All This Time, I Was Helping The Wrong Way

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

[su_quote]Why don’t you just try it[/su_quote]

I lamented, throwing up my arms in frustration. I was trying to convince someone who I love very much to try a new hobby. She’s been lonely for a while but was resistant to the idea of making new friends.

Every suggestion I gave her, she shot down:

“But no one talks to me at parties.”
“I don’t like doing any of those things.”
“I’m just not a very social person.”


Was what I wanted to shout from the top of Everest. We ended in silent frustration. She went to her room, I stayed in the living room with a shitty variety show blaring in the background.

Why do I feel so shitty after trying to help you? Something in me felt terrible. I felt like I made her feel worse than before her asking me for advice.

So I went to her room, pausing sheepishly at the door. She was watching TV the way that someone watches TV to distract them from something they can’t forget.

At probably twice her size, I curled up in her arms like I did when I was 5. I turned to her, while she stared at the ceiling.

“I just want you to be happy.”

The tears came out, and so did the words:

“You have to understand I’m not like you. I want the feeling of security with someone before I venture out and attempt socializing, something I never felt confident with anyway…”

The catharsis lasted for a half hour, and I didn’t say a damn word. All that listening and not saying a word helped a hundred-fold than the tactics I was giving. And I think I understood her a lot more after that session. What this taught me, is something I know I need to work on. You see, I’ve been helping the wrong way all along.


People aren’t exactly looking for advice. They’re looking to be heard and listened to. Just as we get the irresistible urge to call up our friends about the hot date we just had, we have the same urge to tell our friends details of our breakup. WE JUST WANT SOMEONE TO LISTEN TO US.

I think this hearkens back to the primordial sense that who we are matters more than what we do. In fact, the former drives the latter. By BEING there for someone and SHOWING THEM we support and understand them is more than TELLING them what to do. This is obvious – I believe – for most women but it’s escaped me for the better part of two decades.

Yet, there is a place for advice. But I’ve learning to give a totally different type of advice. It takes the form of listening to our loved ones, helping them become self-aware and challenging their assumptions

[su_quote]I’M GOING TO HELP YOU HELP YOURSELF[/su_quote]

90% of helping someone is just to listen to them and walk through their problems. There’s a reason why therapists rely on these magic, boring questions:

Why do you feel that way?
Why is it that you’re thinking that?
I noticed that you are mentioning ____ a lot. How come?
Is there anything you want to try?

People are stubborn, myself included. We come around slowly. But even more so, we want to be our own saviors, and feel like we figured out ourselves. Change from the inside-out is the most powerful and long lasting.

Now when I try to help someone, I seek to challenge their thinking and make them more self aware, instead of prescribing advice (which I will do last if the person listening is really asking for specific, tactical advice).

The old way is too appealing because we all want to feel like the expert…the ego feels good when we’re dropping some sage advice. You should do this and that. Why don’t you try this, it’s the better way. That makes US feel good, but that’s not what helping OTHERS is about.

We all love to give advice. I know I do (this blog, lol). But I’m striving to listen – REALLY listen, and show that I’m there for my friends and family. Love ya Mom.


5 thoughts on “All This Time, I Was Helping The Wrong Way”

  1. Absolutely!!! Great post. It has taken me a lot of married years to understand this. I still fail from time to time, but I am aware of it and always try to adjust.

    There is a saying, “you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, you need to listen twice as much as you talk.”

  2. I think this is really good advice. I always want to share all I know to try to help people, but you’re right that unsolicited advice isn’t always needed, and it is just as important, or even more important to list.

    1. Thanks IFC…I think this is especially tricky when it comes to close friends and family, whereas giving advice and trading tips is often how professional relationships blossom.

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