I hate giving advice. No, I’m not a terrible friend or an overall unhelpful member of society. My hatred actually comes from how good I am at giving advice (if I do say so myself.) Ever since I can remember I have always been the go-to person when my friends or siblings have any issue, no matter how big or small. When this time came, I would firmly place myself in the other person’s shoes and handle the dilemma professionally. I would thoroughly dissect every perspective properly and give the most compassionate solution I could. So why hate helping people out if you consider yourself good at it? Simple, it’s draining. 

The problem with putting myself in others’ shoes was I didn’t have time to focus on my own issues. I became so invested in problems that weren’t mine that I started to neglect my own joys and celebrations. It took me a long time to recognize the correlation between lending a helping ear and feeling too unmotivated to get back to my own battles. The realization didn’t come to me until I had been going to therapy for some time. I started to properly check in on myself and unpack the reasons for some of my tendencies. I discovered I am somewhat of an Empath. 

Empaths have the ability to perceive what people around them are feeling. This leads to them mirroring whatever feelings they may be. Empaths are almost unbearably empathetic, this becomes negative when they take on the pain of others at their own expense

The secret to my advice was apparently also my kryptonite. It started to make sense to me how I would have to recharge after every piece of advice I gave. I had always assumed being an introvert was at the core of my need for solitude after emotional conversations. But empathy was essentially my problem. How, I wondered, can I continue to build any fruitful relationships if giving advice would cause me more harm than good? Boundaries. 

All conversations have an emotion at the center, be it joy or anger or disgust. For me, these emotions are transferable. If I’m speaking to someone who is ecstatic about a new achievement, I can’t help but mirror their happiness and if I’m speaking to a victim of heartbreak, I can’t help but feel my own heartbreaking. So I created boundaries, not with others, but with myself. 

Most people don’t force others to give them advice or listen to potentially saddening news. The issue wasn’t so much that people were telling me too much, it was the fact that I would encourage them to tell me more. I was accustomed to what I call solution-listening. This means I listen to others’ problems as if they were offering a math equation, whilst they speak, I solve. Although I thought this was helpful, it wasn’t always necessary. 

Sometimes people speak just to have a true listening ear, not someone to rescue them from themselves, just someone to actually listen. This is the boundary I gave myself, I would listen and offer no solution, just allow someone the space to share. I thought this might make my relationships more surface-level but it created a new comfortability, one where I could support my friends without neglecting myself. This boundary also meant when people actually asked for my advice I was able to not immerse myself into their lives (still a work-in-progress but I’m getting better). 

The second boundary I set with myself is the most important. I stopped seeking control of situations that aren’t my own. At the center of advice-giving is the desire for the other person to take whatever you have advised and follow it step by step. It may not seem like this desire is there but unconsciously there is at least a small hope of control. Truth is, we can hardly control the events of our own lives, it is pointless to expect any control of someone else’s. 

My final step into going cold turkey on giving advice was letting people know when something is too much for me. This was especially difficult because sometimes I really wanted to help but I knew that as soon as I left the conversation I would have taken on a burden that isn’t mine. So I started to verbalize my concern: “I’m sorry I can’t listen to you at the moment, I’ll let you know when I feel more comfortable.” It was liberating. 

I don’t want to discourage you from giving advice. I simply ask you to examine the ways that it impacts you. There is an old life lesson that fits this situation well. When you are on an airplane, the flight attendants will instruct that in case of an emergency, you should put your oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. It is easy to feel uncompassionate, but then I remember I’m no good to anyone if I haven’t got my oxygen mask on.  

Be kind and show love to those close to you, but remember your limits and nurture yourself. It’s not easy but we can slowly learn together. 

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  • Kimberly Nhundu

    Kimberly Nhundu is a freelance writer and soon-to-be BA English graduate. Kimberly’s interests include the influence of media on culture, de-colonizing African identities, and writing poetry. In her spare time, she enjoys learning different instruments.