Taking Advice

Everyone has opinions. Lots of them. When you are in crisis or seeking advice, to whom should you turn?

I once had a female friend who was very fond of offering unsolicited advice. She was prone to offer her opinion on many areas of my life, whether I felt I needed her advice or not. When I would not jump to what she would suggest she would tell me, exasperated, “I don’t know why I even give you advice, you don’t do what I tell you to!”

That’s the problem with advice givers. Either they are just shooting into the wind or they expect you to follow their lead – in spite of the fact that they really often do not know what you are going through or the circumstances particular to your problem. Psychology Today has a good piece on the problem with taking advice from your friends.

So, ask a friend for advice and they will give you the advice from their perspective, from the world as they see it. They will have good intentions, think they ‘know’ you and your situation, but the subtle differences between people can nullify the advice they offer.

Yet most people love advising others. The reasons for this are psychologically complex, such as:

  1. Some people get a sense of self-satisfaction from hearing about others’ problems. It can make their own problems seem smaller.
  2. People like to impress their views on others. Not because they are right but because it increases their own perceived value or sense of self-worth.
  3. Others may want you to take a course of action that suits them. For example, if you split up from a partner and the two of you spent time with friends – perhaps went on vacation together – the friends’ advice will be tainted, often unconsciously, by the negative consequences for them of your break-up.
  4. Helping behaviour has high social approval. People often like people who offer advice or help.
  5. People want you to do what they do in life.  This confirms their own choices; your needs may come second.

Often the advice people offer give an insight into their own problems. Because they know themselves well and have privileged access to their own situation their advice will reflect themselves, not the person who is the object of their advice.

 Sometimes asking a professional isn’t much better. Let’s be honest, some counselors suck. They are condescending, or subjective. They have all the answers or seemingly none at all. I remember going to a counselor who kept asking me, “And what do you think?” What I was thinking was, “I’m paying you eighty bucks an hour. I know what I’m thinking, I want to know what you are thinking!” I didn’t need a professional to parrot back to me my problem. I knew my problem. What I didn’t know was what to do about it.
The saying goes, “Opinions are like butt-cracks, everyone has one.” It’s important to be careful when asking for advice. Most people either want to make you happy or have a similar experience they want to relate. Few of us, unless we are fully awake, manage to provide objective and helpful truth when asked.
So take what your mom says with a grain of salt. Get opinions from several sources. Read about your issue on the web from good sources. Google “my Issue + cbt” or something like that. Email me and I’ll try to steer you in the right direction. Talk to someone with no emotional investment in your problem. Find someone with some years and take them out for coffee. Find a counselor that doesn’t suck.

3 thoughts on “Taking Advice

  1. It seems to be universally true that we all believe that, given someone else’s situation, we could do better with the assorted facts, situations, and requirements than they are doing themselves. Never once looking at our own disasters and the times we can’t navigate our own messes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s