Are You Swallowing Too Much Advice?: Advice on Balancing All the Advice You Get in the Media

By Carol Smaldino

I know; it can seem a tad absurd or even more than that. I’m here with a column on balancing advice when I’m one of the writers/bloggers/advice givers in the mix of the overflow. I can be here also because the Internet has given voice to many therapists, professionals, and persons of all backgrounds, who feel passionately about having something to share and contribute.

We have heard about this, with one example in the realm of advice on parenting. The plethora of approaches to parenting at all ages of children of all ages is on the one hand a great boon. But it has also induced ever more pressure on parents who feel confused and conflicted and are at points seduced into choosing methods because of peer pressure without conviction. Articles like “Sleeping can be Easy”, can easily become pieces that advocate that sleeping should or must be easy, or must be easy or else.

In this arena, some people say that sleep training is crucial for a baby’s development while authors — even people in the field of child development — say that a baby needs a caretaker in the night and that babies who conform easily to sleep training have merely given up on adult support. And on and on it goes — the quantity and the quantity of conflict in what pours forth.

As you can sense this can become overwhelming. Theoretically it could be refreshing, being exposed to the depth and breadth (or at least one of them) of professional or personal experience. On the other it can be crazy making because every article seems to compete with and differ from the one before it.

But what if the major problem is that the reader is often not expected to and helped with deciphering what really can fit. The beautiful thing about a small — ish piece is that it can open a door to curiosity and can lead to finding out more about what lies beyond a given argument or suggestion. The danger is that we can walk around in a tailspin not having any idea who makes sense. When some experts or so-called, get big in a given field, the branding of the message can become like outright propaganda, however subtle it might seem.

Professionals, businesses, politicians have kept up in refining the use of propaganda which was behind the American public buying into smoking cigarettes as attractive, of women smoking cigarettes as both attractive and “equal”, as but one example. The field of propaganda, although obviously old, is thought of as being headed up by the nephew of Sigmund Freud, called also the “father of spin”. He thought of propaganda as a good thing, the wiser and more distinguished minds leading the masses to a prescribed conclusion, which might ostensibly benefit everyone.

I’d like to suggest a kind of revolution here: our beginning to look more carefully at just how particular advice fits us. One of the hopeful elements of the capacity to decide some things for ourselves — is hopefully just that — that we become equipped (or helped) and entitled to actually evaluate our own choices and decisions. This would be hard in any case but it is even harder since many of us have been very susceptible to a fundamental insecurity or self-criticism as the basis of our insides.

We become very vulnerable to shunning and judgment, and this is only complicated by the rather sudden emphasis in many quarters on the vast benefits of vulnerability in the larger culture. Vulnerability, really meaning (dictionary meanings) levels of helplessness and susceptibility to danger, has been pitched as easier to swallow than it is or even should be. After all, caution and honest assessment of internal and external safety are essential to our integrity. Think of this: Men, traditionally afraid of vulnerability, are being taught that vulnerability is really courage and that they should “lean into it”. (Not only men, but women, and businesspeople as well are taught this too). As a result what is an in truth a tender emotional response, which needs readiness and practice, gets touted as a formula.

Whenever this happens, whenever we adopt a way of being without seeing if it fits who we are at all, we risk becoming fake. We risk leaving ourselves behind and convincing ourselves we are who in reality we are not. We become followers of popular “speak”; we lose the authenticity that supposedly many of us are going after. I have come to see that being subjected to advice that has nothing to do with who we are can be a form of bullying. As with bullying in general, just because the voices of temporary authority can be fierce or loud or even fancy, does not mean they are right.

Besides even if advice is smart and pertinent, it may not be digestible in its present form. Resistance to change — even to realizing something that might otherwise be obvious — is there for a reason, and frequently for good reasons — certainly for reasons that need to be understood and respected.

Change is vulnerable and expecting any of us to read or hear something even relevant and to conform to it right away, is not about change. It’s about manipulation. Change is slower, it comes in fits and starts and sometimes it hurts.

So I think we may need some guidance about how to, and about how we have the right to, evaluate what the advice we see really means. And about whether it fits who we are, and about what it would take for us to figure this out.

I’m hoping that on personal and political levels, we can be helped to see how we can better understand how psychology, and advice that we too often do swallow, can be used to manipulate us. We need help to get to know what it takes to digest and consider change, to have the space to be curious, and to feel vulnerable at our own pace — not as a dictum on command.

A psychotherapist, a New Yorker living between Colorado and Italy (in good times) I am passionate about the role of emotions and awareness for evolving,sanity

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