By Allie Long
“I was just trying to help.”
Parents, friends, significant others, and even you have probably uttered this phrase at some point. When advice or actions intended to be helpful come across as anything but, it can create resentment between the giver and the recipient. The giver feels under-appreciated, and the recipient feels like he or she is being condescended.
Maybe your mom raised you to have self-esteem-ruining religious beliefs. Maybe your dad works all the time because he thinks money is more important for you than spending quality time with you. Maybe your friend offered you money when you didn’t need it. Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend encouraged you to pursue something more practical. Maybe you did something like this to someone else.
No matter what the situation, it is important to ask the potential recipient of your help if it is wanted or needed. Otherwise, you will come across looking presumptuous and feeling disrespected.
After all, you, your mom, or your friend was “just trying to help.” Why can’t the recipient see that? Well, when unwanted help is offered or given, the recipient may be subjected to unwanted stipulations that come with the help or unflattering implications about the state of his or her relationship with the “helper.” When you or someone else give unsolicited and perhaps unwanted advice or help to another person:
1. It shows a lack of faith.
If your friend offers you money to help with rent when you really don’t need it, it shows your friend’s lack of faith in your ability to be self-sufficient. This can be simultaneously infuriating and saddening when you realize that your friend doesn’t believe you can take care of yourself. Even though his or her gesture is kind, it reveals a deeper lack of respect for your boundaries and your dignity. When you perceive a seemingly harmless act such as this one as an insult, it breeds avoidable resentment between you and your friend.
2. It creates tunnel vision in the recipient.
This is especially true if you have parents who, perhaps unknowingly, indoctrinated you with their religious or political beliefs. You grew up hearing their offhanded remarks and not-so-subtle declarations of ideological superiority, so you began looking for the same confirmation biases as them. They probably whole-heartedly believe that their ideology is the best and most fulfilling one for you, but if it turns out to be more harmful than helpful in the long run, it can cause dissension in the family. Parents may feel like this is a referendum on their parenting skills or that you are spitting on the foundations of their faith, and you may feel like they omitted aspects of the truth to you. While none of those things is likely true, it becomes clear that the only way to maintain peace is to have ideological tunnel vision or to keep mum.
3. It assumes like-mindedness.
If someone offers you advice when you didn’t ask, it looks like she is assuming that you want to handle your problem in the same way she would. If you are taking the time to open up to a friend, it is in her best interest to just listen and only offer advice when prompted. Saying things like “you should think about seeing a therapist,” “just break up with him. Who cares?,” or even “why did you cut your hair like that?” stops your friend from being able to emotionally connect with you and the aspects of the situation that reveal the deeper parts of your identity and personality. Just because she wouldn’t do something doesn’t mean you wouldn’t. The imminent disagreement that results from unsolicited advice isn’t worth the satisfaction your friend might feel from “helping you out.”
4. It comes across as a superiority complex.
If your parent is trying to micromanage your life when you reach adulthood, it creates an “I know best” complex. From questioning the practicality of your college major to unhelpfully critiquing your clothes or house, these little remarks will draw a wedge between you and your parent. What your parent perceives as being helpful, you perceive as condescending and arrogant. When you feel like your independence is being undermined and your parent feels like you’re ignoring his or her advice, resentment on both ends will soon follow.
5. It causes tension where none would exist otherwise.
All of the aforementioned instances are completely avoidable if the giver of help or advice would simply wait to offer it until asked. Don’t undermine someone’s autonomy, and don’t let someone else do it to you. Even the tiniest remarks of unsolicited advice can cause a mountain of resentment if they continue for long enough periods of time. The tension will mount, and when you or someone else explodes from something seemingly insignificant, the damage can be irreparable.
6. It ruins relationships.
For relationships to truly work, there needs to be an acknowledgement of each party’s individuality and the validity of the lifestyles that result from that individuality. It’s in your best interest to ask before you offer advice or assistance to someone, and if someone else’s good intentions are breeding resentment, it’s imperative that you talk about it with that person. No relationship is worth risking because of these avoidable yet damaging disagreements.