How To Let Someone You Love Make A Mistake

Don't say 'I told you so'.

When someone we care about does something we don't agree with it can be really hard to support them. Whether they are a close friend, our child or our partner, it's difficult to accept they are doing something that we believe is wrong for them.

In essence, it can be a challenge to watch someone we love make a mistake, but the fact is, making mistakes is a fundamental part of the human experience and it influences how we learn and how we connect with others.

"We can really learn so much from our mistakes," Dr Amy Finlay-Jones told HuffPost Australia. "We can be very reluctant to make mistakes because it makes us feel vulnerable and it casts into feelings of uncertainty, but I think a lot of the value of making mistakes is that when we go through the process we can realise that making mistakes are an inevitable part of being human and they aren't necessarily the end of the world."

I think we don't do ourselves or our relationships any favours if the minute a loved one makes a mistake we jump in there and say, 'I told you so, you should have listened to me'.

So while there are benefits that come with making mistakes, it can be difficult to watch as our best friend goes back to their ex-partner or our child takes on too many subjects at school. This difficulty often comes from a place of love, where we want to protect our loved ones from suffering, but there's another reason why letting people we love make a mistake is so hard.

"I think we do need to be aware that not only allowing people to make mistakes but also being there to then support them when things go wrong or when they are suffering can be really difficult. It can bring up anxiety, it can bring up frustration and other difficult feelings in part because of the love we have for people and the instinct we have to protect them," Finaly-Jones said.

"I also think it brings us face-to-face with our own vulnerability ... in compassion training we often teach that our capacity to be there for others really starts with our capacity to be there for ourselves."

Supporting someone can bring out our own insecurities.
Supporting someone can bring out our own insecurities.

Finlay-Jones says that without showing ourselves kindness and compassion, we will be unable to understand when someone we love makes a mistake. Without this fundamental capacity to be compassionate, we won't be able to support them through a difficult time, or be there for them if things go wrong.

"I think that often when we do try to protect people from making mistakes is that it's coming from a place of love and we need to acknowledge that."

"I think we also need to ask ourselves what we are really communicating to our loved ones when we are acting in a way that is overprotective and overly controlling when they have made a mistake. Because the message that we are giving them is that making a mistake is not okay and that making a mistake [means] we can't accept them or we don't trust them."

What Is Compassion Training?

There are different strands of compassion training -- one that teaches us how to be compassionate to ourselves and another that shows us how to show compassion for others.

"Self-compassion is the capacity to be aware when we are having a difficult time, to recognise when we are suffering and to acknowledge our difficult feelings in a way that is not overactive and overly avoidant, and then to also be understanding and kind to ourselves as we would a loved one when they are going through a difficult time," Finlay-Jones told HuffPost Australia.

Feeling negative emotions is part of the human experience and learning that we are not alone in our suffering is a cornerstone in showing ourselves understanding and kindness. Being overly perfectionistic and self-critical can result in self-isolating behaviour.

Another kind of compassion training teaches us to show understanding to other people and taps into the natural human instinct to have care and concern for others.

"We focus on our capacity to respond to the suffering of others and that includes compassion for our loved ones but also complete strangers and really difficult people that we really struggle to find compassion for."

Both kinds use meditation and group work to understand what compassion is and the obstacles to showing compassion for yourself and others.

When we react in a negative way to someone's mistakes we are enforcing a pressure on them to be perfect, as well as communicating judgement and lack of trust.

"There is no harm in communicating to the other person that it's difficult for you, that you are experiencing whatever feelings you are experiencing, and you are trying to be a good partner, a good parent or a good friend," Finlay-Jones said.

"It comes down to always checking in with what our intention is, and if that is to love or support that person then it's important to ensure our behaviour is aligned with that intention."

Being in a supportive role can be difficult and it's okay to communicate your emotions to your loved one.
Being in a supportive role can be difficult and it's okay to communicate your emotions to your loved one.

When you support a loved one who is suffering after having made a mistake it's important to accept their experience without inflicting any judgements, frustrations or resentment you might be feeling upon them.

"As much as possible to remain open to them," Finlay-Jones said. "There might be self-righteousness there but perhaps we can put that aside for the moment and be there for our loved ones and then maybe down the line we can say, 'ok let's talk about how maybe we can do this better.'"

"I think we don't do ourselves or our relationships any favours if the minute a loved one makes a mistake we jump in there and say 'I told you so, you should have listened to me'."