Just a little advice
Your friend says to you “I just don’t know what to do, my mind is whirring and there are so many things going on in my life right now. It’s just so much and it’s getting me down and I feel so stressed”
How do you respond? What’s your instinct? To help them think of ways to change their situation or figure out the things they’re going through? To offer some perspective on their worries? Or just to say not much at all?
The various responses you may have come up with will vary from person to person and of course from relationship to relationship are probably all equal parts wrong and right, like most things in social life. But one thing we know as mental health practitioners is that it’s often not very helpful to give advice to a stressed person.
We understand that the instinct is there to look after your friends, to try and improve their situation, maybe to encourage them to do the thing you think is best for them or their career or their family, to make them feel better. But there’s a weird inverse thing going on that anyone who seeks to help a person should be aware of:
The things you might not realise you’re doing when you’re giving a person advice:
1. Giving them another set of expectations to worry about
Your friend likes you, you like your friend, as a general rule, when we like people at least a little part of us probably wants them to like us back. Because most of us are not so good at managing emotional boundaries with the people we like or love (blog on this to follow!), your advice may well be contributing another layer of stress onto the person you’re trying to help. If you make them aware of what you think they should do, you probably just became the latest person they feel that they should please. Then the question for them isn’t just what should I do, it becomes am I going to do what X thinks I should? And therefore how is X going to feel if I do/don’t do what they do?