It’s easy to feel warm and fluffy when we talk to people about our problems, but does it sometimes require some discernment about who we talk to? I reckon there are four types of advice …
1) Sympathetic Ear
Sometimes we just want a sympathetic ear; fair enough it can be therapeutic to offload and not keep it all inside. That means we will pick someone who will either agree with us and think that the other people involved in our problem are ‘bad’, or maybe if we are lucky they will just listen and let us offload. Which do you prefer? I think that some of us prefer it when our friends see us as the ‘good guy’ and want to protect us from anyone who isn’t being ‘nice’ to us. But I suspect that it’s more helpful if our friends don’t offer an opinion, but just let us offload in a kind, safe and unjudgmental space. I suppose this is why some people need to go to a counsellor who is trained in helping people to offload and dig into their emotions, but I’m lucky to have some very wise friends who are willing to be a sounding board (for a little while at least until they kick my butt).
2) Similar Experience
Then there is the opportunity to talk to people who have some kind of similar experience because they are either going through it or have been through it. But again it can go one of two ways. It can be great to brainstorm with someone experiencing the same issues and share learnings, plus talking to someone who has come out the other side can give valuable perspective. But what about their biases, and that they might naturally focus on one perspective? I’ve heard how useful weight loss groups can be to keep people motivated, but I’ve also seen how groups of women can get together and complain about their lack of weight loss and that is what keeps them together; complaining, not acting. At the moment I’ve been heavily relying on a couple of friends recently with similar experiences, but luckily none of them are bitter enough for it to turn into a bitch fest.
3) Pragmatic Approach
After a while, many of us move onto wanting a more pragmatic approach with the devils advocate. This can be uncomfortable, but is it maybe the most honest approach? Does it help us to see that there are two sides to the story? It can do, but I’ve experienced how people can jump to conclusions about what the other side is and get it terribly wrong. This is more like my background in the Demartini Method, where we look to help people gain a balanced perspective on their lives, so again I’m lucky to have friends in my life who do this as a job. But all you are really looking for is people who can say things like ‘Do you think that is totally true?’ or ‘Could it be worse?’ or ‘What do you think they are thinking?’ or ‘Do you think it’s possible that it wouldn’t work for you as much as you think if it was different?’.
4) Problem Fixer
Then you get the problem fixer, who once you’ve offloaded, brainstormed, and gained perspective, will want to help you come up with an action plan to address it. Great, progress at last you might feel! But can they keep their own opinions and biases out of the way long enough to find an action plan that works for you? Plus it can be infuriating if we have to jump straight to problem solving without the other steps (lots of us probably find our men do this). Life Coaches tend to be really good at making plans of action for the future, and I tend to add this part in at the end of a session (but only once the pain and hurt are resolved and we can see the situation more clearly).
At the end of the day ….
I’m a big fan of talking to friends/family/professionals and getting problems in our lives resolved. But there is always a downside to everything. Sometimes it’s the cost, the amount of time it takes, or that we feel vulnerable when we share. But even worse can be having a lack of discernment when we talk to people. I’m not suggesting that our friends should be expected to do all 4 roles for us, but it’s important to be aware of which role they are playing and what they are capable of playing with their experience, wisdom, intuition and knowledge. Everyone has their limitations, plus some will have agendas which we might be ignoring; no one is ever as innocent as they seem!
Eventually it will be time to move onto the next stage and not keep using an older role in the process. That sounds harsh doesn’t it, ‘use your friend and move on’. I don’t quite mean it in that way. What I mean is, keep the friend, but if you are over the problem or past the way that they can help, then make sure you don’t keep dragging yourself backwards. But then that’s my bias isn’t it; to eventually resolve it and not keep feeling sorry for myself, even if it sometimes takes me longer than expected?