I got a question from Leslie, whose good friend Cara often needs to give her unasked for advice on how to improve herself or something she does, even though she doesn’t ask for it. Cara is a lovely kind person who gives this advice in the spirit of wanting to help Leslie because she cares. Leslie likes her a lot and considers Cara a good friend. But she doesn’t know how to handle or what to think about Cara’s need to judge.
It’s not all the time. Sometimes Cara says very good things too. She’s generous with compliments when she feels they’re deserved. But even praise can feel more like an evaluation as she looks Leslie over from top to bottom before giving it. Leslie doesn’t like feeling judged and wonders why Cara pays so much attention to her. For example, several times Cara has suggested that Leslie wear more makeup, like she does. Leslie is a more casual, athletic type, and is happy with how she looks.
Sometimes people can’t relate to feeling that kind of comfort if they’re not comfortable with themselves.
Leslie feels on the defensive when Cara makes her “helpful” suggestions and tries to explain she’s fine as she is. But she gets an earful about how much better she’d look with the makeup. It’s true. When Leslie does put it on, she knows she looks better. But she doesn’t feel a need to wear it most of the time as wearing it feels annoying during her active lifestyle. She explained that to Cara to no avail and finally asked her to drop it. But it comes up occasionally when they get together.
People on a mission to improve you often can’t let it go, despite your arguments.
Recently Leslie told Cara she got a new website. Shortly after, a critique about the site arrived, though Leslie never asked for input. She just told Cara in a conversation that she’d gotten one. Leslie felt angry and didn’t know how to handle this kind of unwanted advice. She was so angry she didn’t want to see Cara again. I told her to calm down and understand where this kind of behavior comes from.
Most of the time when people criticize you, they’re doing it because they’re not happy with themselves.
I asked if Cara was a stickler for perfection in her own life. After thinking about it Leslie acknowledged she was always trying to be perfect. Cara always stayed late at her job, trying to make sure she did everything as well as possible. I wasn’t surprised, since most criticism or “helpful advice” as people reframe it, comes from a place of the person’s own insecurities. It’s important to understand this so you don’t take it personally.
People who seek perfection in themselves look for flaws in other people and feel better by trying to fix the other person if they can’t fix themselves. Try not to get defensive when someone offers you unasked for advice or tries to tell you what you should do differently. Have compassion for them. I’ve learned to stop the dialogue by just saying something like, “I guess we have different taste since I like or” or “I see if differently and am happy with my take.” I won’t defend myself or argue anymore.
If you say it in a friendly way, your message will hopefully get across.
I’ve nicely said to someone critiquing me that I didn’t want to argue since I was happy with me so let’s please change the subject. I acknowledge that they have a right to their opinions and choices and so do I. When you’re in person, change the subject. I’ll even laugh and say the conversation is going in circles so lets go in a different direction.
If the person is a decent one except for unwanted advice, find ways to gently change the topic or ignore it if it’s in an email. Depending on the situation, say something such as “I know you’re trying to be helpful but I prefer to do it my way.” Don’t say it with anger or sarcasm. Just let them know in a friendly way that you don’t need their help. It’s annoying but not a deal breaker in an otherwise good friend. Always remember that most criticism reflects the insecurity of the person giving it.
No matter what the reason, if what’s said bothers you, it must be addressed. If it happens regularly, find a nice time to speak with your friend and explain that her/his comments don’t feel good and you’d appreciate them stopping. Let them know you value their friendship and don’t want to curtail time spent with them to avoid those ouch moments of unasked for critiques. Thank them for understanding. If it continues, you have to decide if you want to keep seeing this person.
Take the 31 Days of Self-Love challenge and get my book, How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways for free at http://howdoiloveme.com. And you can post your loving acts HERE to reinforce your intention to love yourself. Read my 31 Days of Self-Love Posts HERE.
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