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July 4, 2019

Why we are all asking for people to be mean to us and how you can change that

When a good thing ends, we all like to turn to friends and family for support. 

 

Even when you don’t ask for advice, people love giving it to you. 

 

How many times have you done something in your life and after sharing it, someone responded with their opinion about what you should do? 

 

Usually this happens when you’ve been thinking about something for a while, and as soon as you say something about it, you are subject to someone else’s opinion. 

 

The question is: why do people LOVE giving off the cuff advice like this? 

 

The answer is simple: because it makes them feel GOOD. 

 

People love helping people – especially people they care about. 

 

When most people respond to why they want to do anything, “helping people” is one of the most common answers. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve said it before. I know I have.

 

While we’ve experienced this before, when something good in your life ends, you are grieving, and you are going through a whole lot of hard stuff, we often don’t recognize that people are actually behaving towards us in the EXACT same way. 

 

Picture this. 

 

You: It’s just so hard to think about going back to work without John. How am I going to manage things at home and at work? We used to talk at dinner time about how things went during the day and now that he’s gone…

 

OP (Other Person): [Hesitation…] Maybe you should join a grief group. Why don’t you find a grief counselor? 

 

That’s it. 

 

In situations that feel VERY uncomfortable – like being face to face with the loss and pain of someone else – it’s hard to know what to say. 

 

So, people are less able to think before they speak, and they lean on what they’ve seen other people do, regardless of whether it’s advice that will work for you. 

 

Think about it. They want to help you. They don’t know what to say. They say the first thing that comes to mind (usually things they’ve seen everyone else say). And *POOF* you experience someone recommending grief counseling before you’ve even had a chance to have a real conversation. 

 

I’m not saying that grief counseling is the wrong thing for you. It could be. 

 

I’m also not saying that your friends should be your counselors in your life – that is actually often not a good thing.  

 

What I am saying is that there are phrases people use when they talk with you about your loss that are really knee-jerk, default responses meant to fill space and do something remotely helpful – like give advice. 

 

Because grief is intense, it’s easy not to realize what they say are just default responses they have learned to use in the given circumstances. 

 

So why does this matter? 

 

When asked about the most challenging part of grief, most of my students can list a whole series of very specific conversations they had with another person who they felt: 

a) Was a friend;

b) was trustworthy; and 

c) someone who cared about them. 

 

While they expect people like this to be a great source of support, most of the time they end up making you angry, bitter, or frustrated, and you can’t figure out why. Then, you don’t express this to them because you don’t want to be “mean” – even if what they did feels mean to you.  

 

Over time, these encounters lead you to pull away from your communities. Your friends stop calling and within months just disappear. 

 

You are left feeling alone, like no one wants to be around you, and that nobody gets what you are going through. 

 

So what can you do?

 

You control what you hear and what you do with what you hear. 

 

Rather than getting frustrated at someone for suggesting counseling again, have you thought about how you might personally know when you are ready for help with some part of what you are going through? 

 

It doesn’t have to be counseling, but most of the time we could ask for more help than we do. 

 

Consider the following questions: 

  • Where do I feel like I could use more support in my life? Maybe it’s doing laundry or homework help for your kids. 
  • What would that help look like? 
  • How will I know when I actually need this? Maybe it’s when you realize you always get angry when your kids ask for help with homework, so you ask your sister to come and help them on Tuesdays.

 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Most things people do are about them, so don’t take them at face value. Give yourself the power to decide what is really relevant for you. 
  • Rather than getting frustrated, ask yourself: what would I want someone to do for me? And maybe when you feel comfortable, use your voice to ask.  

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Kirsten

Kirsten is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of In My Own Skin