When Advice Sucks

I know we’ve all gotten some stellar advice along the way, whether unsolicited or sought out.  But seriously, we probably get WAY too much advice that has the opposite effect than what good folks intend.

Can you tell which of the following is non-sucky advice?

How should you respond when someone confides in you she is contemplating divorce?

  1. You know, marriage is becoming obsolete…
  2. Marriage is hard, don’t give up so easily!
  3. Have you tried (therapy, more sex, date nights, etc)?
  4. Wow, I’m so sorry. How are you feeling about it?

So, I’ve known that I wanted to write this post for a while now.  And what did I catch myself doing once I decided on a title?  GIVING ADVICE.   The truth is, sometimes it worked (I think!) and sometimes it was awful (like I had originally intended to  e m p h a t i c a l l y  state in this post.)

You might already know that advice sucks, especially if you’ve recently gone through a divorce, became a  parent or lost a loved one.  You know how well-intentioned peeps can say the wrong thing when they are actually trying to help.

What I’ve found is, on the one hand, advice giving can be an act of love and compassion– a way to try to connect with someone who is suffering.  On the other hand, giving advice is also very much about ME and not the recipient.   (More than) half the time I am having trouble sitting with the discomfort of a loved one’s suffering.  That’s my issue- not theirs.  My inability to be with their pain (or perception of it) causes me to spout out loads of unsolicited lessons, tips, tricks, recipes, antidotes, cures and wisdom.

Here’s an example:

My sister is the one who told me about myself taught me about the dangers of advice giving.  One day with oh-so-good intentions I was (yet again) telling my sis how psychotherapy would be such a good cure-antidote-solution to her current problem.  I added that I know an oh-so-good therapist, how to get in touch with her and, heck, I’d even book her an appointment!

My sister yelled at calmly told me:  I just want you to LISTEN!  Stop trying to solve it for me– that’s not what I need or what I am looking for from my sister.  I need you to hear me… I just didn’t understand.  I was ONLY trying to help!  It had worked so well for me– I wanted everyone I knew to experience the same support.

Well, a few books on emotional needs, effective communication and compassionate listening later, I knew exactly what she wanted.  I became awake to my own pain in watching my sister suffer.  How I undermined her capacity to heal and transform her own wounds into greater emotional freedom.  By trying to solve it for her, I negated the truth that she is a strong, capable and resilient woman.  I found the best way to support her is to listen and acknowledge her experience.

Years later, I still find myself biting my tongue when I feel I have the perfect answer for my someone’s problem.  And I’ll break the rule when I think that someone is being particularly unkind to herself (like beating herself up for not being a perfect mom).

Recently my sister did something very effective (and sweet).  I had called her to vent about a dilemma.  After listening compassionately and identifying with my pain she said, “Okay,  this next part is advice.  And you might not need it or want it but here it goes…”  This helped me shift gears and become aware of my choice.  I could listen and take it or leave the advice, thank you.   I had gotten what I needed: affirmation that I’m not crazy or weird (at least not ALL the time).

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

5 thoughts on “When Advice Sucks

  1. Thank you for your candidness and insight. I am happy that our long relationship (as sisters tee hee:)
    with all the ups and downs, miscommunications and trips along the way can be of service, and maybe give a few laughs.
    Yours in trying to figure it out,
    Solange ;P

  2. Whaz up?

    Great post. Not giving advice is harder than it sounds I must admit. Ironically, your sister does give some really good advice though (but don’t tell her I said that). lol.

  3. Years ago a friend told me she doesn’t give advice unless asked. It really struck me that someone lived like that! THAT was a wonderful little bit of information that I contemplate to this day. Unsolicited advice does suck … and isn’t that what it is most of the time?! Thanks for the reminder Eloiza. :)

  4. Great post. I recently read the book “A Hidden Wholeness”, you might check it out – the author talks a lot about creating a “safe space for the soul”, and how spouting advice destroys that space. After reading it I tried not to give any advice AT ALL….it worked for a while, but I began to realize that there has to be a balance. I’ve found that sometimes advice is needed, but a lot of the times it’s more beneficial to just let the person talk it through – they’ll figure out their answer along the way.

    Best advice I got for motherhood (so far) – make sure you get a shower everyday (practical, but very helpful!), and remember that it’s long days and short years.

  5. @ Sol and Lincoln thanks for the love y’all! xoxo

    @Carissa You’re welcome for the reminder and thanks for stopping by. As a mom, I’m sure you can relate :-)

    @ Undividing Can’t wait to spend more time at your blog! It looks like we have a bit in common. Hoping to connect again. Thank you for your insightful comment!

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