“Oh, you think you have problems. You should only know what I have to deal with. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Hey, I told you that you should have ended that relationship a long time ago.”
How do you feel when, ahem, “well-meaning” family members or friends put their two cents in on how you should run your life? And how often do we simply impose our own opinion on others? Speaking of which…If at first you don’t succeed, try doing it the way Mom told you, to begin with.
After getting suggestions, recommendations, and directions from others, do you feel relieved or even more misunderstood than before you asked? How do you feel when people ask for your opinion? Do you just love to tell others how to live, offer clichés instantly for every occasion, or do you feel like you’re not even qualified to offer any insights but feel compelled to, now that they asked? Sure, some people give sound advice: 99% sound, 1% advice.
Oh, and speaking of help, if your husband says he will fix it, he will. No need to remind him every six months. Ha. Just kidding, dudes.
Do you have friends whose issues simply seem incurable because their drama is a never-ending cycle of repeating the same ole’ mess over and over? More often than not, we do not really expect others to have the answers. Sometimes we simply need to unburden our hearts. I am the Queen of Re-hashing. Sometimes I even convince myself that by just “kvetching” enough, somehow I will solve the ongoing problem. But deep down inside I know that I can either work it through or perhaps I need to simply let it go. And complaining can sure be draining.
So what do we say when our friends or loved ones ask for our guidance? You can always ask: “Would you like to hear some ideas on how to solve that?” Ask how you can help them move on if need be. Or try suggesting to them: “It might help to do this…or consider this,” etc. Another approach is to say: “I really would like to help you figure out what feels right for you.” Then again, it was once said: A wise man once said: “Nothing.”
Most of us don’t just need to hear the instruction; we need help mustering up the courage to do something about it all. What is right is often what seems most difficult. Remember how frightening it can be to make lasting positive changes, so please go easy on the sermons. Truth be told, oftentimes we do not even know what is right for us. At least, not yet. And how often is what we need to do really at odds with what we want to do?
Try not to give false hope. You know what they say: Nothing in the world arouses more false hope than the first four hours of a diet. But I digress…
Telling people that if they lose weight, they may automatically find a mate or that they should insist on a raise? What if they follow your wise words and then get demoted? Speaking of advice, never ask Google for medical advice. You will go from having a mild headache to being clinically dead in three clicks.
The best advice I can give (you did ask, didn’t you?) is to help people help themselves. Perhaps you can point them in the direction of some videos that may have helped you in the past, or even a book or column you read that may have shed some light. Instead of the typical “You should do this” formula, try asking them questions about their situation and exploring their options with them.
Make sure to tell them how much you trust them. Your confidence in them may be all they need after all. Remember that oftentimes they have to live with the decisions they make. You don’t. If you have a personal stake in the outcome and can’t be objective, you may choose to recuse yourself ‘from the case’ as any honorable judge would do in a trial.
Remember that if your friends’ problems were that simple, they would not seek your counsel to begin with. So let that halo slip right off your head, and instead of making believe you have all the answers wrapped up with a big, fat bow, show some humility. You can say: “I may be wrong…but it seems to me…” Or “If you feel comfortable doing this, you may consider trying…” You can even share a bit of yourself by asking: “Would you like to hear what happened to me once when I was in a similar situation?” “Whatever you decide, you are still my friend, and I still love you.”
Trust me, most of the instructions we dole out, we can hardly follow ourselves. One cautionary note: If someone is truly in a fragile state, you may wish to seek outside help.
And just remember: The world is changed by your example; not your opinion.
So, sweet friends, How can I help?
Caroline is a licensed psychotherapist, crisis counselor, and writer with an office in Queens. She works with individuals, couples, and families. Appointments are available throughout the week and weekends. She can be reached at 917-717-1775 or at Safehavenhealing@gmail.com or at facebook.com/pages/Safe-Haven-Healing.