How To Tell If You Should Offer Advice To A Friend—Or Keep Quiet

Co-Founder of Inner Bonding By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator.

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How often have you offered advice or feedback to someone who seemed to need it, only to run up against their defensiveness, withdrawal, or even anger and blame?

If you notice a trait in someone that is affecting them in a negative way, is it loving or is it invasive to point it out to them?

When is it loving to offer advice or feedback?

1. When someone directly asks you for it

Only then can you know that they are sincerely open to receiving it.

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2. When someone, such as a partner or friend, has given you permission to point out things that are not in their highest good

Sometimes partners in a loving relationship, or people in a close and caring friendship, want to know when they are behaving in a way that isn't serving them well, and they consider it a gift when you are willing to be honest and courageous enough to kindly offer them the feedback they need to become aware of their own unloving behavior.

For example, I gave my best friend permission to always tell me when I was doing something that she believed wasn't in my highest good. It's through her pointing out to me when I was being controlling that I was able to heal this aspect of me. In the past, people would just get angry and resist, and I had no idea why, but when she was willing to be clear and explicit with me, I was then able to change my intention from controlling to loving.

Before she pointed it out to me, I hadn't been aware that my intent had been to control rather than to be caring. I thought I was helping when, in fact, I was being invasive and controlling.

When is it invasive or controlling to offer advice or feedback?

1. Offering advice or feedback to someone who hasn't asked for it will generally get you into trouble.

Most people feel invaded when being offered advice or feedback that they haven't asked for.

One of my clients, Claire, asked me this question:

"If we notice a certain behavior trait in others that is affecting them in a negative way repeatedly, is it OK to point it out to them?

"My mother has a particular way of always seeing herself as a victim of situations and feeling taken advantage of. It pains me to see how she gives her power away. Should I let her know about this?"

Chances are that if Claire points out to her mother her victim behavior, her mother will feel hurt and angry. Generally, people who see themselves as victims are not open to advice or feedback, and they will only feel more victimized when their self-abandoning behavior is pointed out to them.

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2. Offering advice to people whom you already know are closed to self-inquiry and personal growth will likely result in you getting blamed for being controlling, invasive, and unloving.

It hard to feel helpless over the people we care about. We want to tell them what they are doing that is causing their pain or causing others pain. We want to avoid feeling the pain of someone's unloving behavior toward us, or toward themselves, or toward others we care about. We believe that if only they "see the light," then they will change. It's hard to accept that they are not available to our advice or feedback.

Our challenge with ourselves is to compassionately accept our helplessness over them and to learn to take loving care of ourselves in the face of their unloving behavior toward us, others, and themselves. We need to accept our lack of control over them and not offer unasked for advice or feedback.

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