Should I stop giving unsolicited advice? (Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
How much sage advice is too much sage advice?
I am the "advice columnist" of my friends' group.
I have been in therapy for years over my non-existent self-esteem, which contributed to a slew of depression, anxiety, and codependency problems that I now know the answer to.
I have slept with nearing 100 dudes and some babes (self-esteem of a napkin...remember?), so there's nothing sexually I haven't encountered.
I'm a starving artist, so I've held over 20 jobs...blue collar/office/arts/marketing.
I've had 2,000 friends on Facebook at times (I culled it down to 400 for health reasons), so I always have a lead or a contact for a friend, whether they want to adopt a hairless cat or find business partners for a consulting firm.
Lastly, I have rampant ADHD, a loud mouth, and freakishly fast cognitive reasoning, so if a friend expresses ANY kind of problem I usually instantly scream the answer at them like a cocky drunken 411 app without thinking of their feelings or the consequences.
I know the moody boys that I skateboard with all have warnings about me like I'm some kind of voodoo witch who's "only tryin' to get in your head" from the amount of times I have played freelance hot-guy therapist. Funny enough they still ALWAYS slide into my DMs with the heavy shit. I never hunt for problems...I've seen 'fixers' in group therapy.
How much helping is too much helping?
(Keep in mind, I'll move apartments for pizza, and I am fostering some friends' dogs ATM so I am not *just* obsessed with fiddling with other people's mental health…it's just my strong suit.)
Can I keep giving out spoons if I have an endless supply? (I'm not burnt out or tired, and I love taking self-care time.)
What are some personality traps I should look out for in myself?
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Dear Helplessly Helpful,
As someone who gives advice on the regular, both in this column and IRL, I know how natural it can feel to have the answers, lend a hand, and give support all the time. But there are a couple of things that struck me that I think you need to consider and look out for.
Good advice is solicited.
When you’re used to being the one people come to, it can be really easy to dole the advice out, even when no one asked for it. Initially, you might think, That’s not me! I only give advice when asked. But is that true? You said in your email, “… if a friend expresses ANY kind of problem I usually instantly scream the answer at them like a cocky drunken 411 app without thinking of their feelings or the consequences.”
That leads me to believe that there have been consequences, there have been hurt feelings. I think it's important that you recognized this. I mean, you wouldn’t be reaching out to me if you didn’t think there was an issue, right? Although you might not be “hunting for problems,” you may be too quick on the draw to tell people what they might not be ready to hear.
Sometimes, the kindest thing to do when someone has a problem is to listen.
And I would venture to guess that there are times when your friends just need to vent, to have a sympathetic ear while they work the problem out for themselves. I know that’s worked for me many times — once I started talking out what the problem was, I could see the solution for myself. I just needed a conversation, not advice.
Another thing that stuck out to me in your email is that you wrote out a rapid-fire list of all the reasons you give advice. And I get it. My tagline is “She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to!” BUT, I also know enough to know that I don’t have all the answers.
As an advice-giver, I look at what I do as guiding people to truths they already know.
I help them find the answers themselves. I tell them what I would do, but encourage them to look to their intuition.
It concerned me when you said, “I have been in therapy for years over my non-existent self-esteem which contributed to a slew of depression, anxiety, and codependency problems that I now know the answer to.”
I believe we spend a lifetime (or lifetimes) figuring out those answers. I sure don’t have the key to understanding my depression. Sure, I have tools I didn’t have before. I can see things I couldn’t see before. But, I’m a work in progress. And so are you.
My advice (since you asked) is that you need to slow down.
You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to know all the answers and solve everything for everyone all the time. Listen. Listen to your friends. If they ask for advice, give it thoughtfully.
And please, don’t kid yourself, no one has an endless supply of “spoons” to give. I know you’re coming from a good place, but consider this… maybe all this focus on being the “perfect” friend who gives advice and fosters dogs and helps people move and has all the answers…maybe that’s all because you’ve yet to learn how to sit quietly with yourself. I say this with love, not judgment. You are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but this is what my intuition tells me.
To put it another way, pretend you're me; what would you tell you?
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendship, depression, sex, consent, what’s getting me through Mercury Retrograde, Bixbite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo