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On giving advice
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD posted:
As I meet new people in my office and read through the discussions on the Relationships and Coping community, I consciously temper my impulse to jump in and tell people what to do.

Because people need to simplify their complicated lives, there is often more that we (as the 'listeners') do not know in these situations than what we do know. Even when they try to provide all relevant details about a situation, they will inevitably leave something out.

It's also important to keep in mind that relationships involve dynamics that no one on the outside is fully privy to. Each person has biases and is probably inclined to defend their own position.

So, being helpful is tricky. It's easy to advise one thing when you would provide different advice if you had a bit more information; or could see how your experiences are biasing your judgment. This awareness can help you take a step back when you find yourself being judgmental; and it can remind you to be cautious when providing suggestions.

What I have found by working with people in therapy and here on WebMD is that, like so much else in life, the more I learn, the more I also realize that I don't know or understand as much as I thought I did. I'm curious; Can you relate?

Read in more detail about this topic in my post on The Art of Relationships blog.
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gd9900 responded:
I think I can relate...and I can definately see where it would be difficult for you, being your job requires helping people understand and manage issues they are struggling with.

Its human nature to want connectedness with other human beings. When we've shared a similar life experience we naturally want to share our experience with that person we love/care about to help lessen their suffering. We want them to see what life brought our way however its difficult if not impossible to walk in anothers shoes and visa versa. That's what makes helping/advising others tricky I think.

What I've come to realize is, sometimes people just want to be heard and validated - and that is what is best for them. How did I learn this? I looked introspectively. At times I just want to vent...and some ppl I vent to want to fix what they are perceiving from me as needing to be fixed. I realized this several years ago when I came home from work and vented to my husband. He immediately thought I needed to change something in my life that wasn't working, when in fact I was frustrated and needed someone to listen. It was an "aha" moment for both of us. Since then I've become a better listener, and will speak up when that is what I want from someone else.

When I was in therapy these last few years, I was under a lot of duress - primarily with my marriage falling apart - I felt crazy and lost inside...I still feel that way at times but I manage the episodes better. I didn't perceive I was getting what I wanted from our sessions. I was talking and she was listening to everything I said but she wasn't telling me what to do. I was a mess inside and wanted an objective party to tell me logically what my next step should be. I knew I was blinded by my heartache and was too afraid to make a move on my own. I had no idea how to handle all the overwhelming feelings. Eventually I asked her to be more of a soundboard because I wasn't hearing what I was really saying. Once this happened, I started looking at myself and my problems more objectively. The hardship of being in "marital limbo" started falling by the wayside...though the rollercoater emotions remained but over time have lessened in intensity. She began helping me to sort my feelings out and identify areas to work on relieving stress without expressing with me how to move on my life problems. Patience started kicking in on my end, and slowly my focus began shifting. With the help of my therapist I was learning how to break down that mountain into something more manageable so my focus wasn't on my world crumbling around me but rather with getting me rebuilding myself.

I have to say, besides learning patience I've learned to become a better listener. Instead of offering advice, I ask questions, try to be a soundboard, and offer what I hope come across as mere suggestions instead of reacting to the perceived call for help.
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD replied to gd9900's response:
Not only does it sound like you intellectually understand; it sounds like you really "get it" from having gone through a lot of work and growth in your own life. I'm so glad you shared this and hope that you feel you are continuing to grow and benefit from this process. Thanks for sharing!


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