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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


On advice...

I find myself reacting strongly and negatively when I get unsolicited advice here, and I feel like I need to explain this. I notice that sometimes I will post about things that are upsetting or difficult for me, and what I hope for is support, empathy, understanding, reactions, other people's stories about similar events or struggles. More often than not, however, at least one comment gives me advice. And often when that happens, I stop blogging for a while, or at least about anything personal or difficult.

Part of the difficulty is that I often blur facts enough or am vague enough that advice doesn't fit. Part of the difficulty is simply that my feelings get very hurt, and I want to hide under the covers.

I realize that not everyone reacts to advice this way - and one commenter even noted that they blogged about problems in order to get advice. But that is not why I blog, unless I ask explicitly for advice.

At Limon's suggestion, I am reading War is a force that gives us meaning (btw, recommendations for books, movies, etc., are not advice - that's just goodness!). At one point (too lazy to get the book and look it up) he talks about how some people after a war will write difficult memoirs about their experiences - despite the huge shame they feel in doing so because they have to admit they did things that were not moral or heroic, or even helpful. And often in doing so, they hope to inspire dialogue - to talk about these things that cause them so much shame - they have hopes that in exploring their own "darkness" that others will be interested in doing so too. But instead, this exploration tends to get negative responses - others are not interested in exploring their own darkness, and they vilify and otherize the writer.

I resonate with this. I began this blog during a very very difficult time of great loss - two years ago. I had hopes that I could talk about difficult things and explore things about myself that I really dislike. I had hoped that by being brutally honest, I could connect with others in honest ways - ways I am unable to do in real life.

And when I open up about my difficulties (from the trivial to the impossible), and am given advice - I feel shut down. I feel like - even though intellectually I know people are trying to help - the implication is that:
  1. people think I am too stupid to think of these things myself;
  2. that I am doing things very very wrong with my life, and basically anyone else would do things differently, and better;
  3. that I am too weak to be able to do things myself;
  4. that I am an idiot whose major problem is simply that she cannot come up with simple solutions;
  5. that it is not okay for me to talk about these things that plague me;
  6. that my emotions aren't okay;
  7. that I am not okay

When I get a lot of advice, or advice that hurts, I think seriously about closing up shop. I seem unable to inspire the kinds of responses I find helpful (empathy and mutual sharing) and I begin to think there is something seriously wrong with me because I see other bloggers inspiring those kinds of responses. And thinking about that makes me feel badly - it's bad enough I am such a screw up, that I have so many difficulties - I can't even inspire support in my real world, much less in the blogosphere.

The way i work is this: I can typically come up with my own solutions. They may not be your solutions - they may be weird or different, but they are mine. What I cannot do myself is work through my feelings. I tend to self-denigrate and castigate like crazy - I get so caught in a cycle of self-hate that I cannot get myself out. That is why I have trouble getting to solutions - if I can ventilate the feelings, get support, encouragement, hear that others have been through similar things - then I can figure out what to do. Being told what to do before I work through the feelings just feeds the self-hating cycle.

Please don't feed the self-hating cycle!



At 7:31 AM, Blogger StyleyGeek said...

I'm sorry you feel bad. And I'm extra sorry if I've ever given unsolicited advice and made you feel worse.

I am in awe of the clarity and insight with which you write about the feelings that unsolicited advice give you. I have had similar reactions to advice commentators have given me occasionally on my blog, and I haven't been able to analyse those feelings except on the level of "I feel bad and I don't think I should". But I think you have hit the nail on the head here: especially with the comment that unsolicited advice makes the advisee wonder if everyone thinks they are too stupid to come up with their own solutions. (Which you totally aren't!)

At 9:27 AM, Blogger BrightStar said...

I love this post! I think it very articulately helps people understand where you are coming from in response to comments and the purpose of your blog. If I were you, I would be tempted to have this post as a link on the side of my blog -- not exactly a comments policy, but kind of... could be good for people to encounter who stumble upon your blog.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

I totally get that.

Actually, I blew up at someone last week for giving me advice. "Don't you think I ALREADY KNOW THAT??!!" I yelled (I was well into my third day of sleep deprivation). What pissed me off was that he wouldn't let up, and all I really wanted was some empathy and a place to blow off steam. I didn't need him to fix things. (Pissed me off more that this was a "he." Too many daddy issues there.)

I also tend to give advice, but a lot of that comes from a need to help and to feel strong in helping, which isn't really about helping at all. I won't do it here unless you ask, from now on.

Anyway, thank you for stating your place on the advice issue.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

P.S. Duh! We all just kind of attacked you with advice on the situation with your old school wanting you to teach, didn't we? Many sincere apologies about that, since I kinda started the advice train there.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Anastasia said...

I appreciate this post very much. i don't have this kind of reaction to advice. often blog advice is off, especially when the original post is necessarily vague. And i do think to myself "what, do you think I'm an idiot or something?" now and then. But it doesn't inspire what you outline here in me, which is why reading this is so helpful. And, like styley said, I totally admire the clarity of your presentation here. you're clearly very self-aware.

don't take this as advice or anything, but I like bright*'s idea of making this a link in your sidebar. Sometimes I don't comment here because I don't want to say the wrong thing. Having read this, I feel like I understand you better and will be more confident in formulating helpful and supportive responses to your posts. We all just want to help, I think. It's important for us to know what you would actually find helpful.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Lucy said...

I'm sorry if I've offered unwanted advice, too. I often feel like I want to help and come up with a solution, and then I realise I've just been horribly patronising because all I can come up with are lame ideas that anyone would've thought of and rejected already.
I feel some of the same ways when I get advice, too, so you'd think I'd learn...

At 7:43 PM, Blogger k8 said...

Sorry if I'm among the guilty (and I probably am). This is good to know, though. I come from a field (composition and rhetoric) that discusses pedagogy a lot and we always pass around ideas, suggestions, etc. as a way for all of us to work through the tangled web of teaching and academic life. I can see how this type of discourse would look like unsolicited advice outside of our field whereas for us it is all part of sharing community knowledge and experiences.

Sorry again if I've offended you!!!

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

What an articulate, necessary post. I have considered walking away from my blog many times after receiving unsolicited advice. I try to remind myself that the advice-givers are really just trying to express concern for me and whatever my situation is, but that doesn't stop me from feeling patronized or judged when it happens. I've blown up a couple of times with commenters who really got under my skin with advice about feeding Baby Blue. I wish I had written a post like this one instead.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Limon de Campo said...

I agree. I'm one of those people who cannot identify my own emotions very quickly or accurately. Sometimes I have to express three or four contradictory versions of how I'm feeling before I figure out which one is right. I understand the urge to do "raw blogging," and I just assume that any blog post is a very small representation of what you might be feeling at that very moment. I assume all blog posts are for expression, not for critique. I appreciate your honesty and clarity: you help me consider my own emotions.

(P.S. Glad you liked the book that I, uh, advised you to read.)

At 12:27 AM, Blogger Breena Ronan said...

I am also sorry if I made you feel bad. I myself like advice if it comes along with sympathetic feelings. Like when someone else imagines themselves in my shoes. That's because I'm not very confident about my emotional reactions to things. I tend to blame myself for stuff rather than recognizing that sometimes other people are at fault. So if I hear that others would react in similar ways I feel better. You are totally right though, advice doesn't help with sorting out feelings. I swear that I would live my life by committee if I could, it's just habit for me to judge myself by what others would feel or do, but therapy is helping.


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