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When you are giving advice to someone that is dealing with a tough time; whether it’s the loss of a job, or a relationship breakup, or they’re just trying to figure out how to make it in the world, there are just some things that should not be said. All “counselors” are not created equal, and there are occasions where if you do seek advice from the wrong individuals, you may end up feeling worse than you did before. Giving advice is an art form, and it should be done with care and love. The point of advice-giving is that it benefits the receiver, not the other way around.
To be honest, there are some individuals that really come from a sincere place in their minds, but they don’t realize that they are doing more damage to you than you deserve. I’ve found in counseling various individuals that a good listening ear will really help turn things around. Of course, this is not a sure method in every case, but in most cases, if you allow someone to talk, they will literally talk themselves into the answer that they are looking for. Here are a couple of things that you should never, ever say to anyone that turns to you for advice-unless you want to be on the cover of their bestseller book about the people that hurt them:
1. I told you so
This idea is the most common statement given by some folks who feel that they “are coming from a sincere place.” Truthfully, it doesn’t matter where you are coming from when you make this statement, it simply does not work, period. We all have made mistakes, and will continue to do so. Anytime you take the “risk” of living your life, you are bound to make a mistake. Babies stumble and fall until they learn to walk upright, and our lives are filled with various learning curves that are specifically crafted for the level of awareness that we operate from.
2. It was God’s Will
This is also a really bad statement in terms of trying to “help” someone get back on track. Firstly, whenever this is said, it throws someone or “something” if you prefer, under the bus. And since the talking-sentient beings on this planet are humans, God can’t go to court and defend itself. Also, as a priest, I would suggest that none of us, not even the most “Godly” can say that we know what “God’s” will is. Of course, I mean that very loosely because everyone has various ideas about who or what “God” is. To me, I see “God” as the source of life that transcends every boundary, whether it’s religious, economic, gender, race, or socio-demographics. To me, God is life itself, which breathes in and through everyone’s lungs equally, even through animals. And this belief shapes my experiences, attitudes and behavior in the world around me. All of us have that “God” spark, and if we treated everyone as if they did have that, maybe we could all get along better.
3.Don’t worry about it
This one is equally terrible because that’s like trying to tell someone not to think about a pink elephant; as soon as you tell them not to think about the elephant, automatically they begin thinking about it.
Now if you really want to be a good spiritual advisor, counselor, or just a good friend, you can say things like:
- I know you might be going through a tough time and I just want you to know that I’ll be right here with you
- Would you like to hear about what happened to me and how I worked around it?
- Let’s go somewhere and change the environment, clear our heads and see if we can approach this differently
Of course, these are just sample things that you can say, and they will vary on a case by case basis. There are many people that are just as comfortable holding on to their sad story as those who are willing to move past it. If you are encountering something difficult, don’t let pride stop you from just saying, “I don’t know”, and at that point, direct the individual to someone that’s more suited to help. It doesn’t matter if that is another relative, someone who has experience in that area, or a professional. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and you do not want to make someone’s problem any worse.
Rev. Jesse Herriott is a priest; writer and adjunct professor in Atlanta, GA. Jesse is completing a PhD in Psychology from NorthCentral University, and he writes about Religion, Relationships & Spirituality. In addition, he hosts a weekly radio broadcast airing every Tuesday at 9am Central on Unity Online Radio entitled, “Living on Purpose.” Learn more at www.jesseherriott.com
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