Bad advice is like the smoke you can’t contain. It’s everywhere.
Almost every day, you can find someone dishing out terrible advice to others. (If you can’t find this ‘someone’, chances are it is you!)
Anyway, the point is we don’t need terrible advice. Especially, those of us who battle with mental health issues every day. Most people fail to fathom what we go through, neither in complexity nor in intensity. Still, they try to sweep away our problems with overly simplistic and vague advice like, “be positive”, “be yourself”, “smile more”, “just relax“ or “fake it till you make it”.
Had it been that easy, wouldn’t we be already like them? Only if they could understand that. The mere thought of not being able to relax in a stressed-out situation flusters us even more.
Here’s the rub: We can’t do anything about these people.
A theory in psychology, Hot-Cold empathy gap, suggests how people in a positive state empathise better with others in a similar state. The gap of empathy becomes visible when one person is in a positive state, and other is in a negative state. These two people will find it hard to fully empathise with each other, especially if none of them has had similar first-hand experiences. Therefore, they will most likely give advice that is misguided and unhelpful.
No one likes to be misunderstood. However, to become emotionally mature and intelligent, we must be able to listen to the bad advice without letting it get under our skin. So, here’s what you can do:
1. Accept that they are coming from a place of concern.
While most people give out bad advice, they don’t do that on purpose. They are genuinely trying to help us feel better. So, it would bring us more good if we focus on their positive intentions rather than the contents of their advice. It’s not their fault that they never had to go through a similar experience.
2. Ask for specific, actionable solutions.
Just like there’s an art of giving advice, there’s an art of asking (read: extracting) advice. Here’s a teaser: When someone vaguely asks you to be positive, ask them for specifics, “What do you think I should do to be positive?”
For sure, this will push them back a bit because no one ever asks that. However, it will also make them realise that they need to up their game and be more explicit in their suggestions. Out of concern, they’ll try again with a bit of more relevant advice. Maybe they’ll share a few things from their past which gives you some direction. Help them help you.
3. Pull back from the situation and breathe.
It’s easy to snap at the other person and tell them to keep whatever terrible advice they have to themselves. However, understand that it’s your bad mood and their inability to understand the complexity of your emotions. So, pull back from the scene. Add a little space between your instant reaction and your thoughtful response.
Take a deep breath. Think. Then, respond with the maximum empathy you can conjure at the moment.
4. Seek helpful advice from the right places.
As you know, due to the hot-cold empathy gap, most people might not be able to help you. But your problem is not out-worldly. There are many people out there who have been in your place and have come out of it better. Seek them out. They will understand your struggle and confusion and will be the ones with the right advice.
Thanks to the internet, it is easier to reach out to such people. If nothing works, Team LSC is here for you.
5. Let go of your ego and be receptive.
Let’s say, none of what they suggest helps you. Could it be because you are not receptive enough? Have you ever thought that you might be blocking the sunshine?
It’s not uncommon to be blinded by our ego and pride, even for those with mental health issues. It’s easy to jump to conclusions deem all advice as unfit. Somewhere, we want to be the right one, the one and only one who knows what’s right for us. And that stops us from growing. That’s why being open and receptive helps shed light in our blind spots. We are in the whirlwind, but others can see the bigger picture, and so, their perspective can help.
6. Thank them for trying.
Since you are sharing your woes with this person and they are also offering back their thoughts (regardless of how terrible they may sound), means that this relationship holds value to you both. Then, why spoil that with a mean remark? Just be polite and patient and thank them for listening.
Just say, “I appreciate your concern,” (Yes, stop right there. Don’t add, “it’s not helping, f*** off!”) and return to ignoring their advice. Your future self will appreciate you for appreciating them.
Over to you
No one has been able to escape lousy advice. It’s just everywhere. And it feels awful to be on the receiving end of it when all you are looking for is someone to hear you and work with you towards a real, helpful solution. Nonetheless, all you can do is find healthy ways to respond to it without severing your relationship with that person. And, not let that bad advice get under your skin.