It dawned on me last night after yet another “put my foot in it” moment that there is something very simple to tell yourself when you are tempted to interfere, meddle or offer unsolicited advice. A sure-fire way, I think, to stop interfering.
An interesting concept I have come across whilst reading the acreage of self-help tomes which fill our groaning bookshelves is that our daily lives are very much a product of the thoughts we constantly run in our heads.
And most of these thoughts are endless reruns – like a hamster on a wheel. Our world, such as it is, is literally constrained by the number and variety of thoughts gambolling through our minds.
Thoughts, according to the Law of Attraction, become things.
Now, you may not believe in magic but if you consider, everything you have created in your life started off as a thought – and this includes the bad things as well as the good.
Your thoughts tend to create your beliefs. Your beliefs tend to create your feelings and then your feelings release more thoughts which lead to actions. It’s a never-ending cycle if you are unaware of it.
It’s a bit like constantly running the same old movie over and over again. Or, you could choose to think of it as reading yourself the same never-ending story.
But, and this is my point, your story is not my story. You have no way of knowing what is really going on in my head (unless you are a neuro-linguistic programming expert, in which case you may be able to ‘read’ me quite well).
You can change your own story by unearthing the thoughts which trigger your beliefs. For example, you may be reluctant to date after a bad relationship because you think you are unattractive, or unlovable.
You may believe you are destined to be alone. You may feel too anxious to even think about someone new and the resulting action will be to hide at home and to reject the friendly smiles of anyone who tries to strike up a relationship with you.
But this won’t necessarily be true for the friend you have been pushing to come out clubbing or bowling or any other form of tortuous organised ‘fun’. (I’m not big on ‘organised fun’ – can you tell?)
M* is a terrible interferer. She just cannot help but offer advice, even if it is based on random googling and something she read on Facebook.
M* finds she frequently upsets her elderly parents by offering her thoughts on subjects such as applying for a carer’s allowance and buying the right type of mattress for the elderly.
She constantly cautions about hiring unvetted workmen and fears (not without some justification) that her parents will be conned into endless charitable donations. M* just cannot stop interfering.
This advice is met with a certain degree of grumpiness and hurt feelings from her parents who feel that they should be allowed to make their own decisions since they are still in full control of their faculties!
This leads M* to add the burden of guilt to her worry and her compulsion to offer advice.
C* has the same compulsion to ‘advise’ on her best friend’s separation and divorce. She has been pushing her friend to seek legal advice and has told her that she should make sure she has a secret nest-egg to protect herself in the event that her husband ‘takes her to the cleaners’.
C* thinks everything should be sorted out immediately whereas her friend is carefully negotiating the mine-field of hurt feelings and coping with three teenage children who are equally bewildered.
And, unsurprisingly, C* finds her advice rejected and there is a certain frost in the air between her and her best friend.
It is so difficult, isn’t it, to refrain from offering advice but if you are reaching the stage where you are no longer feeling good about it, and your relationships are suffering, here’s what you need to tell yourself.
Because, you know, it really isn’t. Half the time, the advice we give is already known by the other person. By the time you get to your 30s, most of us are pretty savvy and know how the world works. We hear what we want to hear.
Of course, if a friend’s partner is cheating, or they are being abused then the situation is different. Your actions will depend on your own moral compass and your beliefs. You may feel you have a duty to intervene – but even then, it’s still not your story.
So when you feel compelled to advise or interfere (and especially with your partner who views interfering as nagging), sometimes it won’t hurt to step back and let them make their own decisions. This also applies to your children. We grow by experience and learning how to deal with these experiences, both practically and emotionally. It’s not your story.
Instead of rushing in with warnings of dire consequences from something you’ve read in the papers, why not take a moment, make yourself a coffee and ask what’s happening for you in your story today.
As busy mums, that might be a much-needed interference.