Monday, March 14, 2016

Giving Advice: Listen before you talk

How therapy helped me learn how to help others.

At 26, I've been spending some time reflecting on my past. I often find myself laughing at the smallness of my problems and how unimportant the issues seem to me now. I listen to songs that were my favorite when I was 15 and think "what did I have to be so unhappy about?" As an adult, reflecting on my life, this offers me clarity to remember that things that seem insurmountable will seem so small in the future. I believe this helps us process our past and our mistakes so we can learn and move forward; however, something that can arise from this is when we're talking to people that are younger than us or not as far along on the same path - we can belittle their problems. We expect them to just take our words and advice at face value. They should learn from our mistakes, as the saying goes.

When you're 15 and the world seems huge and unmanageable and you have a 26 year old telling you that it will get better, just keep waiting, it's hard to imagine that they even know what you feel. They have no solid evidence to give that they're right. "You're 10, 20, 40 years older than me - how could you possibly understand?" they think.

And when you're 26, 40, 70 and you look back on middle school or college with fondness - now you have distance, you miss the simplicity of it before bills and "real" responsibility - sometimes we can find ourselves dismissing the younger parties problems. They'll grow out of it or get over it just like you did, with time.

I don't like to dwell on the past. I know how far I've come in my life. But something that I am trying to hold on to is the memory of the absolute pain I felt at 15, 16, 19, 21. Getting my heart broken by the boy I loved over and over. How misunderstood I felt, how alone. How everyone kept saying that school was the most important thing, but I also needed to decide on a life plan so I could go to college. How I didn't want to have sex, but no one understood why because it wasn't for religious reasons. Not understanding dynamics of the adult world and reading a lot of situations wrong. Constantly feeling like I needed to all at once understand everything or at least pretend I did. I try to remember this pain so when I talk to people younger than me or people who are not as far along on their journey, I remember how massive all that felt at the time.

It's so important that we don't diminish people when we're trying to help them. Just because you think or you know that you're right - that it will be better, that's not what's important. Most people want to believe that, but I think you always have doubt until you're on the other side of the problem.

The biggest gift I ever got in my life was parents that put me in therapy when I needed it. And more importantly, didn't make feel broken or stupid or less than for needing someone professional to talk to. They made me feel it was okay. My friends did the same for me. Since my first therapist appointment at 15, I have been able to be open about my feelings and my progress if I wanted to be.

The biggest gift you can give someone is understanding. People value advice, people can trust that you want what's best for them, but most people just want you to be there. You might not understand what they're going through. Maybe it's something you just can't relate to. Most people just want you to show up for them. They want an open platform to talk and not feel judged.

If you're an action seeker, ask them what they need. Don't assume you know what's best for them. Telling someone to call a counselor is a lot easier said than done. Offer to call for them, if they've expressed interest. Listen to what they're saying before you take any action. Just be present when you're with and try not to take all of your life experience and assume it will work for them the same.

Until Next Time,
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