Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Advice Anyone?

ADVICE ANYONE?

"No one understands what I'm going through." "My mother is driving me crazy. She's always interfering." "My best friend talks about herself all the time but doesn't listen to me." "My mother-in-law is snooping again." "I tried what Dr... suggested in his book but it didn't work." I hear these concerns time and again and have been asked to address these issues in my column. Our lives are more and more complicated and the solutions to our problems are elusive. It would be nice if schools had the same commitment to teaching life skills as well as the three R's. Unfortunately, that is usually not the case. So how do we develop life skills and ways to solve our problems without formal education?

Our parents are our primary advice-givers. As children we looked up to parents as the most important people in the "land of the giants," and parental advice was dispensed often accompanied by rewards and punishment. As our brains developed along with our capacity for independent decision-making, parental advice became much less significant. In fortunate instances helpful parent advice continues to be available but offered only when requested and as opinions to be considered along with other information. I am often contacted when parent advice seems to undermine the marital unit. It is important for both parents and adult children to realize that the marital unit becomes primary over the family of origin. Advice offered only from the vantage of a parent may not be helpful and in fact may be disruptive to the marriage. Conflict between parent/s and spouse can be very devastating. It is important for parents to be able to "let go" even of their cherished advice and for the married spouse not to let parental influence undermine the marriage.

As we grow from elementary to middle school, our peers become the most important sources of information. In fact, young adolescents often slavishly imitate each other and appear incapable of independent decision-making. Even later in life we turn to friends for advice, not realizing that friends may not have any more knowledge about life than we do. Many people believe that they have great advice to offer others. When they have learned something or solved a problem themselves, they are eager to share this valuable information with their friends. Let me raise an orange light alert. Slow down and realize that life issues are complicated and advice that worked for you may not apply in other situations. Be careful when offering advice to others, even deeply held beliefs, because your information may not be applicable to others. Be careful when soliciting advice from friends because the cost of this advice may be that you are expected to follow the advice no matter what. Be careful when accepting advice unless you consider carefully the relevance of the advice for your situation.

Self-help articles and books often contain important information about life issues. Just realize that these books are written for everyone. Some of the advice may be helpful to you while other parts of the information could in fact prove to be harmful when applied in the context of your life.

Mental health professionals have been trained to deal with life issues and over time become quite experienced in applying this information to the myriad of problems brought to them. Consulting with a mental health professional is not a weakness and in fact is a strength in reaching out to seek seasoned and objective information.

Your goal is of course to analyze and resolve your own life issues, to sort through the many different kinds of advice out there and select options for yourself. You never need to be a slave to someone else's opinion!