We can’t be expected or expect ourselves to always know what’s best for us. That’s what family and friends are for, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes their input is useful and sometimes it’s just about the worst baloney that we can hear. The key is to figure out when it’s right on and when it’s way off base.
Here are three examples I heard recently of clients asking family or friends for help and getting advice. See what you think of what they were told.
Case #1: A client who’s been trying to become a “normal” eater, yet hasn’t lost the weight she’d like to asks her mother how she just lost 90 pounds. Her mother tends toward narcissism, is known for her all-or-nothing thinking, and has suffered from serious depression. Since she’s been on anti-depressants she takes much better care of herself and is easier to get along with. My client has a history of being caught up in the diet-binge cycle. Her mother recommends not eating any sugar.
Case #2: A client who had an alcoholic father and an emotionally abusive childhood has been married to two abusive men, the last of whom is a sociopath and she is in the midst of divorcing him. The client has had low self-esteem and a pattern of taking care of others better than herself, and is working hard to become empowered. She asks advice of her friend who also had a dysfunctional childhood, is going through a painful divorce, complains but doesn’t take suggestions given about her abusive husband, and is overbearing when giving advice when this client asks her for some.
Case #3: A client who’s recently had a break up with her live-in partner of several years is using therapy to learn about what happened and become emotionally healthier. The client was blind-sided by her partner leaving her and is grieving painfully. She feels she’s unlovable and may never find a man to love her long-term. She is doing well in therapy and letting go of her painful loss slowly, as would be expected, but also pushing herself not to isolate. Her neighbors keep telling her to “get over” her former boyfriend and not to listen to me advising her to grieve. My client is having difficulty knowing what’s “normal” after romantic abandonment.
What do you think of the responses these clients have received? Would you seek out the people they did for advice and support? In my mind, anyone who regularly exhibits all-or-nothing thinking would not give appropriate advice. Nor would someone who advises to not listen to a therapist (at least in most instances). Finally, I would be wary of anyone who complains a lot and doesn’t follow through, yet is pushy about giving advice.
If you are relying on these kinds of people to help you grow emotionally, it’s not going to happen. Yes, we benefit from leaning on and learning from others, but only from people who are mentally healthy themselves. Consider the folks you use for support and advice and make sure that they are wise, practice what they preach, and have your best interest at heart.