Am I a Bully? When "Positive" Opinions Turn Negative
Updated: Feb 23
We all think our advice is good. We believe that when asked, we have the elusive secrets needed to guide our loved ones in the “right” direction. We all do it -- after a couple glasses of wine and an hour-long session of tears, we convince ourselves that we're such good therapists, Cosmopolitan will call to hire us, on the spot, to write their next advice column.
But --- what happens when trying to give positive advice turns negative?
Where do we draw the line between helping...and hurting?
You know, when someone asks my opinion, I try my best to be brutally honest — kind; but, honest. I try to give my most objective perspective on a situation with every intention of "helping."
The problem is, when offering an opinion (solicited or otherwise), there's this expectation that the recipient will apply it. We believe that we've given them a map for the right way to handle a situation and we expect them to follow it.
We all know; however, that’s not always the case. We all have one person we give all of our good advice too, in hopes that one day they'll finally take it -- and every single time, they ignore it.
But, that's where we run into problems. Our expectations.
The issue is, we only look at a situation from the outside. We view the lives of others from our rational, displaced perspectives which -- though good in theory -- negates their experience. We forget about their thoughts, their feelings, their pain -- and through our expectations, we put limitations on their journey. By convincing them to operate within the blueprint that we provide, we hinder their own process for growth.
Of course, our hearts are in the right place, and our advice is intended to bring about good; but, what we forget is, for every action comes a re-action and the re-action is something we never get to see -- much less live with.
As angry or annoyed as we may get that our sound advice seems to be put on mute, we have to remember that:
The way another person experiences our opinions or advice, has nothing to do with us.
Once our thoughts are released into the atmosphere, we have absolutely no control over what the recipient chooses to do with it. It is no longer our choice, because it’s not our life -- and the ramifications of the actions influenced by what we say, are not things that we have to live with.
So, despite our best intentions, we have to allow people, particularly our loved ones, to interact with our advice or opinions in the way that they choose.
By convincing them, I don't mean yelling or threatening them either. It's usually more subtle than that. It's when we say things like, "It's your choice -- but..." OR "I just want what's best for you; so, ....". It's never malicious or evil because we really do want what's best; but, it's still damaging. By arguing in favour of our own opinions, we alienate the recipient and guilt them into not making their own decisions. It isolates them and diminishes or belittles their own thoughts or feelings by making it seem like everything they wanted to do was wrong. It influences them to do things they really weren't ready to do. By trying to convince them to act in the ways that we see fit, we counter-act all of the help we tried to give and our good-will becomes negative. In trying to project good, we become bullies.
As a matter of fact, I had a situation a few months ago with my own friends, that really brought this to light.
I had a friend in my group, who, to be quite honest, didn't reciprocate the relationship to the group. A lot of the time, she only spoke to us when she needed something or when she wanted to update us on her life. She rarely ever asked us how we were doing and never participated in conversation that didn’t directly involve her. She never wanted to go out of her way for us. It wasn’t that she was incapable, (she was always being thoughtful to her other friends - buying them gifts or throwing surprise parties) she was just selfish when it came to us.
It seemed like she was always willing to give 1000% for her new friends; but, couldn’t be bothered when it came to her oldest ones. The relationship just wasn’t reciprocal.
This went on for years, until one day our friendship ended. To be honest, I was actually happy because as much as I loved her, I wanted to surround myself with people who were there for me as much as I was for them. The relationship was just too toxic.
As she distanced herself, the group eventually moved on without her; that is, until a few months ago.
The group was ready to let bygones be bygones; but, I, on the other hand, wasn't ready to rekindle the friendship.
My reluctance ultimately sparked a huge debate in the group that, quite frankly, didn’t end well. Though I explained that I had no issue with their friendship with her, they just couldn't accept that had no room in my life for maintaining the relationship.
They spent hours trying to convince me that I should change my position. They explained that "in order to live a more positive lifestyle, you just have to make peace with her." They asked, "Why can't you just suck it up for the group?" They argued that it wasn't fair to them that I was making things difficult.
The final nail-in-the-coffin? The moment they said, “I hope one day you can see it from our point of view.”
In their eyes, it wasn’t fair that I didn’t want a relationship with her.
From their perspective, they honestly believed that they were projecting “good;” but, what they didn’t realize was, that “good intention” was actually negative. In trying to articulate what they wanted, they forgot about what I needed. It wasn’t fair to ask me to allow negativity in my personal space; to force me to be uncomfortable JUST for them.
After that, I took a long break from the group and started doing some reflection of myself. I realized that I was actually no different. In my own interactions with others, I also pass judgment on their situations. I too make the people I love feel bad when their choices are wrong in my eyes.
In trying to help, I inadvertently succumb to being a bully — bullying someone’s emotions, thoughts, and actions to reflect my own idea of how their lives should be. No matter how well-intended, my opinion becomes more important than their feelings.
I realize now, when offering advice, we have to be okay with what people decide to do with it. If they ignore it — that’s fine; if they refute it — okay. We need to allow people to do what gives them peace and hope that in the end whatever choices they make are positive to their lives!
So, the next time someone asks advice or comes to you with a situation; the next time you ask someone to do something or act a certain way, think about them first. Think about how it will directly affect them. If it will put them in an uncomfortable position — don’t make them feel bad for saying no. If it will force them to do something they aren’t ready for — allow them time to take things slow. Just because we have an idea of the way things should be, doesn’t mean they share it. Allow people to make the decision or mistakes that they can stand behind, and support them when things either come together OR fall apart.
Remember, we only have one life to live and that’s our own. Whatever we choose to do we have to live with; so, we have to try not to create negativity while trying to force positivity.