Getting Advice: Does it Hurt or Help?

Has anyone ever said to you, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” “You are so insecure,” or “Your problem is that you don’t like yourself”?

Many people hear this “advice” from spouses, family, friends, and coworkers. The problem is that these advisers don’t tell you what specifically to do about your problem. They make us feel like there is something wrong with us for feeling the way we do and being the way we are. Take the cliché, “change yourself and everything else will change.” That’s the easy part, the hard part is knowing what to change from and what to change to. What’s harder is knowing how to bring about that change in ways that won’t turn out to be counter productive.

When we go to others with our tales of woe, they feel compelled to relieve our distress. Unfortunately, most people is not qualified to diagnose or treat these problems. They have no expertise, no competence in these areas. So when our closest advisers feel inadequate to cope and unable to solve our problems, they deliver a nonsensical “solution’. They think to themselves: “I have done something. At least I didn’t stand there like a dummy. I have once again prevented the humiliating exposure of my inadequacy to cope.”

As soon as we realize that the advice was given for them and not for us, we are free to disengage from it. We no longer have any responsibility to accept what is being presented. They are offering useless advice to maintain their own ego. The solution is phony; it does not exist. It is not a solution.

Below are some examples of the futile “advice” others offer us:

1) “Be a nice person or no one will like you.”
The message here is to value niceness above all else. However, reality often requires us not to be so nice. When we say this to someone, we are really setting them up to pretend to be “nice” and encouraging them to mismanage their anger until they blow a gasket. For example, we may need to express legitimate anger at someone who has threatened us. For “nice” people, that creates a conflict that they do not know how to resolve. Adherence to this advice may result in suppressing anger and exploding in an exaggerated way later one.

2) “What will the everybody else think?”
This is what we often say when our spouse or children begin to yell. We are placing being judged by some anonymous passers-by ahead of our loved one’s distress. Our priorities are backwards. Our loved ones opinions are the most significant, not the general public. This advice sets us up for a lifetime of living up to everyone else’s standards, not our own.

3) “Winning isn’t everything thing, it’s the only thing.”
This single minded absurd cliché is often held onto by overachievers and perfectionists. This belief puts the world in terms of black and white, win or lose, which leaves us feeling insecure when there is any middle ground. The idea is that life is only pleasant so long as I am on top. From this perspective, every little setback is equal to a loss of self-respect, which is painful. The person has to try even harder, not so much to win, as to prevent the pain of losing.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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