The Trouble with Advice
I once dated someone who offered a lot of advice. It was great for where I was in life. I was navigating a lot of unknowns. I was also fresh out of a relationship in which I had to take control of everything. In some ways, it was nice to be given answers whenever I needed them. I was also still deep in my healing journey, trying to find my way out of depression and anxiety (you can see my essay I Used to Think I Was Broken). In that state, I appreciated clear, concrete advice.
But here’s the trouble with advice: it comes from someone else’s lived experiences, skills, and intuition.
Even the best advice may not be suitable for someone who does not have the skills to employ it.
At the time, I was working with a fitness trainer to improve my muscle strength. The trainer was roughly my age and would make flirtatious comments at times. I primarily brushed them off. I didn’t have the skills or self-confidence at the time to tell him directly that I was uncomfortable and would prefer that he focus on being my trainer.
His behavior escalated to unnecessary touching, such as touching the small of my back during specific exercises. I tried to reason it away like he was being supportive, but when I brought it up to my boyfriend he asked, “Would he do that to a male client?” Absolutely not.
My boyfriend had clear, concrete advice about how I should discuss this matter with my fitness trainer. It would have been great … if I could have followed it.
The trouble was, my boyfriend didn’t have my lived experiences. He didn’t have traumatic past experiences with males. He didn’t know what it’s like to face the unknown of how men might react when you bruise their egos. He also didn’t understand how I froze up in moments of confrontation and had difficulty articulating myself.
My boyfriend was disappointed that I didn’t follow his advice.
This became a pattern in our relationship. He had excellent ideas and advice, but I couldn’t implement them due to where I was at.
This is where advice can go awry. The person giving the advice may not be sufficiently cognizant of where the receiver is at in their own psychological life.
What I really needed was to keep going to therapy to dismantle the trauma and address my behavior of people pleasing to maintain my safety.
Another deleterious side effect of advice is that it keeps us from tapping into our own intuition.
Yes, advice can be helpful when we seek it out for specific situations. However, if we are constantly seeking advice (“What do you think I should do?”) or are around someone who constantly offers unsolicited advice (“You should do this…”), it robs us of opportunities for self-connection and self-growth.
My boyfriend at the time wanted to help me. However, he was slowly scraping away at my personal sovereignty by offering unsolicited advice. Even in moments when I thought I handled something well, he would have something to add. He’d make comments like, “It could have gone better if you had…”
These kinds of moments displaced my autonomy and eroded my process of self-growth.
I eventually ended the relationship because it felt like a slow death by 1000 cuts.
My self-growth and life blossomed when I no longer had a hovering person telling me what to say and how to act. I had to discern for myself what was best to do.
There were many times I missed having a clear, concrete direction. However, that is natural for humans. Especially now that I know I’m autistic, I see how I was drawn to someone who consistently provided a plan and clear instructions.
However, it was not what my soul needed. My soul needed a chance to make its own choices - to make missteps and through those missteps find new strategies.
I don’t think I ever would have learned I was autistic if I stayed in that relationship. I followed my gut enough to figure out something else was going on with me.
I am deeply grateful that I was single as I recalibrated my life as an autistic. It meant I dug into knowing myself. That’s what many of these essays are. I openly acknowledge when I don’t have answers, when I make mistakes, and how I keep moving forward toward a more grounded, enjoyable life.
I never dreamt my life could feel as good as it does now. It took my own intuition to get there - not the advice of someone else.
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