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an article on advice
January 19, 2007
12:38 am
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September 29, 2010
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A major disadvantage of growing up as a last-born is always having some one talking down to you.

People, and not just those who are older, love to give advice. You share a story about some dilemma to three of your friends, and all of them tell you what to do.

Their advice is often contradictory and yet they expect you to follow it, and are disappointed when you do not.

Though life coach Elizabeth Scott says that college students, new mothers, and people in humanitarian service are most prone to getting unsolicited advice, we are all victims.

There is bound to arise a host of self-made counsellors.

"We don’t know any better than to advise," says Dr Catherine Gachutha, Vice Chair of Counsellors’ Association. Our culture orients us to equate caring with advice giving. This is especially true in relationships where authority is imbalanced, such as those between a parent and a child. We grow up being told what to do and when, as teenagers, we try to be our own persons, we are severely reprimanded.

This contrasts the culture in the UK, where Gachutha has also lived. Here, people are much more respectful of autonomy.

Demerits of advising outnumber its advantages

Many offer advice with the best intentions. These altruistic people want to offer solutions that they know will be useful and make life easier for others.

Others give advice as a tool for forging a connection and bonding with you. There are also people who get so excited when something works for them that they share information freely, whether it was asked for or not.

"The advice we get from these people generally feels good," says Scott, "perhaps because we sense their goodwill and respond in kind."

But Gachutha is quick to point out the demerits of advising, which far outnumber its advantages.

"Advising others may be the only way we know how to care. But it is not innocent," she says.

Forming a habit of dictating to your family, friends, or even workmates causes them to form a sense of dependence on you.

Unsolicited advice robs people of their self-worth

When decisions that should come from an individual are made by someone else, the decider takes the role of controller.

Victims become reliant on counsel and, thus, weaken their own ability to make choices.

Unsolicited advice also robs people of their own sense of self-worth, identity, and purpose.

"People feel good when they make their own decisions," she states. In fact, Gachutha says that most depressed people are those whose independence to decide was taken from them.

"Depressed people are usually the ones who were never given the opportunity to think for themselves and resolve their own issues. There was always someone to do this for them."

Inherent right to create personal vision and mission

As far as purpose goes, unsolicited advice causes the recipient to live out the giver’s script, yet it is an inherent right to create our own personal vision and mission.

That’s all very well, you say. After all, you don’t dictate to your loved ones. You merely offer suggestions of how they should handle things, and it is up to them to accept your opinions or not.

Well, your ‘suggestions’ cause people to feel that what they are doing is not enough. Psychologist Nancy Buck, founder of the coaching programme ‘Peaceful Parenting’, offers these examples.

"When your mother suggests that you hug your child more, you wonder if you are unloving. When your daughter’s teacher suggests that you spend more time helping her with her homework, you begin to wonder if you are less involved than you should be."

Unwittingly giving advice

A common way we unwittingly give advice is telling our loved ones how they should feel, especially when they are distressed.

We tell them not to cry, feel sad, or be worried. Spiritual life counsellor Iyanla Vanzant writes, from her own experience, "There’s nothing more frustrating than people telling you what you should not feel when you are already feeling it! You’re already in the midst of feeling it! Just hearing what you should not do will either push you deeper into the feeling or will make you feel guilty or ashamed."

So, you see, it actually doesn’t help to advise if you weren’t asked to. You may have already learned something from experience, but you have to let people experience life themselves. Gachutha actually calls such advising "disabling people’s will to think, feel, decide, want, and love."

Compulsive advisers

She has learned that the compulsion to offer directives actually stems from our own fears and needs. Compulsive advisers are people who need to feel needed, approved of, and powerful.

Compulsive advisers are, therefore, essentially selfish. "They speak out of their own limitations, flawed thoughts, and inadequacies," she explains.

Gachutha adds that it is faulty when we feel that people must be advised in order to live responsibly.

Scott adds that some people feign concern to show the world that they are superior. Others are too impatient to listen, opting instead to solve problems rather than ‘be there’.

Some advisers are merely judgemental

Still other advisers are merely judgemental, giving advice in order to change people. And there are those strange people who crave drama, and will go to any lengths to cause an argument.

These people give advice in torrents, sometimes contradicting themselves, because they are looking to say something that will spark a conflict.

Scott says that you will usually have an uncomfortable feeling when the people mentioned here start to counsel you.

This is your cue to diffuse their advice, and maybe even dismiss these persons. But don’t mistakenly assume that it is always wrong to direct people.

Crisis intervention

Advice has its place. Certainly, there are some mistakes people make simply because the information they have is distorted.

But Gachutha cautions that these facts should be presented as information, and not as must-dos.

And there are those anxiety-laden crises in which we need to take charge. In the case of rape, for instance, where victims are obviously overwhelmed by pain and distress, they need to be handled as we would dependent children.

Not only should we tell them what to do, we should help them do it and take them where they need to go for help.

This, in professional terms, is known as crisis intervention. It is the one and only time a professional caregiver is allowed to advise.

Helping people to explore their own thoughts

Yet Gachutha notes that mental health practitioners offer advice on a regular basis.

And we, the clients, erroneously think that therapists are there to tell us what to do.

In truth, therapy is helping people to explore their own thoughts, emotions, and actions so that they can understand themselves more, find their own strength, and use this strength to cope with their situations.

In short, counselling is helping people at different stages of life to cope with their humanness.

Say the counsellors at the University of Minnesota, "a counsellor will not try to "fix" your problems or make you do anything.

Instead, we ask questions and make observations that may help you get new perspectives on your concerns, and new ideas on how to solve them."

Malpractice by practitioners

It is actually malpractice when a practitioner tells you what to do, and you’re at liberty to file a lawsuit if the advice causes harm.

One of the duties of the Counsellors’ Association (CA) is to assist counsellors to be effective in their work. An integral part of their services is to caution against such malpractice and to make sure that counsellors have overseers, no matter how educated or experienced they are.

A victim of advice from a counsellor should terminate therapy immediately. Gachutha warns against seeing therapists who aren’t certified as they all need the services of a regulatory board that ensures they stay within the accepted code of conduct.

Standing up for ourselves

And the best thing for all of us to do is to stand up for ourselves. When we give others the right to decide for us what to do, it will become a difficult habit to break in the future.

Learn to say this: "I didn’t ask for advice. I understand you are only trying to help, but the best way to help me is to let me experience my life, my way. I owe it to myself to follow my heart, regardless of the rightness of my decision. I don’t mean to be unkind, but, really, I don’t need advice."

January 22, 2007
1:56 am
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September 24, 2010
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I appreciate ya postin this. It has really made me do some thinkin on how I handle bein a part of this site. I just hope that I have not over stepped my boundaries here to anyone at anytime. I needed to be spoken to on this subject and I just wanted to thank ya for posting it. I truly appreciate the food for thought.....

January 24, 2007
8:26 am
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September 29, 2010
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thanx friendma
I read your advice though an dI think they are very helpful

January 24, 2007
9:02 am
LA Rosa
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Yes, it's much appreciated by me too wannabe. I found it to be very enlightening and helpful and have every intension of reading it again. Thank you, wannabe.

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