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How psychology explains the reasoning behind unsolicited advice

Clianta de Santo
Clianta de Santo

Research assistant at the Center for Detention Studies

Jakarta  /  Wed, June 12, 2019  /  02:11 pm
How psychology explains the reasoning behind unsolicited advice

My best friend isn’t the only one struggling with straitjacketing parents; most of my friends are. (Shutterstock/File)

I used to have a best friend, she was my person, my rock, my soulmate. Ever losing her was the last thing I expected. We never once quarreled! Well, there were probably little tiffs over deciding where to eat, but nothing serious. People even mistook us as a lesbian couple, considering how close we were. I think we even inhaled and exhaled at the same time. But when she stopped replying to my messages, and ignoring my calls, I knew things would never be the same anymore.  

It all began when the parents didn’t approve of the job she desired. Their reasoning? Her dad once said, “Oh don’t be too idealistic! Nowadays, you should have the ability to do things! Be pragmatic!” He didn’t say it that harshly, but that is how I remember it.

The last thing she said to me was, “I don’t even know who I am anymore, and my parents keep pressuring me! I don’t want them to disown me; I’ll just get to do what they want me to do! I am so sorry that I can’t live the job I dream of.” She was perplexed and sad, but I already hit the ceiling.

I know her parents, kindhearted, religious people that I would never have expected to put their child in such circumstances. So I was stunned in disbelief at how confident they were to decide which path their beloved daughter had to take. My response was bile. I intruded and was kind of forcing her to just go and do the thing I thought she had to do. And that was the end of our friendship. We met once afterwards, but both of us couldn’t bear the uneasy atmosphere.

After that, I often caught myself ruminating how parents often perceive themselves as knowing everything, silencing their children by rendering illusory discretion of “we do it for your own good”.

My best friend isn’t the only one struggling with straitjacketing parents, most of my friends are. Meanwhile, I must say that I am lucky enough to have extremely positive, supporting parents. For every decision I make, usually after making a point, they will end up saying: “But as long as you are happy, we are happy”. Subsequently, the question is why can’t all parents have that kind of standpoint?

Not long ago, I spent my leisure time reading an inspiring book titled The Courage to Be Disliked. It described how to live freely and happily by decluttering oneself from unnecessary things. The idea is based on Adlerian Individual Psychology by Alfred Adler. And that was when I found my aha moment, the lustrous light bulb above my head. Things that were happening were her, mine and her parents’ fault.

Adlerian Psychology explains that a certain thing one must do in life is called a task. There are many tasks at hand, so people cannot always differentiate which ones are theirs and which are those of others. And in order to be free and happy, one must learn to separate these tasks.

Let’s say my best friend’s task is to find a job after graduating. How can I say that it is hers? Well, because ultimately she is the one that is going to be responsible for the choice she makes. Parents that meddle in every moment of their children’s life are, in fact, doing it for their own good. Adler calls it an act of intruding. Parents as such indeed want to appear excellent in society, to boast about their children’s achievement, or perhaps just to commit an act of control.

But then again, is it justifiable for parents to neglect their children? Setting them free just like wild boars? Adlerian psychology doesn’t approve of the noninterference approach, which is explained as the attitude of not knowing and not being interested.

Read also: Six negative effects of hyper-parenting

The act of separating tasks is not abandoning but rather believing. The parents’ task is to assist and not to interfere when there is no request. Adlerian psychology later emphasized that, if one feels safe and has already built trust in someone, when facing a dilemma, he/she will seek advice and be open about his/her nuisance.

Now I remember her telling me that she wasn’t able to consult anyone in the family on her problem. So first, this points to her parents’ fault of not trusting my friend to do her task.

Next is my fault. When she told me about her predicament, the first thing I did was to be despondent and angry. I told her not to listen to her parents all the time. I railed and expressed doubt in her success if she didn’t choose her dream job. I basically intruded in her task, telling her to do this and that. I was no different from her parents. That was when she stopped talking to me.

And her fault? Adlerian psychology teaches people to not live to satisfy the expectations of others. Her confusion was the result of trying to live up to the expectations of her parents, and maybe a little bit of mine too. In short, she also didn’t separate her task from others.

Her tasks are to be happy and to find a job that fits her. People's reaction to it were not her task to ponder. That was why she said to me she was sorry, for the job she didn’t take, for the choice she couldn’t make; those were in fact none of my problems. And the fact that she didn’t want to argue with her parents and wanted to live up to her parents' expectations shows she had no courage to be disliked.

She was too afraid to separate the tasks, so she put everyone’s task onto her plate. For her to live up to her parents' expectation worries me, not to mention her being afraid of talking to me as she thought I would be judgmental. That is exactly what she told me. Our friendship turning into havoc was, in fact, the result of people’s inability to separate tasks. How simple!

Thus, dear best friend, for the friendship that has been drained, I wish I could fix it, because now I know what went wrong, re: my intruding advice. But I have already done my task to apologize, and I will not expect you to forgive me. I will be happy seeing you on top someday.


The writer is a research assistant at the Center for Detention Studies.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.