel like nothing so much as a kick while you’re already down. I know this from personal experience. We ALL know it. And yet… it can be incredibly difficult to resist uttering those 4 words.
I’m currently at a point where the urge to say “I told you so” occurs on an almost daily basis. It’s because I have teenagers, you see. And they just don’t listen.
In fact, without even trying, I can come up with three examples from the last week.
“I told you not to procrastinate on that schoolwork. Now it’s 11:30pm, the assignment’s due at midnight, and we just lost internet.”
“I told you that you needed to wear a coat in this weather. You wouldn’t be sick if you had.”
“I told you to get your clothes in the wash last night. Now you’re going to be wearing damp clothes at work because they’re not going to fully dry in time.”
I successfully bite my tongue on these types of comments most of the time, but there are moments I simply cannot resist. When I actually think about why I say these things (knowing they have no constructive, useful purpose) I realize it’s not so much about being right as it is an oblique way of expressing anger, exasperation, resentment or hurt. They’re not listening to me. My opinions and advice are not only not held in the highest regard, they’re barely being acknowledged! Rude.
With that in mind, it’s pretty obvious that “I told you so” is really my deflated ego’s way of saying “AHA! See??? I DO know stuff!” *
(*Insert character self-improvement pledge here.)
This type of “I told you so” doesn’t just occur when interacting with our kids, though. It can happen with a spouse, our parents, friends, or coworkers- but I think the root of the issue is almost always the same. We want to be heard.
Still, believe it or not, “I told you so” can be used for good, rather than evil. The key is in reframing how and when you choose to say it.
If you want to use “I told you so” to its best effect, you have to lay some positive groundwork. First, you have to be the voice in someone’s ear that contradicts the terrible things they tell themselves. Then, you have to keep cheering as they battle against something that feels completely overwhelming.
“I’m telling you, you can do this.”
The “I told you so” comes when that person finally sees a victory.
One of the best, happiest “I told you so’s” I’ve ever uttered was to a dear friend who had been going through one of life’s difficult, long-lasting storms. My ongoing mantra for her had been this: “You will not feel this way forever. I promise you are strong enough to get through this, even if it doesn’t feel that way now. What you’re doing for yourself is good, it’s brave, and it will change the way you have lived your life up until now.”
Many months later, she told me a story that demonstrated her hard-won freedom from past events.
I asked, “Could you ever have imagined, a year ago, that you would be able to say these things? That this would ever be possible for you?” She shook her head, smiling.
That smile was everything.
I told you so.