Advice on Advice

A young subscriber submitted the following at the Ask Peter page’ out of concern for a friend still living at home. Perhaps you’ve had a boss like this?

MM wrote:

One of my friends is having difficulties with her parents. They don’t take her seriously and she’s kind of forced to live in the shadow of her siblings (who have grown up and moved out) — as in, she isn’t allowed to do anything that they didn’t do. This is exacted to the point of ridiculousity – her sister wasn’t allowed to dye her hair till grade 11, same for her.

Do you have any advice I can give her on how to handle this? Like how to get them to take her seriously, and to realize that parenting is not one-size-fits-all? What can I do to help? The big thing I guess is she and her mom need to learn to get along, but her mom isn’t really inclined to bother trying to be nice. I’ve given her some advice already (including thinking about what needs of her mom aren’t being met)… but I figured you’d have some more wisdom to add.

My Advice on Advice

Giving advice is tricky as most people unconscious project what they need to do in their own life into the situations of others and that may or may not be useful. And with some professionals relationships can be downright harmful i.e. A counselor/psychologist with unpacked personal baggage. You have to be very aware of your own dirty laundry and make sure you don’t ask some one else, vicariously, to do your laundry. Most people want to change in others what they have not come to love in themselves.

Better role for a friend is listening unconditionally and non-judgmentally, to help her feel less alone and open an honest exploration through open-ended questioning (What would it look like if…? ) to help her tap her own imagination and empower her own creativity and ownership of choices and consequences.

Having said that there are universal laws that can apply in any situation

Three Traps to Avoid:

Collusions: Initially it may feel good to have someone on your side but it’s a short distance before the “us vs them” wall gets built and you need even more food (evidence of wrongdoing) to justify why the guests need to keep attending the pity party. This is a most disempowering party on earth where the light of hope and win / win solutions are very hard to discover. Do you really want to be that kind of friend? Remember you’re at the party as well.

Totalizing: The fastest way to put a person in a tidy box with language like, “They always…” or, “They never…” or “everytime…” or labels like they are an abuser or a liar. The truth is everyone makes choices and are never all this or all that. Everyone is both nasty and kind, we are all happy and sad, etc., somewhere in our life. Labeling people may justify their actions but it really only puts both people in a box. I worked with a client whose father was “an alcoholic.” After questioning it turned out that he actually got roaring drunk on Saturday nights playing pool at the legion and missed church the next day which was very important to the client. The father kept a job and food on the table but the alcoholic label trumped the provider label and the client grew up hating their dad until they made peace on his deathbed after believing the whole person called Father had done his best.

Blaming: Seeing the world upside down is the most disempowering viewpoint of all. If life experiences can be seen as 10% what happens and 90% how we think and act about it imagine how much more empowering that would be than the other way around. (90% has been done to us and only 10% is within our control)

Three Things That Can Help:

1. Gratitude: If you live in a box give thanks for the walls and benefits of containment rules, order etc. Instead of pushing back against the walls with resentment survey the greater good with gladness and when you step back you might see a window of opportunity. Like the fly banging against the screen only to miss the open window above. I’ll never forget the guy who manifested severe allergies to everything with reactions so bad he was isolated in his apartment. It wasn’t until he was desperate and nothing else worked and couldn’t leave the bedroom that he started his long journey back by thanking every object in his room. He continued to thank and confront his worthiness to be seen and eventually, rather than wearing a mask, he walks freely down a busy street. What you cannot be grateful for will run you.

2. Nothing’s Missing: You can’t destroy a drop of water you can only change its form from liquid to solid to vapor and back, that is nature’s law. Our attachment to form is a great source of suffering. Appreciate the form in which you’ve got it. Re: not taken seriously. Who or when in her life is she taken seriously? Rather bemoaning the illusion that energy is absent, in this case with a parent, find out where it does exist in life. I once coached lady whose mother “never supported her.” (note the totalizing) We did some quick work and rediscovered all the places and experiences where she felt 100% supported by others in all 7 areas of her life to lift the burden of expectation off her mom. She came back a week later and exclaimed that her mother had changed! Do I need to say the obvious.

3. Love Unconditionally: Expectations can be another name for conditional love and the quickest sabotage of intimacy between two people. It goes like this, “I will love you when you are nice.” Or “I will feel loved when you take me seriously.” Most people with a nose on their face can sniff out that kind controlling prospect and sensibly back away. Others attempt to please and jump through the ever changing hoops eventually turning resentment inwards and/or outwards and ironically feeding a cycle of faster hoop hopping. Unconditional love accepts that relationships are full of both challenge and support and loves the person with compassion for doing their best. Like it or not other people should not change to relieve your discomfort with challenge. In fact, it would actually be a very boring relationship if they did.

But hey, that’s just my advice.


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