Tag Archives: advice

On Giving Advice

This post comes from a combination of my own slow, painful learning process complete with countless mistakes and people getting angry with me, and what I’ve found I like best from other people who want to give me advice.

When it comes right down to it, advice-giving is fraught with danger. I’ve seen plenty of neurotypicals mess this one up too, and I often see people cite it as a reason for friction between men and women – with men wanting to give advice, but women wanting sympathy or emotional support. So just to be clear, I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who is, more or less, a woman.

Now, onwards to my advice regarding giving advice! Let’s say a friend or someone you care about is talking about something craptastic in their life that is giving them trouble. And let’s say you think you have ideas that might help that you want to express. What is a good way to go about doing so?

  • Don’t.

Yep, that’s step one. Always always always start by holding back. There are circumstances and things you might be able to say that would help, but you need to make really sure that you are in those circumstances BEFORE shooting your mouth off with whatever advice you have going on.

  1. You don’t get it. Period.

Whatever is happening with your friend, however much it seems you know about what is going on, you don’t really get it. There may be nuance to the situation that you don’t know about or understand. There may be details that they are keeping private that change what the right thing to do is. They may have different capabilities than you, they may be experiencing the situation in a different way than you imagine you would. No matter how much you think that you understand, always remember that you don’t. Not really. Not completely.

  1. Stick to what you know.

SOOO many people mess this one up. Let’s say Joe’s friend Amy just got diagnosed with cooties. Joe just read an article saying that people with cooties need to cross their legs, dance the polka, and cough three times. “Wow!” says Joe. “I should tell this to Amy!” NO JOE, DON’T DO THAT. Amy probably already knows. Amy is probably doing lots of research about cooties on her own, and is talking to lots of doctors, and has plenty of cooties experts in her life. Joe is not a cooties expert, and should not attempt to dispense medical advice on cooties.

On the other hand, maybe Amy is REALLY ANGRY about having cooties, and along with dealing with the cooties, she’s dealing with all this anger. And maybe Joe has had experience in the past with being REALLY ANGRY about something and learned techniques for dealing with that anger. In that case, Joe definitely has something that might be useful. So, should he go ahead and give Amy his advice? Well, that depends…

  1. Did they ask?

Sometimes, if a person is open to advice, they will just say so. Maybe they’re open to advice in general, and maybe they state that only specific kinds of advice are welcome. In those cases, if your advice fits what they are looking for, then hey! You can give your advice! Woo hoo!

4a. Check first.

Of course, maybe they did not ask for advice. In that case, if you have something you think would be super, super useful, and it comes from things you really do know about, it is permissible to ask the person if they are open to advice. A few ways to ask might include “are you open to advice?” or “May I talk to you about anger?” or “I had cooties in the past, would it be ok if I shared what I learned from my experience?” If they say yes, hurrah! You get to give advice! If they say no, accept it. Keep your thoughts to yourself.

  1. Remember step 2.

I am so, so very serious about step two. Even if you are sticking to what you know, it is absolutely vital to remember that your experience is just that – your experience. It isn’t your friend’s experience, and what worked for you, even if it was amazing, may not work for your friend. Be aware of your limitations.

  1. Try to talk about yourself, rather than saying “you should do x.”

On top of being aware of your limitations, openly express them! I’ve noticed that some people put their advice in absolute terms, but I strongly recommend against that. Say things like “Spinning to the left on one foot really helped me with my cooties, so I think you could try that” and NOT NOT NOT “Spin to the left on one foot. It will cure you!” Go ahead and share your experience, what worked for you, what you think is worth trying, and anything else that might be helpful, and refrain from putting on some front of Knowing All The Answers. Because you don’t. Be ok with that.

  1. Never, EVER invalidate.

If your friend says “that won’t work for me,” just believe them. Yeah, maybe they’re feeling really down and depressed and see everything as hopeless. Maybe your advice really would help. If that is the case – you cannot fix that. All you can do is accept what they say as their truth.

Also, it is incredibly important to remember step two, once again. It is also very possible that your advice really wouldn’t work, or that they’ve already tried it, or whatever else. Remember that their experience is not your experience, and there are probably factors that you just do not understand. Just because something worked great for you, that doesn’t mean it will work great for them.

  1. Other things that can help.

You don’t actually have to give advice in order to be helpful to a person who is dealing with ickiness in their lives. I think often bad advice-giving is a misguided attempt to help. However, there ARE other things you can do.

  • offer hugs. Even in text, a *hug* conveys that you are thinking of them and you care. It may seem like a small, silly thing, but to a person who is struggling with awful and feels alone, a page full of *hugs* just for them can be incredibly nice.
  • offer sympathy. “I’m so sorry you are dealing with this” is also a very nice thing to see or hear when you feel alone.
  • be a cheerleader. “You can do it!” “I believe in you!” “You are strong!”
  • Want to do something more substantial? Offer your services, in whatever capacity you can manage. If your friend’s life is all taken up with dealing with cooties, small things like cooking dinner and doing the laundry can become overwhelming tasks. You can help with that! An open-ended “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” is common, but I do not recommend it. Instead, offer, or even ask, to do specific things. Or, if you don’t know what you can do but you really want to do something, try “what can I do to help?”
  • Ask questions. Actively listen, asking open-ended questions for further detail, asking for explanations if you do not understand something, and generally encouraging the person to lay it out there. IF, of course, they actually want to. Don’t push it if they indicate they’d rather not go into detail.
  • Finally, just listen. Sometimes people just need to bitch and moan for a while, and the best thing you can do is listen. Sometimes the choicest commentary is simply “wow, that sucks!”

So that’s what I’ve learned in my life about giving, and not giving, advice. What sorts of things have you learned?

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All About Me, Part III

Me, very young.

Ok, final set of 12! Overall I would say these were the most difficult to answer. In fact, a few of them required some honest soul-searching before I could come up with the right words. I am so glad I was able to do this in my own time, instead of in person with lots of pressure to answer things right away.

  1. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

Ok, all my readers are my partner for this one. You can make your own “we” statements in the comments (and that would be awesome!).

We are all reading this blog right now.
We care about autism, mental illness, or disability enough to read or write about it.
We are mammals.

  1. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

I wish I had someone with whom I could share crafting knowledge. I could teach what I know, and they would teach what they know, and we would both come out with more crafting power!

Actually, I kinda already do, but more would always be nice.

  1. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

Much of this is on my blog already, but here goes. Anyone who is going to be a close friend of mine should know any number of things about me:

I struggle with depression and anxiety, and am much better with them medicated.
I always have cat hair on me. ALWAYS.
I am on the autism spectrum.
I am pagan.
I am androgynous.

  1. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

This is a tough one. My “partner” in this is all of you, and we’re not actually interacting as I’m writing this. Though really, how would you do this with a stranger, either? I guess you could reference the answers they gave to the various previous questions.

  1. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

Just for the record, I am really glad I am writing these ahead of time instead of trying to answer them with a partner right on the spur of the moment. I do my best to forget my embarrassing moments, it’s not super easy to deliberately remember one.

Going with my usual thing of answering conceptually rather than specifically – I am very clumsy. *Very* clumsy. I am forever damaging myself by walking into walls, clunking my arms, legs, elbows, toes, hands, etc into anything that happens to be around.

I recently had a fairly embarrassing injury that involved walking into a wall (I was trying to go through a door, but I missed) while I was rubbing my hand through my hair, and my elbow went BANG! It took over a week before I could do things without pain again. All because I missed a doorway.

  1. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

I last cried by myself the night Genzi died. I was alone in my room, with only my thoughts and feelings to accompany me and nothing to occupy myself with. I cried for nearly an hour, getting my pillow all wet.

I recently cried in front of another person one night, when I was feeling the loss of a previous connection particularly acutely.

  1. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

Wait, wasn’t this question 28? What’s going on?!

  1. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

Rape. Ok, this is a little bit tricky (but not really). It’s ok to make jokes intending to laugh at rape culture, or the way people defend rapists or blame victims, and things like that. It is never ok for rape to be the punchline of a joke, or for rape to be treated like something funny.

The same can be said for any number of other things. You can joke about the surrounding culture, but don’t act like the thing itself is funny. Because it isn’t.

  1. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

I’ve been thinking about this for days and I’m having trouble coming up with much. I don’t have any secret loves that I have yet to confess or anything like that.

Part of me thinks I might regret not telling my dad about how I was in the hospital last year. He believes that poor people should not have/do not need health insurance, and when I – a poor person who lacks health insurance – wound up in the hospital, I just could not deal with him anymore. Especially given the financial aftermath involved and how utterly awful that was – I just cannot get past his politics of “no, let’s totally NOT insure all Americans” nor can I just “agree to disagree” because my own life and health are at stake here. I don’t tell him because I know it would wind up being more about my own anger and feelings of betrayal than any sort of reconciling, and I just can’t imagine any good coming from it. I don’t think he’ll change his mind, I am entirely uninterested in being the special exception among poor Americans, I am certainly not going to change *my* mind, and I’m pretty sure I would just end up even more hurt and angry than I already am. But if I died, and were capable of feeling regret after death, it’s possible I might regret not trying. I’m not sure.

  1. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

Hmm. My important documents are in a fire-proof safe, so I guess I won’t worry about those. We’ll say that my wallet is on me at the time, so I won’t worry about that either. In which case, I think that I would save my computer. It is hugely important in my life, is one of my primary vectors for communicating with the world at large, and contains many pictures and other things that I would not want to use. My back-ups are also in the house, so they would get burned up too, so it’s definitely worth saving the computer.

  1. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

My mom or my brother. Both are people I’ve been slowly reconnecting with, mostly via phone calls which is not the best way for me to do things like that. They are both very far away from me which further complicates matters. I would be really sad that we never really managed to be closer.

  1. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Ok.  A personal problem that is not completely private that I am open to advice on. This is a toughie. Let me think about this…

Actually, I’ve been talking a lot in this series of posts about my crummy relationship with my dad. Now, there is a lot more backstory involved than I’ve gotten into, but I am quite interested in outside perspective and “what would you do” feedback specifically about the hospitalization and insurance thing that lead to my refusing to speak to him anymore.

And there you have it. All 36 questions, so hopefully now you know (and like?) me better than you did before. Once again, I would super love it if you answered any of these yourself. Or even left your own problem that you would like my, or other commenters, perspective on.

Part I

Part II

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Going back in time

Every so often some of the autism pages on facebook ask questions about what we would tell ourselves/ our teachers/ our parents/ our classmates if we could go back in time and give some tidbits of advice. I find it an entertaining little thought experiment, so I thought I’d go ahead and think about things I’d want to say to various people in the past. It kind of seems like a pointless hypothetical, but actually I think it’s more than that. It’s true that I can’t change the past. And it’s true that my past, good and bad, has played a huge role in who I am today and I’d think carefully about if I’d really want to change that. However, I would like to see children today not necessarily have to deal with the things I had to deal with. I had so much trouble with so many things, it would have been nice if there had been less misunderstandings and accusations adding to that. So while I say that these are things I would say to myself or those around me if I could go back in time, they are also things I think I’d like to say to young people on the autism spectrum, and those around them.

So, some things I’d want to say to my parents and teachers 20-some years ago:

~ No, I don’t “know what I did” and I am not intentionally being difficult. Please just explain it to me directly.

So often I find that people think they are being direct, but they are not. People are not even always aware that they are using metaphors. If I don’t understand something, please really take a look at how you are explaining it to me, and consider that maybe I’m doing my best but I’m just not understanding some nuance or something that you consider implicit.

~ That’s not a tantrum, it’s a meltdown. It is not an attempt at manipulation, it is an outpouring of extreme emotion because something was just too much.

When I was very young my mom once took me to see a therapist (one of many), and the therapist spent about an hour with me a declared that I was just pushing my mom’s buttons. That I was, essentially, being manipulative. Oh, the harm that therapist caused. In any case, I wasn’t just trying to get a reaction or push buttons. And my “tantrums” were not calculated moves in order to get what I wanted. I still have meltdowns sometimes, though I’ve gotten a lot better at figuring out when I’m heading in that direction and doing something about it – because, you know, meltdowns are really unpleasant for me as well. Those meltdowns are still what they always were, the outpourings of extreme emotions that I Just. Cannot. Handle anymore.

~ Don’t spring things on me unexpectedly. Even something good can be bad if I’m not mentally prepared.

I am not particularly spontaneous. I also do not cope well with change. I have no idea how typical people handle spontaneity, but personally, I really need to prepare ahead of time for what I’m going to be doing, even if it’s a thing that I am very much looking forward to. This was true for me as a child at least as much as it’s true for me now.

~ Encourage my obsessions and interests, even if you don’t share them personally or think they’re weird.

I’ve written a defense of obsessions before, so any expanding I do here will not be as good as that post. Suffice to say – trying to force me to do or read other things will have limited effects. My interests motivate me. They educate me. They stimulate my mind and my imagination. Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison and others have had their interests turn into careers. Please, encourage me.

Some things I’d want to say to myself (or at least, things I wish I knew when I was young:

~ You’re right, “just be yourself” doesn’t make sense. You’re always yourself. However, worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what brings you joy.

I never understood it when people told me to just be myself. Aren’t I always myself? How can I be anything else? What if I am the kind of person who worries about what other people think of me? Then “being myself” would involve doing that, wouldn’t it? How would doing something different be “being myself”? Honestly, I still think the phrase is weird so I mostly just don’t use it. However, I have also found that focusing on what brings me joy – which yes, is usually in the realm of my special interests and obsessions – does a whole lot more for my happiness than anything else. I do what brings me joy, even if it isn’t what everyone else is doing.

~ Trying to be like everyone else will only hurt you in the long run.

This is closely related to the above. I tried for years to be like everyone else. It never got me anything more than pain. I am *not* like everyone else. I am different in very real, very substantial, and sometimes very difficult ways. Other people confuse me, and I confuse them. I can’t be like everyone else, so I am far better off not worrying about it and, as I said above, concerning myself more what what brings me joy.

~ It may not seem like it now, but it’s possible to be proud of your differences.

I am me. I am, slowly but surely, working on radical self acceptance. It’s there in my rejection of shame, in my embracing of obsessions, in my pride in who and what I am. I no longer want to be like everyone else, because I wouldn’t be me anymore. I would be some other person. I like being me, and I might as well take pride in it.

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