Can I Interest You in Some Unwanted Advice?
Unwelcome advice from family is a tale as old as time. Everyone seems to have an opinion on your career, relationships, parenting, and lifestyle choices.
During the holidays, you may be anticipating extra time with relatives, and naturally, they will want a rundown on your life. As a single parent, relatives may feel extra inclined to offer even more advice because they see you are doing parenting and life alone. Therefore, you must need their opinions and ideas. They’re only “helping you.”
While it may be polite to smile and nod while your Aunt tells you how to properly make a holiday dish you’ve been making (quite well) for five years, the more significant concern should be on the lack of boundaries.
Healthy or Toxic?
We all need people to speak wisdom and truth into our lives. Healthy input and involvement should be welcomed and embraced, especially when coming from a trusted friend or relative.
But what do you do when the advice (or the advice-giver) is toxic? (Raise your hand if you’ve been there!)
If advice has crossed the line into verbal abuse, belittling, intimidation, or manipulation, keep communication minimal. You may need to decide if you even want or need that relationship.
Sometimes, well-meaning advice is neither helpful nor toxic. For the more common “overly helpful” culprit, there are things to consider that may make boundary conversations a bit less cringy. You can keep your relationships intact while not undermining your self-respect.
4 Thoughts on Creating Healthy Boundaries
#1: Don’t Take It Personally
The first thing may be to uncover why others decide to give you unsolicited advice. When we understand the intentions and reasoning behind others’ behaviors, it can soften our annoyance level.
Here are some possible reasons someone may give unsolicited advice:
- They are well-meaning (likely)
- They want to see you crash & burn (less likely)
- They find emotional validation in helping others
- They may have trouble self-regulating
- They seek outside validation of their ideas from others
There is possibly a background here as to why this person feels the need to insert themselves in your decisions. Still, no matter their reasoning, boundaries need to be set as soon as possible to avoid enabling the advice-giver into bestowing even more advice over a more extended time. Let’s nip this one in the bud.
#2: Assertive Communication Is Your New Best Friend
Some of us are naturally born with the ability to stand up for ourselves, while others learn how to be bold along our journey. Still, others of us prefer the peacekeeper role at all costs.
Wherever you land, healthy boundaries are non-negotiable.
You can be kind in your interactions without being a doormat. Whether you set a time to have an intentional conversation about your boundary or get fed-up at the Thanksgiving table and spontaneously make the request, you want to take a deep breath and remember to have a lot of grace. Be assertive but not aggressive.
So what does being assertive look like when you’re having that conversation about boundaries?
- Pray before the conversation, if possible.
- Start the conversation on a positive tone
- Stay firm in what you know is right for your family
- Stay calm
- If the advice-giver become angry, don’t match their emotion
- Remember, you do not have to explain your life choices
- Find your best way to put your foot down, kindly
Have you ever had someone give you a compliment sandwich? That’s two kind comments with the “hard truth” packed in the middle. That just might be the right recipe for your boundary conversation.
Compliment Sandwich Example:
“You’re so thoughtful, and I know you’re concerned about my family.” – Bread.
“I’ve already made a choice that’s best for the kids and me.” – Meat.
“Thank you for caring. I appreciate you.” – Bread.
Try it! It may work better than you think.
#3: Seek and Praise
Let’s say that the advice this person is giving you may have actual helpful parts to it. Sure, your cousin asks you every holiday why you’re not married yet. He’s going on-and-on, having a mile-long conversation with you about something that is none of his business. Inside that conversation, there is a grain of helpful truth. There’s a way to set your boundary with what is called “Seek and Praise.”
What does it look like to Seek and Praise in a conversation?
- Hear the whole conversation as a whole
- Listen to things you agree with and comment on those things
- Resist the temptation to jump in with a “but” as it leads to pushing harder
- Let them know they’re heard by complimenting and focusing on what you find helpful
#4 The Slippery Slope of Apathetic Agreement
Sometimes family members (many of whom you haven’t seen in forever) can be kind of nosy and say things like:
- Don’t forget to lock your doors at night
- You should be looking for a better job
- A puppy is a lot of work
- You should really put down that extra cookie
- You would look so much better with short hair
- I would choose a bigger car
- Just give him another chance; it wasn’t that bad
Be careful not to become so passive about your boundaries that you let others make critical decisions for you. Someone who appears unassuming with good intentions shouldn’t just get a free pass on ignoring your boundaries.
When you start to loosen your boundaries, it’s a slippery slope. Unhappily taking Uncle Bob’s advice just to keep the peace turns into agreeing to unhealthy compromises simply to appease a toxic partner. Standing up to Uncle Bob helps you practice standing up in significant ways later. Don’t buy an expensive car because your brother says you deserve it and definitely don’t cut your hair because your sister prefers it short. Where does it end?
What you allow is what will continue.
God made us all individuals with unique, particular callings on our life. What works for one may not work for the other. God has called you to kindness, but being gracious and empathetic doesn’t mean you can’t also:
- Stand up for yourself
- Disagree if you’re not comfortable
- Speak in firmness, grace, and love
Next time you feel overwhelmed with all of the critical questions and comments from those around you, remember who made you. God’s is the only approval you need. Only one opinion of your life matters, and it’s God’s because He is the One who made you.
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