Have you shared details of your life with someone in order to practice being more open and vulnerable with trusted others? Perhaps you decided to share something you have been struggling with and thought it would be nice to let someone you care about more emotionally into your life. Yet, after doing so you found yourself feeling confused, embarrassed, and/or flustered. If so, perhaps you were on the receiving end of unsolicited advice.
Maybe the person responded by saying something that sounds or looks like, “Oh, I totally understand, you should look into this!” or “I have just the right solution for you, no need to keep struggling as it’s a simple fix to the problem you’re facing… all you need to do is….” Or better yet, maybe they inserted a humblebrag and told you that they “accomplished something major by following some particular guidelines and that if you have the discipline and dedication you could follow those guidelines too.”
Do you become frustrated, self-denigrating, begin to feel not-good-enough, and full of shame or embarrassment and more likely to shutdown and not say anything else when this happens? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are not alone.
I often hear from others that when they try to break old habits of shutting down and self-silencing, and make an effort to begin opening up and taking risks by sharing more intimate details of their life (including struggles and issues) with others they begin to notice they feel minimized, stigmatized, demoralized, or any other negative type of feeling. However, it’s not all bad. This is a to-be-expected outcome when sharing struggles with others.
There could be many reasons for someone to give unsolicited advice but the main one that I often notice is that this is how people are socialized in the western cultural environment. We are used to the narrative that it is not normal to talk about problems unless we also talk about the solutions to those problems. There seems to be a culturally/socially based discrimination against expressing vulnerability for the sake of connection and common humanity and that it is weak to talk about issues, failures, mistakes, upsets, and general negative-type feelings.
I am here to tell you that it is strong to be vulnerable, to take an emotional risk and share your experience with someone. It’s strong because it is the harder thing to do – isn’t that a major defining feature of being strong, being able to do something that others are unable to or struggle with? It is strong and empowering to go against the grain of the social makeup of the society you live in. Taking a risk to enlarge your own sense of self, to reach out and establish deeper connections with others by setting the precedence that you are able to take the first step … those actions sound pretty magnificent and awe-inspiring. These facets signal strength, courage, and confidence due to the fact that it is doing something different which inherently is scary and risky.
If you find yourself in a situation where you would like to risk speaking out more about your own concerns or vulnerabilities, please do it for yourself, and no one else, and be sure to reflect on the history of interactions with who you are going to open up with to be as sure as possible that you won’t be harmed by opening up.
All that being said, if you think it’s important for you to do, then perhaps follow the guidelines below (I hear the irony of this blog as I type it – however, if you are reading this blog I trust that there is a part of you that is seeking this information and therefore it is not unsolicited).
The Five W’s can be an important thing to remember when you’re about to disclose/share details of your life when you may be at risk of receiving unsolicited advice.
For someone to truly be able to give you helpful advice (if you are looking for advice) they should be able to know and understand what the Five W’s are to your issue. Otherwise there is a high chance that the advice being given is something you have already thought of, considered, or tried. To note, even if the person knows the Five W’s this is not a guarantee that their advice will be any more helpful. However, it perhaps can tell you one of a few things. If they have all this information about your issue, and their advice isn’t helpful, then you know that it may not make sense to go to them with a similar issue again (if you’re looking for advice that is). Also, if you provide this information and state that you have tried/done everything they are suggesting but they continue to assert that there is more for you to do (they are insinuating that you need to try harder or they are not able to sit with you in your vulnerable feelings, etc.) then perhaps this is not someone who you should share your concerns with. If you don’t want advice at all, perhaps it would be important to state the following before stating your issue:
“I want to tell you something I have been struggling with. However, I want you to know that I am not looking for advice or any particular feedback. This is something that I don’t share very much and just want to let you know because I trust/care about you and think it is important for our relationship for us to be able to share these types of issues with each other without judgement or an expectation for solving the issue. Are you able to hear me out and just be a caring ear today?…”
The Five W’s are as follows:
- What? – What is the most concerning thing about this issue for you? What have you tried so far? What kind of solution/advice/support are you looking for?
- When? – When did this become an issue? Is there a time it became worse or better? When did you start to struggle and look for solutions elsewhere?
- Who? – Who is this issue with? Is it a personal issue that only you can provide the answer to? Or does it involve someone else and if so how are they a part of it? Who shares more of the responsibility with this issue? Who would realistically be able to support you with this issue?
- Why? – Why is this an issue? Why is it an issue now? Was it always an issue? Why is it important to bring up to this person as you seek guidance/support?
- Where? – Where in your life (which facet) does this issue impact you the most? Where would you be if you didn’t have this issue (think literally, metaphorically, for instance, would you have a different job or live somewhere else?)
The above prompts/questions can act as guidelines to provoke self-reflection to understand your own process of how you struggle with the current issues in your life and how someone else could help you, if at all, whether it be through advice/instrumental support (money, time, chores, etc.), or through providing an active listening and compassionate presence.
If you resonate with any of the above and desire to gain more self-understanding and acceptance, as well as perhaps learn to take relational risks and open up more with others, you can contact me for a free consultation here.
May you find the courage to see and accept yourself as you are and share yourself with those around you!