A friend called me for advice last night on some verbiage to use in an emotionally tricky conversation with her spouse. I was glad it came yesterday because I got an earful of unsolicited advice yesterday from an anonymous commenter on my blog. It really ticked me off, so I was very aware of my intentions last night when my friend called me. I made sure that I listened to her entire request and then I asked her very specifically how I could help. It was only after I got that specific answer that I told her what I thought in that very specific area. She didn’t ask if she should talk about that with her husband. She didn’t ask what I thought would happen. She didn’t ask what books she should read or if she should leave her husband. There was a specific request, and I answered it. I did reassure her that she was a smart woman, she should listen to her gut and always be clear, kind and respectful of his boundaries if he wasn’t available for this discussion.
I set myself up for getting unsolicited advice by writing my blog and by writing in a way that is emotionally vulnerable. I write about the struggle of being human and navigating emotions, and, on some days, there is no happy ending. Yesterday, I actually thought there was a resolution, but apparently some people didn’t hear it. This anonymous unsolicited advice-giver thought I was somehow wanting his/her take on what I should do and my writing voice. Since they were too chicken to post their name, I decided not to approve their comment. You know who you are .. and, yes, I’m talking to you. I can tell you are in recovery because your solution is peppered with recovery lingo, but I’ll just tell you right off, you need to get thee ass to a codependency group. Honestly, I often find that recovering addicts are the worst at advice-giving because they think they have a license to tell people what to do. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had to debrief after really cold advice was given to a friend struggling with recovery. The solution to recovery is in connection to a higher power and others on the same path. If you lose the essence of connection in pursuit of activity, you’ve lost the point. And I’ve gotten very bad advice from recovering people and even sponsors. I’ll go to my grave defending that.
It’s really hard not to give advice when I feel like I’ve been in the same place as someone else. The reality is I have NEVER been in the same situation as someone else, and I NEVER will be. To think I know the solution to their problem is arrogance. It is to assume I am God. That being said, it slips out sometimes. There are times when I want somebody to stop hurting. There are times when I’m not very compassionate with their situation because I think they made a dumb move that got them there, so my lack of compassion comes out as telling them what they need to do. When I struggle most is when someone keeps asking for my advice, I keep giving the same advice, and they never take it. I get more and more frustrated with the amount of time I’m spending on it, and they aren’t taking the advice. What I have to realize is they don’t want my advice. They think they want my advice, but what they really want is connection. If I’d just meet them where they are and quit giving advice, it wouldn’t take so much out of either of us.
In my codependency groups, I’m often asked to ‘sponsor’ the women with the extreme cases of ‘not being able to leave abusive guy and can’t follow through on counsel’. I’ve been there. I didn’t take advice either. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to. I wanted to badly. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t take the steps I needed to take because I had to build myself up first. Once I was able to build my self-esteem to a place where I felt like I was capable of taking care of myself and making good decisions, I was able to move forward. The advice-giving further confirmed that I was not very smart and couldn’t handle my own life. I got stronger when I found people who connected with me where I was by letting me talk about my situation and reflecting back what I said. It was my own words reflected back that finally gave me the confidence to do what I needed to do.
I’ve learned through the years that sending people motivational sayings, links to articles, searching the internet for solutions to their problems and asking other people to intervene for them are also ways of giving advice. If they don’t ask me specifically to help them find the solution to their problem, they need to do their own research. I spent hours upon hours researching my ex’s problems, and now I don’t blame him for getting aggravated with me. It was his life, and if he didn’t want help, he didn’t need to get any. I thought my heart was in the right place, but really I just wanted to stop living in chaos. It was ultimately about me and my needs. That wasn’t very connecting at all.
When I’m approached with a problem, and I’m aware that I’m feeling the tug to give advice, I do these things instead:
- Ask questions like What do you want to see happen? What is the feeling bubbling up inside? Is this a familiar pattern? Where do you feel it in your body? What do you think you should do?
- Remind them that they are very smart and intuitive, and they will figure it out.
- Ask How can I best support you?
It’s really simple. The weird thing is that even though I think that giving advice will make me feel better, it doesn’t feel nearly as good as connecting with somebody and helping them to step into their own power. Every time it happens, I see their body relax, and a burst of energy seems to rise up through their heart and into their face. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s always … always about connection.
I found these articles on things to think about when giving advice. Read if you like.. but I’m not giving advice. 🙂