There's a disturbing trend I've been noticing in my practice lately. My patients have been coming into the office telling me that they've recently taken the advice of their close friends, with disastrous results.
We love our friends and most of the time our friends love us, but they aren't always the best people to advise us on our problems in the workplace, with our families or in our relationships.
Our friends usually mean well and when they give us bad advice it's coming out of their own misconceptions. They may not harbour one drop of malicious intent toward us, but it doesn't mean that we should always listen to them.
We mustn't forget that our friends are, for the most part, regular people with no particular expertise in the complex dynamics of human behaviour. They come with their own fears, beliefs and expectations.
More importantly, we can't escape the fact that our friends are biased. Whether they realize it or not, many of them have an agenda for us and their own ideas about how we should live our lives.
Often, our friends harbour incorrect assumptions about what would make us happy. They think that we should make the same choices as they would in similar situations. The advice they give isn't always objective or tailored to our individual needs.
Some friends are great advice-givers, but the only way to discover this would be after the fact, when taking their advice has turned out well. One clue in advance might be that their lives are running smoothly. Still, knowing how to manage their own lives doesn't automatically mean that they'll be good at advising us on ours.
There are certain friends who have more sinister motives and who reveal their true nature by how they counsel us. Everything they suggest makes us doubt our intelligence, abilities and self-worth. These aren't really friends, but people who need to keep us down so that they can feel superior.
Most of the time, though, our friends are trying to help us. They sincerely believe that what they're saying is in our best interests. We need to see that even though they love us and know us to some extent, they don't always know what's good for us.
The worst type of advice my patients describe involves dating; the most egregious being that they should "give the guy another chance." Usually this advice comes after one of my patients has gone on one or two dates with someone who's behaved pretty badly.
One example of this that I heard about recently was when my patient had a great first date with a young man but then didn't hear from him for over three weeks. She agreed to go out with him a second time and they had another good date, but then he waited another three weeks to ask her out again.
In this example and in others, the friend acts as an apologist for the fellow, justifying and minimizing his bad behaviour and encouraging my patient to overlook the obvious red flags.
My patients usually listen to this advice; the above example being no exception. They want to believe that their friend knows best and that the guy really is nice. Invariably, though, they end up wasting their time and getting their feelings hurt. In the above case, my patient finally did what she needed to do in the first place and stopped seeing the guy.
The above example demonstrates how some of our friends bring their own emotional baggage to the act of advice-giving. Their desperation for love, their willingness to tolerate disrespect and their ability to settle for less strongly affects the relationship advice they give to us.
Our friends may be wonderful people but their advice can sometimes be useless and sometimes even dangerous. For reasons that have nothing to do with us, they'll encourage us to stick around with compulsive liars, narcissistic neglecters and neurotic time-wasters.
Our close friends identify with us. Without realizing it, they project their own needs, anxieties and insecurities onto us. Despite their wanting the best for us, they'd have us making the same mistakes as they make.
The false friends who try to undermine our confidence and sabotage our success should certainly be cut loose, but there's no reason why we shouldn't continue to love and hang out with our good friends, so long as we remember to take their advice with a grain of salt.