Giving advice against all odds

In our 3+ years of running Sooth, we’ve seen a consistent preference for giving advice over getting. People tend to give advice six times more than they seek advice. We see this supported by qualitative data on how much people love giving advice in the community. This preference is then further emphasized in the context of the typical assimilation period we see for new users, lovingly referred to as “voyeur before giver(rr) before asker(rr).” That is, it takes a while for someone to muster up the courage to ask advice. They’re far more likely to give before they get.

In sum, people give more, give sooner, and more freely solicit stories about the joy of giving. With all these data on how much people appear to love giving advice, we nearly lost sight of the reasons why, in real life, advice doesn’t flow freely. There are many reasons for this, of course, but in sum, it’s the biases, stupid (a little psychology joke in light of the election season):

“You’re not going to like this.” No one wants to be the “downer” who makes another person feel incompetent or bad. We try to minimize the bad, distance ourselves from it and emphasize the good. Early research in psychology showed us that people like ‘likers’ - people who rate things positively, whether those things are people, cities, movies and more. We like people who are positive. Based on our own experiences (in addition to research), we know that bad things tend to be stronger than good - and have more lasting effects (everything from bad scents vs. good ones to destructive vs. constructive actions in relationships). People don’t want to take responsibility for powerful bad effects on others.  

“I’m not saying you CAN’T do that…”. When we recommend a given path to someone, or discourage any given direction, people become defensive. They feel as though their freedom has been limited— it’s perceived as a threat. Early research on psychological reactance shows that people can paradoxically become motivated to restore that exact freedom. We also hate losing more than we like winning- people hate to lose license to do something far more than they like to gain permission.

"We used to hunt and gather." Humans are a cooperative species. We’re motivated, evolutionarily speaking, to maintain friendships and form coalitions. Reassurance more than criticism would be a faster path for a reputation as cooperative coalition partner. Beyond the extra effort to tell someone what to do, it’s arguably riskier to get out of our ancestral comfort zone and criticize.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of biases as to why people don't freely dole out advice (and we know, some do!). We're also not suggesting that these biases don't exist online or with anonymity. As we all know too well, it can be hard to give advice, hard to get advice - it's a complicated, albeit fascinating dynamic.

In light of the normal, human challenges and the deviance, trolling, and bullying, we see in the world, it’s reassuring to see people overcome these challenges on Sooth. Thank you for helping us allow that to happen! Thank you for giving advice against all our human oddities!

Insights from the Lab

And that’s a wrap for SoothPsychs lab 2016.

The SoothPsychs lab is the heart of Sooth- the oil that greases the squeaky wheel (and ever so gently hammers down the nail that sticks out). The lab is the engine of the product— the foundation on which we calibrate the delicate balance of man vs. machine, or determine if any algorithm at all can handle the emotional and essentially human experience of giving and getting advice. On the surface, the lab catalyzes product activity and establishes norms for the quality of advice exchanged; but its deeper purpose is to provide out-of-the-lab experience to PhD students interested in applying psychology to the real world and exploring life outside of academic psychology.

Below are select insights that stood out from the 2016 program. The themes encompass learnings from the data (advice giving and seeking), from participating in the community as moderators, and broader thinking about the application of social science in real time:  

  • Miscommunication drives the bulk of advice-seeking. Across all categories (self, romance, friendship, work, family), the majority of situations in the Soothstream appear to stem from miscommunication. People often bring character into question as opposed to specific behaviors. From a social psychological standpoint, advice here flows freely. General social psychological principles like the fundamental attribution error, among other biases in attribution and decision-making are applicable, easily identified, and easily conveyed in plain language to offer perspective.

 

  • Advice-giving can be paradoxical. One of the major challenges of advice-giving is anticipating an individual’s reactions to receiving it, which entails a delicate balance between validation and perspective-taking. Advice needs to genuinely validate the perceived inability to navigate a situation, and yet show, in fact, how surmountable it is. Showing *too many* signs of agreement can activate social referencing, just as children often calibrate how much to cry in response to an injury according to how much or little their caretaker/s freak out. This delicate balance is the most difficult to calibrate without additional context and future interaction.

 

  • Efficient buttons are blunt instruments for complex interactions. Mobile features that are optimized for user experience reduce the information academic psychologists are accustomed to. They eliminate the nuance of an interaction and the spectrum of measures captured in a more controlled lab experiment. For example, the shorthand way to capture if advice is useful, a “thumbs up,” omits whether a user was inspired to think of things in a new way, altered their values, received emotional support, entertainment, etc. This presents new challenges in understanding efficacy.

 

  • Practical tips and how-to’s are often lacking from basic research.  The adjustments required to apply social science to advise on spontaneous articulations of everyday situations exacerbate the gap between academic research and the real world. Social psychologists are adept at seeing underlying dynamics at play and can fluidly propose relevant constructs to help people reframe their situations; but, often practical communication techniques or strategies loosely abstracted from research are more helpful on an individual basis.


Thank you to this year’s members who dutifully moderated the community, contributed to various research projects, and participated in a vibrant discussion of the intersection of their research and advice. If you’re interested in discussing these insights, exploring beyond the walls of academia, and being a part of an exciting program, please reach out.

Advice on Anger

This week's post is written by Sooth Lab member, Daniel Sude. Daniel is a Ph.D. Student in Communication at Ohio State University and holds two Master's Degrees: an M.A. in Psychology from the Culture & Self Lab at the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the Rios Conformity, Attitudes, Threat, and Self Lab at the University of Chicago.

Anger is a tricky emotion – it can help us to confront problems. It can also lead to mistakes.

On the Soothstream many people are experiencing anger. However, rather than raging at their problem, they tend to express it in a thoughtful way.

Let’s take an example:

I am the breadwinner in my family which makes my husband feel slightly inferior. At least, that's how I see it. He doesn't ever fess up to it but I can tell he's embarrassed when other couples come for dinner and it becomes clear he's in charge of most of the domestic duties. Usually it flares up the night after we have friends over and I notice he tries to slack off or do things in a way I obviously don't like or don't think is good enough. Last night, he left all the dishes out after 2 of our best couple friends were over so there was quite the mess. I don't know whether to make a point of it by leaving them out, or just cleaning up myself. I feel like it wouldn't be this way if our roles were gender reversed.

So here a Soother has a strong impression that her husband has wronged her. There’s a division of labor in the relationship – he has slacked off. She’s, at least, a little angry.

When something makes you angry it can have some almost paradoxical effects. It tends to elevate physiological arousal (Henry, 1986) – your heart rate for example. In this state of heightened arousal – you probably want to get things done. If your salient goals are constructive, that energy can be wonderful. I will talk more about that in a moment.

Sometimes, however, all we want to do is defend ourselves against “being wronged” and put the wrongdoer in their place. When we feel that way, we can charge ahead like a bull in a china shop and take whatever path we need to get the satisfaction of winning (see both Tiedens and Linton (2001) and Moons and Mackie (2007) for a debate about anger, certainty, and thoughtfulness).

So our Soother may “make a point” and leave the dishes out. She may also scream at her spouse. In screaming at her spouse, she may accuse him of sexism, of being lazy, of any variety of things. Each of these strategies represents a shortcut – a way of reducing a complex situation to a simple “the other person is wrong, I am right” story.

Let’s say she’s more cautious. She could just clean up the dishes (forgiving him this lapse) and try to put it behind her. She could also stew in silent resentment. She could also talk to him, getting his perspective.

Now, it would be great if talking could solve everything. But in reality, we have limited knowledge of ourselves, so we communicate in limited ways. We also have limited knowledge of other people, even people we really, really love.

But, remember how anger can give you energy? What if you eschew winning and its associated shortcuts? Can you harness your anger to gain knowledge?

Anger tends to promote more active thinking even among people who are dispositionally low in a Need for Cognition (DeSteno, Petty, Rucker, Wegener, & Braverman, 2004). Even people who prefer to think less think more when they are angry. Often these thoughts are ranting and biased. But they don’t have to be.

Our Soother, for example, has given thoughtful, careful consideration to her husband’s behavior. Her first interpretation is that he feels embarrassed, won’t “fess up,” and is acting out. Maybe our Soother is missing something . . .

Well, aware of that possibility, she asked the Soothstream.

Hopefully, we helped!

Of the suggestions on the Soothstream, some dealt with perspective-taking.

Good perspective-taking (ask the cultural Anthropologist/Social Psychologist/Communication researcher), can be exhausting.

Effective perspective-taking requires simulating multiple possibilities – using a combination of introjection and projection. When introjecting, we bring what is foreign about another person’s experience into our own heads.  When projecting we think about our own, familiar experiences, and use them to make sense of someone else.

It is an iterative process – repeating again and again – because people who have very different perspectives, very different thoughts and feelings, can sometimes behave in similar ways.  There is a lot of ambiguity. Accuracy can be difficult.

What if our Soother’s husband is simply tired out by parties? What if he was drinking and got exhausted? What if he was embarrassed and he just needs a little time to get his head straight before he washes up?

Can anger help us muster the energy to identify these possibilities? Can anger help us to be more accurate? If we avoid being defensive, the answer is yes.

How can we learn from her honesty and effort as we go forth and get angry in our own lives?

  • Acknowledge your anger
  • If you don’t have to act in the moment, use anger’s energy to help you to be more creative and more sophisticated in your perspective-taking.
  • Generate multiple possible scenarios about what’s going on with the other person.
  • When it’s time to resolve the situation – make your best guess about what’s going on.
  • Learn from the outcome.

Remember all that work you did when a new situation comes along.

Anger is a constant, we can plan around it, work with it, and channel it in constructive ways.

Four Soothing Lessons from Social Psychology to Apply to Your Everyday Life

This week's post is written by Sooth Intern, Robert Garcia. Robert recently completed his Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine.

1. Don’t take everything so personally – The Fundamental Attribution Error

That jerk cut me off on the freeway!”  “I was late because a bunch of stuff kept coming up!”  We make these kinds of attributions automatically every day without realizing the underlying patterns at work.  An attribution is a judgment or inference about why someone took a particular action.  A dispositional attribution is the inference that someone did something because of who he or she is (i.e., personality or identity), while a situational attribution is the inference that someone did something because of the situation he or she was in. 

The Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency, at least in Western cultures, for people to prefer making dispositional attributions to situational ones about the behavior of others, and to prefer making situational attributions to dispositional ones about their own behavior.  This makes sense because we’re stuck in ourselves and can’t really factor out our personality, so we focus on the situations we’re facing when describing our motives.  When we think about others, we often don’t take the time to think of all the pressures they face, which is a missed opportunity for empathy. 

Practice understanding how people’s behavior is a product of their circumstances and suddenly many otherwise hurtful things will feel a lot less personally directed at you.  Loved ones who have hurt you probably weren’t trying to hurt you – they were just struggling with their own conflicts.  And even callous or malicious behavior can be reframed as a coping mechanism used by insecure individuals.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side – Psychological Reactance Theory

Decisions, decisions… So many tough choices in life require weighing how we think different alternatives will make us feel.  One thing that many people naively think is that if they make the right choices, they will have no regrets.  A more nuanced view requires acknowledging psychological reactance – the tendency for us to react negatively to situations where we perceive our freedoms or privileges to be threatened. 

For example, reactance occurs all the time in intimate relationships.  While in a relationship, an individual may feel frustrated and yearn for the freedoms of being single.  If those feelings lead to a break-up, that individual had better be prepared for reactance to kick in: the privileges of having the former partner’s company (“all the good times”) will be missed.  In other words, what we focus on depends on what we have, what we gain, and what we lose or lack and can change depending on the situation.  Anticipate your post-decision mental flip-flopping and reap the benefits of stability through foresight.

3. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – Social Comparison Theory

We are social animals and we are programmed to compare ourselves to others all the time.  We live in a society where celebrities and other high status – that is, rich, powerful, good-looking – individuals receive the spotlight of our media’s attention.  It becomes hard to avoid comparing ourselves to these seemingly superior individuals.  Social comparison theory posits that how we feel about ourselves depends on whom we choose to compare ourselves to and how we stack up against them.  Comparisons to those who we perceive as better than ourselves will often make us feel bad, while comparisons to those who we perceive as worse than ourselves can make us feel good. 

Awareness of this tendency can help us transcend automatic judgments in either direction and replace them with mindfulness.  Instead of envying “the lifestyle of the rich and famous”, we can remind ourselves that we are lucky to have everything that we do, for there are countless people worse off than we are who would give anything to have what we do.  Combine this with the insight from the Fundamental Attribution Error to avoid condescension toward those folks and realize that their lot in life is the result of situational and institutional forces.  On the flip side, we must remain humble and not forget that there are always others who have surpassed us in any given domain. 

When we focus on non-materialistic characteristics that really matter, we can remember that we are fortunate to have all kinds of wonderful role models around the world to learn from.  This is about replacing upward envy and downward condescension with admiration and gratitude in both directions.  We can admire both those who have achieved more than us and those who have gotten by with less than us and we can learn from everyone.

4. You are always growing – “The End of History” Illusion

People often think about patience as something externally oriented – a tolerance that we have for others or for frustrating situations – but it can be useful to think about the notion of patience with oneself.  “The end of history” illusion refers to the finding in psychological research that people tend to assume that they are static.  In other words, people tend to operate as though they have reached their “final form” and neglect the fact that they are actually continuing on their developmental trajectory.  This is useful to recognize because, when it comes to skills, it can help counter and alleviate concerns about inadequacy.  Instead of using the mindset of “you either have it or you don’t,” we can remember that many characteristics are skills that can be honed with time. 

Being a beginner at this moment doesn’t preclude being an expert later on.  The illusion that future situations will be different but we won’t also applies to emotions.  Things that seem colossally intimidating or overwhelming at this moment will not necessarily be that way at other times.  Practice “zooming out” and realize that many of the problems that concern you today will seem trivial or even be forgotten after five years.  Or, if they are chronic issues that won’t go away, recognize that you can grow in strength of will, character, and resilience over time.  There is no stage of life where learning and growth are useless.  Embrace both throughout your lifetime!

On Resilience

This week's post is written by Sooth Lab member, Daniel Sude. Daniel is a Ph.D. Student in Communication at Ohio State University and holds two Master's Degrees: an M.A. in Psychology from the Culture & Self Lab at the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the Rios Conformity, Attitudes, Threat, and Self Lab at the University of Chicago.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

    Ernest Hemingway – “Farewell to Arms”

I write this from my personal perspective, but also as a social psychologist. I cannot claim objectivity but I hope that my words resonate. With our nation facing multiple tragic events in the past two weeks, in Michigan, Louisiana, and Texas, and with tragic events in our own lives, we can find ourselves feeling frustrated, angry, and hopeless.

Whether we have lost a job, lost a marriage, or lost our sense of self-esteem, whether we have faced attacks on ourselves or our social groups, we must realize that life is not measured in success. It is measured in what we value and how much we are willing to fight for what we value.

The things we fight for even though we might lose them are the things we really care about.    Wealth, power, and status are tools that we use to achieve our goals, not ends in themselves.

Too often we sell our own hearts short – failing to identify those things in life that gives us deeper happiness, meaning, and purpose. But it is those very things that help to define us, help us to take stock of who we are and what we have yet to do.

Life is chaotic and unpredictable for everyone, although more so for some than for others. In response to this chaos, we can cultivate a sense of resilience.

Resilience helps us, rather than giving up on the things that matter to us, to be willing to continue to care, to continue to strive, even when everything seems to be falling apart. With resilience, even when we are vulnerable, we can still act.

How can we develop that resilience? A first step is being kind to ourselves – pushing ourselves but not attacking ourselves. We must know, deeply, that we will never have perfect control over the outcomes of our actions, only control over whether we choose to act.  

When we are tempted to blame ourselves for things that are not really our fault, it is sometimes, in a strange way, because we want to feel motivated. We want to believe that if we just had tried to be smarter or stronger things would have gone our way.

But imagine yelling at someone else the way you may yell at yourself. Imagine holding them to a rigid, impossible to meet standard of perfection. Watch them harden under that pressure. Watch them become brittle at times of repeated loss, of repeated failure.

A second step towards developing resilience is incorporating the possibility of failure into our expectations. We want to be able to try and fail and try again. One way to keep ourselves motivated is to have backup plans – alternative approaches that we can test out over time.

Another way is to be grateful for the resources that we have, whether those be social, financial, or personal. Gratitude encourages us to invest resources wisely. We get a sense of when we need to take a break, to recoup our losses. We also, often, realize that we have more strength left in us than we thought.

Last, we must be grateful for our progress, however slow. In balance, the more we act, the farther we get. Life is not always a matter of moving one step forward only to take two steps back. In countless ways, everyday, we learn, we grow, and we prepare ourselves for a more meaningful, more purposeful, life.

Why Ask Advice

This week's post is written by Sooth Lab member, Janae Koger. Janae is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Cari Goetz’ Evolutionary psychology Lab at California State University, San Bernadino.

When I am at Subway, I often find myself asking my roommates if I should get a 6-inch or a 12-inch sandwich. They always say 12-inch for the following reasons: I eat a lot, I like sandwiches, and they know I will probably order one anyway. So, why do I ask? I know, sandwiches is a silly topic for discussion, but there is some truth in what I have illustrated. People often ask for advice when they have already made up their mind or have a preconceived notion of what they are already going to do. So why ask? Honest answers often include:

  1. We like having our feelings validated.
  2. We want someone to commend us on our awesome choices.
  3. We appreciate the objective standpoint of someone who is not emotionally involved. Well, prepare to have your mind blown: none of these really come to fruition in advice-giving.

Some honest thoughts on the illusion of transparency

The easiest thing I have done as intern for Sooth, an advice giving community, is affirm what I perceive to be other people’s feelings about their current situation. Sometimes the person seeking advice states, “this really pissed me off”. I love those people. It makes saying, “I understand why that pissed you off” way easier. It’s easier because there is no guessing work, I do not need to pretend to know exactly what they are feeling. This is the illusion of transparency, the belief that other people are capable of being, “inside your head” and therefore knowing what you are feeling and experiencing. Personally, I find nothing more infuriating than when I express my vulnerability to someone and they tell me how I feel. “Yeah, you're sad.” “I know I am irritating you.” A word of advice on giving advice, those statements are not super helpful. Let the person tell you how they feel, and if they don’t, ask. It’s difficult to validate someone's feelings when you simply do not know what they are feeling.
Some honest thoughts on the false consensus effect

All too often people seeking advice want to hear their words come out of your mouth. Cue false consensus effect: the tendency to think that most people agree with our thoughts and attitudes, and in this case, decisions. There have been instances where I feel like I am giving a person advice contrary to what they want to hear. It can be difficult. You want to be helpful and supportive, while still giving good advice. Advice can be difficult to hear and it can be extra challenging to hear it from a stranger. That’s one of my favorite things about Sooth. Strangers band together in the most vulnerable, trusting way to try to help and be there for others. I am just a stranger. I am Soother X, I have no face, I have no credibility. People must trust that this app, this anonymous safe space, is trustworthy in order for them to trust me. I know when I give advice that is contrary to what people want to hear, I run the risk of fueling reactance which might even deter people from seeking advice again. So, when I do have to post advice that goes against what someone else wants to hear, I affirm all of their solutions and word my advice in a very active and opinionated way. For example, phrases such as, “I feel as if”, and “Maybe it would be beneficial for you to try” have become frequent in my Sooth vocabulary.


Some honest thoughts on objectivity and empathy

When people post on anonymous online communities in general, they are typically looking for an outside perspective— an objective standpoint to base a very serious decision off of. We as a collective society are not objective. When the teenager posting that she is still in love with her ex-boyfriend who treats her like crap is posting for advice on what to do, I hear my little sister’s voice on the phone, crying, telling me that her douche of a boyfriend cheated on her again, should she give him another chance? I feel myself typing the response to the anonymous in-love teenager, and it usually goes like this, “Drop his sorry ass. You are a queen and should be treated as such. Who does he think he is? Where does he live? I’m driving there right now…” Okay, not helpful, right? But, such is empathy. The ability to be within someone, to experience their pain and to be willing to be vulnerable in their own vulnerability. Brene Brown has a wonderful short video on empathy that I highly recommend.

I have noticed it is hard for me to give advice on situations that hit to close to home. “I don’t think I love my husband anymore.” “I’m depressed and I don’t know what to do.”, “I think my best friend is in an abusive relationship, how can I help?” I stare at my phone and I feel what the other person— maybe a next door neighbor, maybe someone on the other side of the planet— is feeling. Distance is shrunk into the spaces between words and I swear I can reach out and hold their hand. This is empathy and this is the reality of advice giving. Maybe if they can get through it, so can the people I love or maybe so can I? Advice giving has this magic quality. You are vulnerable with the other person in the most human way possible and you are able to find solutions to heal your scars by helping others. You are able to talk to yourself by reading scenarios that hit too close to home. You are able to tell yourself to give yourself a break, to love yourself, to leave the abusive relationship, to forgive your mother, to talk to a therapist, all by typing words of advice on a mobile phone.


Advice is a path to self discovery

Giving advice is difficult, but not impossible. If you’re aware of people’s preconceptions or defenses— their desires to have their feelings validated, choices commended, or receive objectivity, you can give good advice that’s well received and constructive. In both getting and giving advice in an anonymous and safe space, you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about other people’s realities. You learn styles of advice-giving, you begin to have favorites— like how one person puts smiley faces in their comments and another person asks questions as if they are talking directly to the poster. Not too long ago, a friend was standing in the hallway of my apartment holding a pregnancy test in one hand and her stomach in the other. She already has two children, she asks me, ‘What should I do?” That very night on Sooth someone posted a situation: they have children and their husband wants to move his young child into the house. They are struggling to make ends meet and the mother feels like she is already at the end of her rope. “What should I do?” I sit down and start giving advice.

Giving Good Advice

This week's post is a follow up to last week's post on Seeking Good Advice. It's written by Sooth Lab Member, Daniel Sude. Daniel is a Ph.D. Student in Communication at Ohio State University and holds two Master's Degrees: an M.A. in Psychology from the Culture & Self Lab at the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the Rios Conformity, Attitudes, Threat, and Self Lab at the University of Chicago.

In giving advice, our intentions are typically good, but there are some common traps that run us off track. While most of us usually feel like we have good advice to give, we sometimes struggle with etiquette… This might turn into a realization that we don’t quite understand the situation, let alone our ability to imagine how on earth someone got themselves into that situation!

Sometimes, we only realize this after we offer up the advice and the other person bites our head off! How rude, right? But then we think a little deeper about it, and we realize that we were making assumptions that weren't relevant to the situation. Sometimes we realize this; sometimes we just get irritated and feel like we’ll never be capable of giving good advice. You can. You don’t have to understand someone’s situation perfectly to give good advice.

Perhaps you were:

  • A parent trying to help your child choose a major.
  • A single person trying to give a married couple advice on how to communicate.
  • A healthy person trying to help an ill person cope with their disease.

In all of these situations (each of which have appeared in the Soothstream) you lack key knowledge:

  • You don’t know what the job market will be like for each major. You may not know what skills are required to be successful in each major.
  • You don’t know how well or how poorly the couple communicates, you aren’t there during their fights, you aren’t there when the fights are resolved.
  • You don’t know what it’s like to cope with that disease, what energy it takes, and what solutions will prove effective in the long term.

A number of psychological biases can lead you to, in the moment, underestimate this lack of knowledge :

1. Confirmation bias. We tend to look for information that confirms our preexisting beliefs. In the first situation – you may have a sense that some majors are more practical than others. You may give advice based on these beliefs – without looking into the question more deeply. It could be that a major that sounds impractical offers transferable skills that are highly valued by employers. It could be that your child will excel in this major, more so than if they chose an alternative.

2. Illusion of explanatory depth. We often think we know something better than we actually do. This overestimation arises because we are thinking abstractly – (and for a six study exploration of this relationship see Missing the Trees for the Forest). When we are thinking abstractly, it never occurs to us to look more deeply at our own knowledge. Let’s look at trying to help a married couple communicate through the lens of the illusion of explanatory depth. What does communication mean? Mere talking? Expressing our emotions? Venting our emotion?     

Most people advising “communication” intend something more specific. They may want the couple to talk about how they are feeling and how those feelings are influencing their perspectives. They may want the couple to give each other a nonjudgmental conversational space and to explore their problems cooperatively. In clarifying these intentions, the advice giver provides actual, not illusory, explanatory depth.

3. Passive dehumanization. Social psychologists did not intend pretention in the name – rather they were contrasting active dehumanization, where you treat another person as if they were less than human, with a more common ailment. In passive dehumanization we underestimate the intensity of another person’s experience precisely because it is another person’s experience. We can imagine their pain or their joy but that imagination is an extra effort. At a gut, automatic level, we are going to be more aware of our own experience than we are of another’s.

Let’s consider being a healthy person trying to help someone who is ill. Let’s imagine that the person’s illness is depression. We want to help, so we advise them to focus on the good things in life and pay less attention to the bad. After all, depression biases beliefs and reasoning. We may advise them to get moving. Exercise is good for depression. But if they don’t take our advice, we may get frustrated. We get frustrated because we underestimated the experience of depression. We underestimated depression because we have never experienced it ourselves. We may try to relate it to experiences we have had – grief and loss – for example. But we passively dehumanize when we get so caught up in our own experience that we neglect to learn about the other person’s.

So what are the solutions to overcome these biases and give good — relevant, assumption-free advice?

Offer personal best practices, provide multiple solutions, and learn from each other.

1. Personal Best Practices. You have learned a lot over the years. You have learned how to make decisions, to manage your emotions, and to overcome obstacles. We each have developed individual best practices that are worth sharing with others.

For example, I have grown as a person by noticing that emotions carry with them a set of specific, relevant concerns. I have learned to address these concerns directly, treating emotions as counselors with important but limited expertise, rather than letting them run wild like competing generals fighting for control. When I recommend this practice to others, I know that I am not walking in their shoes. I can only suggest that they integrate it into their lives, I can’t tell them exactly how to do so, from moment to moment, situation to situation.

What happens when I meet a student who has anxiety about choosing a major? Experiences of anxiety are intimately connected with concerns about uncertainty and control. Addressing both, I might tell my own story, describe my choice of major and where that choice lead. In doing so I would emphasize transferable skills. Even if your major is not directly relevant to a career, it can help you adapt to new contexts – a comforting thought for a student who fears making the wrong choice. I might even recommend looking at job market statistics, helping the student to gage risk more concretely. All of these recommendations address anxiety in concrete ways. Not one of them, of course, is a perfect solution (the Asker soon learns that other people cannot solve their problem, only help them solve it for themselves).  

2. Provide Multiple Solutions. Sometimes multiple solutions are relevant. When encouraging a couple to communicate better – I may have no idea why they are failing to communicate in the first place. But, I can still recommend taking time in the middle of their arguments to describe their feelings and needs in the moment. I know that, sometimes, acknowledging impulses can keep your partner from getting confused when you suddenly act on them.

I can also recommend giving your partner space to puzzle through things and supporting their process without judging it. Too often we are so frustrated by bad outcomes that we just want our partners to fix things – rather than helping them to do so. Of course, other concerns may be at play. It could be part of a person’s experience of gender to want to stand up for themselves and express their emotions freely, even if that expression is unfiltered. Gender roles can also lead to a desire to be better than your spouse in a certain domain –housework, childrearing, sports, or employment, for example. When a couple is having trouble communicating – I don’t know what issues are at play – I can only make recommendations, at least one of which will help.
   

3. Learn from Each Other. When we give advice anonymously, we present our personal best practices and brainstorm a variety of solutions to someone’s problem. They can then take it from there. When dealing with friends and family, and even when first reading someone Asking for advice on Sooth, we have the opportunity to get a more detailed picture of someone’s problem.

How do we have clarity about what’s going on in someone else’s life? First, we can distinguish problems that sound familiar from those outside of our experience.

Let’s take the depression example. Friends of mine (including an ex) have suffered from depression. How can I relate? I have occasionally experienced a sense of hopelessness. I have occasionally experienced extreme fatigue. But while I can take my own experience as raw material and try to build a bridge to the other person, I know that depression is different.

Their fatigue is more overwhelming. Their hopelessness is more frequent and more lasting. For them, even clearly beneficial solutions may be accompanied by a feeling of futility, undermining even the motivation to get help. I can try to provide helpful advice, but I can never assume that I know what will work for that person, in that moment.

Certainly, I don’t want to provoke a sense of resentment. I do not understand what they are going through. However, even without this understanding, I can still help. I can make salient possibly helpful behaviors – like exercise, therapy, or medicine. I can call them out when they are being self-destructive, indulging in self-hatred, for example. I do so without judgment. Who wants to criticize them for being too self-critical? I can offer support and sympathy when they try, and fail, to get better. I can celebrate with them when they have that hard won good day, good week, or good year.  
    
We all struggle to give good advice. We all struggle to understand. We all struggle to be useful. It’s ok. Your personal best practices, your ability to generate multiple possible solutions, and your willingness to learn from others are the best you can do; the best we can do. The best.  

 

Seeking Good Advice

This week's post is written by Sooth Intern, Daniel Sude. Daniel is a Ph.D. Student in Communication at Ohio State University and holds two Master's Degrees: an M.A. in Psychology from the Culture & Self Lab at the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the Rios Conformity, Attitudes, Threat, and Self Lab at the University of Chicago.

Let’s say that you want to know whether you’re going to like a restaurant. You ask one friend and they rave about how good it is. You ask another friend and they rant about how bad it is. You go online and you see mixed reviews:

  • “I hated this restaurant! The food was overcooked and they wouldn’t know a good pizza if it bit them! I had to wait forever to be served. The waiter was rude!”
  • “I loved this restaurant! This pizza was delicious and everything was cooked just right! We were served promptly and the waitstaff were very polite.”

Useful? Useless? Would you eat there?

    In this situation, you had a relatively simple question and you sought advice. However, there was confusion about what “good advice” would look like. On Sooth, where we handle more complex life advice, I tend to look at good advice as something that simultaneously helps you to clarify your goals and that helps you to gather the information that you need to pursue those goals.   

    In this particular example, your goals are a collection of idiosyncratic food preferences. If you were to sit down and write it out, you might clarify them in this way:

  • I hate fruit and meat on pizza; love properly smoky eggplant on my pizza!
  • I like crisper, crunchier crusts, I don’t care if they’re not “New York style”!
  • I just want an authentic experience!

and so on . . .

Just as in life decisions, these concerns address a range of very specific expectations concerning ingredients, recipes, and cultural associations. It is personal and, when it comes to how things taste, subjective. Different people have different sensitivities to different flavors. It is difficult for anyone to predict an individual’s personal experience. Think about the last time you were at a wine tasting and tried to identify which berry, if any, you could smell in the wine’s “nose.”

You may actually just want “the best” pizza, by which you mean anything that knowledgeable critics celebrate as superior. Often when seeking life advice we don’t see the nuance and just want to make the “best” or “right” decision.

When seeking advice on Sooth, your situation probably registers as more complicated than deciding whether to try a new pizza place:

  • You may register it emotionally as a conflict in desires or a sense of being lost in indecision.
  • You may register it as strong need to establish simplicity, to establish order.
  • You may simply want to better justify a decision that you’ve already made.

At the same time you may have numerous preferences that it can take you a while to identify and articulate. These preferences may occur so rapidly and be so intuitive to you don’t even think about them. They may also change with fluctuations in your emotional states, your recent experiences.

In a recent situation on Sooth, an anonymous community member asks whether to stay in his/her old job or seek a new one. In sum, they like what they’re being paid but don’t like the social experience. They were feeling isolated and angry because of a recent social struggle, making them want to leave. But because of a major expense, wanted to stay.

In writing to the Sooth community, you dip into the complexity of your situation. You feel through your emotional experience – which can be quite intense. You notice your arising preferences, sometimes slippery and shifting. You may even start to reach a conclusion. Even the mere process of asking on Sooth brings you clarity; then, there’s an extra benefit from reading the responses of other people.

Other people can help us to consider what is "normal." This is a loaded term, for many of us:

  • Sometimes we look at something “normal” as something that is generally functional, adaptable, and “good enough.”
  • Sometimes the “normal” decision is irrelevant to us. We have particular needs to fulfill in a particular situation.
  • Sometimes, there is no distinct “normal” – there are indeed multiple common responses to our situation.  People disagree.
  • Sometimes, departing from the norm – doing something outside of the normal – feels wrong to us and fills us with doubt and apprehension.

We are influenced, psychologists suggest by both descriptive and prescriptive norms. We identify a descriptive norm when we think to ourselves, “well, most people would do this.” We identify a prescriptive norm when we ask ourselves – “What do other people think is the right thing to do?” In the case of our pizza place example, one concern was authenticity. Authenticity captures both descriptive norms (did people really eat that kind of pizza) and prescriptive norms (is this type of pizza somehow better? Is it more refined? More flavorful? More distinctive?).

In asking for advice on Sooth, we get feedback that can inform our sense of the descriptive norm – what do other people actually do? – and the prescriptive norm – what do people think that we should do? But why would we care?

Let’s take another recent example in the Soothstream. In gist, a wife is frustrated because her husband won’t communicate. She is wondering whether this frustration is reasonable. She asks – “is this just how most men are?” – comparing her situation against a descriptive norm. If Soothers were to agree that this is just how most men are, it may be unreasonable to expect her husband to be different. At the same time, if most men are like this, the situation is not her fault. That can be both a pacifying and an unsettling discovery.

But what if, in asking the Sooth community, she finds that other people have faced and overcome the same problem. They may share with her a common practice for improving martial communication. They may share an extremely useful descriptive norm.

Our advice seeker is also considering prescriptive norms. She wants to know whether she is justified in seeking change. Does she have a right to expect her husband to grow? Is better communication a necessary part of a good relationship? Is she ignoring the way that her husband expresses himself through his actions, rather than words? Other Soothers weigh in on these deeper questions – present their arguments, their experiences, their preferences, and help her to look at her own in a new way. They may highlight something that she has noticed but not considered. They may strengthen her reasoning. They may occasionally call attention to gaps in her perceptions.   
 
In asking for advice on Sooth, we are able to dig deep. It can be a humbling experience. It can also be affirming. Our problems are problems. Our confusion is justified. If choosing a pizza place is hard, solving a relationship problem or choosing to leave a job is orders of magnitude harder. But, despite this complexity, we can learn. We can grow. We can make wise choices. This first step is asking for advice; it's looking fully at our problem. Then, as we consider each Soother’s response, we can go forward with greater clarity, confidence, and openness.

In a later post, I’ll approach these issues from the perspective of someone giving advice – reaching beyond our own perspectives to help others to find clarity. See you next time!

Four More Reasons Why “Just Be Yourself” is Not Good Advice

This week's post is once again written by Sooth Intern, Robert Garcia. Robert recently completed his Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Behavior at UC Irvine.

This week a big brouhaha emerged over Adam Grant's NY Times Opinion piece titled, "Unless you're Oprah, 'Be Yourself' is Terrible Advice." Brené Brown respectfully and firmly disagreed with what she felt was a reductionist argument and misrepresentation of her work on authenticity. Back and forth ensued over the merits of authenticity while we were left to analyze what exactly makes for good advice. Continuing his pithy Four-Reason-approach accessibly integrating the social and cognitive psychological literatures, Robert's take is below:

“I am large, I contain multitudes”
“Just be yourself” lacks specificity about the facets of the person receiving the advice.  What part of that person is being referenced or highlighted?  Her careful side or her spontaneous side?  His generous side or his frugal side?  We are complex beings, harboring many different sub-identities and filling various social roles – good advice should be tailored to the ones most relevant to solving the problem.

There’s always room for self-improvement
“Just be yourself” tends to operate on the assumption that “you’re perfect just the way you are.”  While it’s great to feel unique and valuable, that assumption also tends to reduce people’s motivation to improve anything about themselves.  We should be humble enough to acknowledge our bad habits – they’re still part of us and it shouldn’t be a threat to our identities to work on changing them.  Sometimes personal growth and problem solving require leaving one’s comfort zone.

Generalities will only take you so far
“Just be yourself” also lacks specificity about the situation the person receiving advice is facing.  What is appropriate in some situations may be inappropriate for others, and good advice should reflect that.  Good advice should also incorporate the cause of the problem.  For example, “Just be yourself” isn’t too useful for solving interpersonal conflict if just being yourself was how you got into that mess in the first place!  

Nobody wants to be a “deer in the headlights”
You’ve got to have a plan of attack before going into battle.  Expecting your true self to come out and save the day in your hour of need may be a tall order for high-pressure situations.  It makes more sense to plan specific behaviors ahead and anticipate different possibilities before it’s too late and time for strategizing runs out.  

***

What, then, is good advice?

Our suggestion: good advice is closely tailored to both the person and their situation. 

  1. Identify what the person’s most important values are. 
  2. Identify what specific steps the person can take to enact those values and bring about a desirable outcome. 
  3. Make contingency plans: depending on how the situation unfolds, planning ahead can reduce the likelihood of impulsive bad choices. 

And don’t forget – be supportive and encouraging throughout the process.  Happy soothing!

Don't Talk to Strangers... or, Maybe You Should

As part of our series on the psychology of advice, this post was written by Sooth intern, Michelle Hasan who recently earned her Ph.D. in the Applied Social Psychology Lab at St. Louis University and now is a Senior Research Assistant in the Center for Public Health Systems Science at Washington University in St. Louis.

Imagine this: you’re sitting in the park on a cool summer night, contemplating life while on the swings. Someone takes a seat on the swing next to you. Can you envision yourself talking to this person about your indecision regarding what career path to take? Would you feel comfortable letting this person know you feel like a bad mother because you’re working all the time? Would you be okay asking this person for advice regarding how to spice up your sex life? If you’re like most people, the thought of spilling the details of your life to a complete stranger might sound weird and/or incredibly awkward. Who is this person and why would they care about my situation? Why would I want advice from someone who doesn’t even know me?

Such thoughts beg the question: who do you talk to when you need advice? Chances are that you share your situation with close friends, family members, or your significant other. After all, these people know you well, know your history, and likely have your best interest at heart. So why would you share your situation with a stranger and ask advice from someone who knows nothing about you? The very fact that this person plays a non-significant role in your life is what allows him/her to be objective. They have no vested interest in you or your situation and you can be sure that they have little, if anything, to gain from giving you advice and from what you decide to do (except maybe feeling like they’ve helped humankind!). People tend to value non-judgmental, objective advice, so who better than a stranger to give you a little guidance? Members of the Sooth community agree, asking for advice regarding highly personal topics, including:

  • What to do when a sibling wants to get back together with an unfaithful romantic partner
  • How to deal with a parent who suffers from hoarding issues
  • What to do when a friendship seems to have run its course
  • What to do when the frequency of sex decreases in a marital relationship

Research suggests that we communicate more effectively with strangers than with close others. When we communicate with a close other, we often feel that this person has insight into our situation and ourselves, therefore, we don’t feel the need to provide a thorough explanation (Savitsky, Keysar, Epley, Carter, & Swanson, 2011). We tend to take an egocentric position with close others, failing to consider the possibility that they do not have all of the information that we have. In contrast, when we communicate with a stranger, we automatically provide more information because we don’t have a “closeness bias” with this person. Thus, a stranger may understand us better than a close other, because we put forth more time and effort into ensuring that our stranger has all of the information that we have.

So, the next time you’re mulling something over, consider chatting up that stranger in the park. Or, stick with the Soothstream!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

We’re kicking off Summer of Sooth with some thoughts on the psychology of advice from the SoothPsychs Lab. This week's contribution comes from Chase Wilson, a 5th year Ph.D  Student in Applied Social Psychology at Loyola University Chicago.

We’re kicking off Summer of Sooth with some thoughts on the psychology of advice from the SoothPsychs Lab. This week's contribution comes from Chase Wilson, a 5th year Ph.D  Student in Applied Social Psychology at Loyola University Chicago.

As a follow up to my post on decisions and spreading of alternatives , I thought I’d come back and say a bit more about decisions, and the feelings we have before and after them.

We often make decisions based on how we think we will feel as a result. For example, imagine that I am deciding whether to work for a few more hours, or go out for a bike ride instead. I imagine the first option will make me feel more accomplished and satisfied, but I might also regret not taking advantage of the nice weather (a sin to be strongly avoided here in Chicago. The second option should be fun, but I might feel guilty for procrastinating.  These predicted feelings (guilt, regret, etc.) inform my decision of what to do. In psychology lingo, these affective forecasts help guide decisions.

Unfortunately, our affective forecasts are not quite as accurate as weather forecasts. Research shows that we are pretty good at predicting how we would feel in certain situations (happy or sad), but not how intensely, or for how long. We overestimate how happy having a new job will make us -- but overestimate, too, how devastating it would be to lose that job. The same principle holds true for minor day-to-day decisions, like the one described above.

Is there any way to improve predictions about future feelings? Hearing from someone who has already been through it (whatever it is) may improve predictions dramatically. In one study , researchers set women up on five-minute “speed dates” with guys. Each woman was asked to predict how much she would enjoy the date. To help with their predictions, each woman was either given: A) a detailed profile about the guy’s interests, hometown, etc. – or B) another woman’s report of how much she enjoyed meeting the guy. After the date, each woman rated how enjoyable the date in fact was, so the researchers could see how accurate her prediction was.  As it turns out, the women’s predictions were more accurate when they read another woman’s report, than when they got the detailed profiles of the guy (almost 50% more accurate).

If this seems implausible, that’s not surprising -- it seemed implausible to the participants too. Most of the participants (wrongly) believed the detailed information would help them make more accurate predictions than would the other woman’s report. We don’t expect others’ experiences to be so illuminating for our own future situations. After all, we have distinct personalities, interests and backgrounds – so we can’t know for certain that we’ll feel the same way that someone else did. Nevertheless, peoples’ emotional reactions to situations are similar enough (sunny weather, sympathetic listeners, and unexpected days off tend to shift everyone’s mood in approximately the same direction), that others’ experiences can actually provide pretty valuable information. Unfortunately, we have a blind spot about this, and tend not to seek out others’ viewpoints as often as we should. New platforms, like Sooth, that allow us to get others’ fresh perspectives, should help make our “affective forecasts” more accurate – which can help us make better-informed decisions.

 

Five Things to Consider When Giving Advice

We’re kicking off Summer of Sooth with some thoughts on the psychology of advice from the SoothPsychs Lab. The first one comes from Vivian Ta of University of Texas Arlington

 

Your best friend, Dan, calls you. By the sound of his voice, you can sense that something is wrong. He tells you that he just got into another huge fight with Anna, his girlfriend of 5 years, and is on the verge of breaking up with her. “What should I do?” he asks. Before you proceed, here are 5 things you should consider before giving Dan advice.

1. Beware of people’s illusions. “She’s from New York so she’s always rude to me. That’s just the way New Yorkers are,” Dan says. You remember the time you visited NY and accidently bumped into someone walking down the street who responded “Hey! Watch it, asshole!” Maybe Dan is right. Maybe everyone from NY is rude. Dan deserves to be with someone who is less rude, right? Not so fast. This is an example of an illusory correlation, the belief that two things are related to each other when they really aren’t. When we encounter someone who conforms to our beliefs regarding a certain group (e.g., meeting a New Yorker who is rude), our beliefs regarding that group become strengthened. But what about your sweet Aunt Beth who is from New York? She’s living proof that not all New Yorkers are rude. Here’s the catch: humans have the tendency to forget the exceptions. In Dan’s case, maybe he or a third-party variable is the cause of Anna’s rudeness, which Dan has attributed to where she’s from. Remember, just because two things seem like they’re related to each other, doesn’t always mean they are.

2. How are they acting? “I’m a terrible boyfriend. She’s going to break up with me anyways,” says Dan. If this is what Dan believes, he’ll probably act like it, too. He may distance himself from Anna, pick fights, or engage in other harmful relationship behaviors. In turn, Anna is likely to respond negatively, which will reinforce Dan’s belief that he is a terrible boyfriend. The road runs both ways, too: Perhaps Anna is the one who believes that Dan is a terrible boyfriend. This will affect the way she treats Dan, which will thus affect the way Dan treats her in a way that will reinforce that belief. This is an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy: any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person’s behavior toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled. Perhaps Dan (or Anna) is engaging in a negative self-fulfilling prophecy without realizing it.

3. Check the temperature. Your surrounding temperature may influence what kind of advice you give and how you give it. Hot temperatures have been shown to increase aggression in people. For example, if Dan calls you while you’re in a car with no A/C on a 100 degree day, this may lead you to lash out verbally against Anna and encourage him to break up with her. In other words, heat can exacerbate negative attitudes. Make sure you’re in a comfortable climate to decrease the chances of saying something extreme or something you don’t mean.

4. Make sure you really know who you’re talking about. Let’s say that Anna is blonde and you automatically assume that she must be a ditzy bimbo. This may lead you to tell Dan that he should break up with her even though you may not know anything else about her. This is known as the implicit personality theory: Humans have the tendency to believe that certain characteristics co-occur in people. For example, many people believe that a person who wears glasses is also intelligent, or that an attractive person is also sociable. When giving advice, don’t unfairly associate certain personality characteristics with people simply because you believe they go together. Be sure that you really know who you’re talking to and who you’re talking about.

5. Consider the power of the situation. You may be inclined to believe that Dan’s relationship problems are due to the fact that Anna is difficult to get along with. In other words, the problems are due to her internal characteristics (i.e., her personality) and it explains why she’s been arguing with Dan frequently. Maybe it’s the reverse: perhaps it’s Dan who is the difficult one. Either way, you have just committed the fundamental attribution error which is the tendency for people to place an emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone’s behavior rather than considering the situation itself.  Social psychologists stress the importance of the situation when predicting and explaining people’s behaviors. Keep in mind the power of the situation because it can lead people to behave a lot differently than they usually do.

Family Resolved

Our latest Case Closed involved a woman stuck between in-laws. The situation was tricky, but with the help of our community she was able to move forward and keep the peace among the family.

THE SITUATION & THE ADVICE

WHAT HAPPENED

After mulling over the advice I finally decided to approach each parent separately. I offered them the chance to come for different celebrations and expressed my concerns over their behavior. They were both seemed to be caught a little off guard, as if I was fabricating the situation- which we all know is not true. My husband stood by my side and we presented our concerns as a unified team, which I think helped our cause. My son’s birthday party happened last weekend with zero incident. Both parents attended (plus the step-mother-in-law) and managed to keep their distance and let our little guy shine as the true star of the party. I tend to not want to make a scene or confrontations with family, but I’m glad I spoke up and said something. Hopefully this will be a sign for things to come in future events.

 

Family Dynamics

Case Closed is our new series that share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. Feel free to weigh in and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

 

THE SITUATION

My husband and I have been married for almost five years. His parents have long been divorced and his father has remarried. We try to avoid most situations that would bring them together as they do not have a very amicable relationship. However, last year we had our first child and I anticipate many events bringing us together from now on, the next one being my son’s first birthday party. I’m so afraid that my in-laws will not get along and cause a scene and i don’t know what to do. My husband assures me that everything will be fine but I don’t want the day overshadowed by their relationship. Do I bring it up again to my husband? Talk to the in-laws separately? Or just hope that everything will be okay?

THE ADVICE

My Sister:

Is unmarried and has yet to have to deal with family dynamics beyond our own. She has seen some of the tension between me and my mother-in-law but doesn’t know what to do. She suggested “standing up to her and putting her in her place” forcefully.

Friend:

“In-laws are terrible! Good luck” She really didn’t give me any sound advice other than cowering and avoiding the in-laws at all costs, which didn’t help with my overall worry.

Soother#1: 

This is the first of many episodes in which your in-laws will be in the same place at the same time and not be the center of attention. They need to understand the parameters; if they aren’t OK with them, they can opt out. It’s not your responsibility to manage their adult drama. Don’t rely on your husband’s reassurance alone. Men don’t always see or more importantly, feel the nuances that women do. It would likely give you peace of mind if you write a short, but sweet note explaining your anxiety and hope that they can keep it together. Make sure it comes from your husband’s email account but is from both of you. Point out what worst and best case scenario look like for you, so they really understand what you’re talking about and don’t create any unnecessary tension. Send the note to each separately and make sure they know that if they’re not OK with it, you will arrange for one of them to come the next day. 

Soother #2:

My in-laws are infamous for acting like children as grandparents. Don’t trust them not to take center stage, at a 1st birthday party no less, when it’s all about the adults, given the age of the kids who will likely attend, if any. Make sure alcohol doesn’t play a role too! You should have direct conversations with each of them and don’t let them get away with pretending it won’t be an issue; it will be! And the scene will be distracting and embarrassing and lead to bad memories of what should be a happy day. First, figure out exactly what you want to happen and the most obvious ways in which it could go badly. Then, with that skeleton plan in your mind, talk to them. Give them the option of not coming, ask them about their comfort level, and gauge how they would like to see it all go down. Don’t rest on hope for this one. Confront it while you can.  

 

In-laws are tricky, how would you respond to this situation? What advice would you share? 

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Case Closed is our new series that share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. Feel free to weigh in and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

Our newest Case Closed involved a woman unsure in her person and the passion with her husband. She made several choices and needed the advice of others to help her figure out her path. Read along below to find out what she decided to do and what happened. 

THE SITUATION & THE ADVICE

WHAT HAPPENED

Although no one came out and directly said it-- especially my friends, I decided to tell my husband. I couldn’t live with myself harboring such a big secret. I don’t believe ignorance is bliss. But now I also question whether there’s any bliss in knowledge. He was shocked and hurt and mad and scary. I regretted telling him and kept telling myself the long term benefits would be worth the pain. Everyone told me sharing would bring about more intimacy! It wasn’t happening. There was so much pain... and I started resenting him for being in pain, yet oblivious to the pain I started to see caused me to do what I did and think what I thought- my pain in being lonely in the relationship. We’re still working through things. It’s definitely caused a rift, but we’re evaluating our relationship and figuring out what we can do to mend. I feel proud of my decision to tell him but unprepared for all the work I’m having to do on myself and my relationship. I never thought I’d be in therapy talking about my own issues. It’s so much easier to blame others.

 

Love, Marriage & Finding Her Way

Case Closed is our new series that share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. Feel free to weigh in and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

THE SITUATION

My husband and I have 3 kids under 4. We have a full, busy, but happy life.  Our relationship is stable, if not great with normal ups and downs… If I try to pinpoint a problem, I can’t find anything in particular - certainly nothing worth blowing the relationship up in flames. An old friend came to town about 6 months ago- a college boyfriend I haven’t been in close touch with for years. I found myself unexpectedly attracted to him, and him to me. We went to dinner and, with the help of some drinks, admitted that we had these feelings. We went back to his hotel room and decided it was OK to pardon ourselves since we had already been together, years ago. I was surprised by myself, and disappointed. But then I decided that I deserved it. Immediately after the fact, if anything, it improved my relationship - I had been fulfilled by an excitement my long, steady relationship doesn’t give me. Because he lives out of town, nothing is actively going on. But I find myself thinking about him incessantly and wanting more. What is wrong with me? Should I keep this to myself? Tell my husband? Tell the ex he’s on my mind as much as he is?

THE ADVICE

Best friend: 

“This is a secret, everyone has them.” It’s something everyone is tempted by but most don’t give in. You need to cut off ties, erase your memory and move on. Focus on strengthening your relationship and being there for your kids. It’s not worth the disaster you could create.  

Crossfit buddy:

Tho I don’t know her well, she seemed pleased to find out I had an edge beyond my picture perfect suburban life with 3 little kids. “We’re all imperfect.” She encouraged me to plan a trip with him because she believes women need to be fulfilled sexually and that this is simply a sign that I’m not being sexually satisfied by my husband and the craziness that must be 3 children (she has none).  

Soother #1: 

Be careful. You have a lot at stake and are on shaky ground. Personally, this is likely the start of a really bad emotional rollercoaster. Relationshipwise, would you be OK with this secret if you were in your husband’s shoes? You should talk to your husband and status-check the relationship. It may seem stable in your mind, but the reality couldn’t be so stable if you find yourself in these waters. Typically people stray when their needs aren’t met in really fundamental ways. Life with 3 little kids sounds exhausting and can easily leave someone feeling unsexy. There are ways you can carve out time with your husband to revitalize things. Try that first. It’s also easy to feel isolated when there’s a lot of chaos. People tend to retreat into themselves to escape overwhelming situations - share what’s going on on the inside with your husband. It will make you feel closer and can lead to much more profound intimacy. Use this as a wake up call and dig into the real problems in your relationship that you’re running from. There’s got to be something that made you do this. 

Soother #2: 

You told yourself you deserve it… So you feel entitled to an extramarital affair. There is clearly something in your relationship dynamic that has left you feeling like you have the upper hand and deserve more. So what is it? You owe it to your husband and yourself to figure out why a longlasting relationship has left you wanting to rekindle an old flame. Think deeply before you set your expectations too high. It’s easy to think about someone in the abstract. From a distance, it’s common to reduce an otherwise complicated human to something simple and perfect and lacking the same old same old that your long steady relationship has. You should give your husband and your relationship the respect it deserves and talk through everything with a counselor who can guide the conversation to explore stale pockets or valleys of dissatisfaction, in addition to areas of strength you can improve.  

 

What advice would you share? How would you handle this situation? 

 

Leaving the Past Behind

We’re excited to kick off a new series here on the Sooth blog. Case Closed is our new feature to share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. We’ll roll it out in phases over the course of the week, kicking off each episode with a little more color than you'd normally see in the situations community members need advice on. Next we’ll share the advice they received both in person and on Sooth. Finally, we’ll wrap up each Case Closed by revealing what the person ended up doing and what happened. Get ready to weigh in, and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

Our latest Case Closed involved a young woman who was stuck lingering over an an ex -boyfriend and ex-friend's relationship. You can read the full scenario and the advice she received below and continue on to see what she decided to do. 

THE SITUATION & THE ADVICE

WHAT HAPPENED

It was the anonymous advice that really lit a fire for me. I ended up unfriending her with the realization that I should protect myself and my own feelings more than hers. I considered adjusting my settings so that we were still “friends” but I wasn’t “following her updates.” As soon as I clicked through on that option, I said aloud “who am I kidding? This is ridiculous!”. I needed real, not just digital boundaries to move on. Being friends with her in any form made me loosely aware of her, and their(!) every move. The blurred boundary was preventing me from investing in my new relationship and overall path forward. I wrote a letter to my ex that I didn’t send. It felt so good to write it that I didn’t need to send it and open the floodgates of emotions that would have been waiting for his response. It was the exact closure I needed. I have a script in mind for the day either of them reaches out, so I can access that and stop obsessing over the best way to phrase things without hurt feelings… I will wish them the best and explain that social media and excess connections were overwhelming me— I made it a resolution to take every measure possible to be present in the relationships that feed me. I think of it like a personal motto that works for all sorts of situations I find myself pleasing others over myself.  

 

Tell us what you think? Do you think she made the right decision? What would you have done differently? 

When The Past Just Won't Stay There

We’re excited to kick off a new series here on the Sooth blog. Case Closed is our new feature to share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. We’ll roll it out in phases over the course of the week, kicking off each episode with a little more color than you'd normally see in the situations community members need advice on. Next we’ll share the advice they received both in person and on Sooth. Finally, we’ll wrap up each Case Closed by revealing what the person ended up doing and what happened. Get ready to weigh in, and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

THE SITUATION

I have an ex that really hurt me years ago. Soon after we broke up, he began dating an old friend of mine that I introduced him to. It's ancient history at this point--they're still together and I'm very happy for them now. I've moved on and have a partner of my own that I love very much. My problem is my friend still feels a lot of guilt for what she "did to me" and occasionally reaches out with invitations to their house or dinner parties, all of which I've managed to deflect with legitimate excuses. As a kind of peacekeeping gesture, to let her know it was nothing personal, I re-added her on the internet (I had unfriended when I learned of the relationship years ago). I thought this would be a good way to clear the air and my friend wrote to tell me how happy she was that I had done it. But after a few months, I regret it and would like to unfollow. Even though I'm happy in my new relationship, I find myself feeling sad when I see them together and the perfect life they seem to have. If for example, the posts contain pictures of my ex's family who I was once very close to, I start to feel lonely. Part of me wishes I were evolved enough to feel happy for them and eventually resume a real friendship with both her and my ex, since I obviously miss parts of it. But another part of me knows I have my own life and a new relationship now. I shouldn't be thinking about theirs at all. I'm wondering what the best way to broach this is without hurting my friend's feelings. 

THE ADVICE

My sister

I actually didn't feel comfortable sharing with anyone how my old friend's online presence makes me feel. It seems too trivial and I know people's reaction to internet-based complaints is usually to laugh it off "everyone 'lies' on Instagram," "their life isn't as perfect as they make it seem," etc. I did show my sister one of the invitations to a party at their house, and she helped me come up with a good excuse. She says I should just keep making excuses until they get the hint and stop inviting me. 

My new boyfriend

Has noticed I get uncomfortable whenever this friend reaches out. It offends him that I invest any emotional energy in something connected to a past relationship.

Soother # 1

I'm not sure whether your question is about disintegrating an old friendship/moving on after a breakup or a simple one about social media etiquette. If the latter, you're under no obligation to "friend" or "follow" anyone you don't care to, and there is no shame in exercising your right to unfriend at any time--it can be quite liberating! If she notices you've unfriended, don't be passive aggressive. Just be honest and say you wish them the best, but you wanted to create this boundary in your own life. She should be understanding of that. If you are still feeling jealous of or saddened by a former boyfriend's new relationship after "years" of time, I think you should consider counseling. It's not normal to feel so uneasy about an ex when you yourself said you have a new partner that you love. 

Soother #2:

This situation is much deeper than whether to be “friends" on social media. Clearly you’re still hurt by your past relationship and she is a mere trigger/vessel for  that pain. Have you considered reaching out to your ex and clearing the air? Maybe it would help to hear his side of the story now that you’re in a new relationship. Things that don’t have closure (that we can’t make sense of) loom larger in our minds than things we can neatly tuck away. You might consider confronting the source of the pain rather than scapegoating the girl. It sounds like you have some unresolved feelings for him/ about your relationship that are going to disrupt your current relationship even more if you don’t address them head on. 

 

What would you do in this situation? Come back this week to find out what she decided to do. 

Case One Closed

 

We’re excited to kick off a new series here on the Sooth blog. Case Closed is our new feature to share stories about community members' adventures with advice on and off the app. We’ll roll it out in phases over the course of the week, kicking off each episode with a little more color than you'd normally see in the situations community members need advice on. Next we’ll share the advice they received both in person and on Sooth. Finally, we’ll wrap up each Case Closed by revealing what the person ended up doing and what happened. Get ready to weigh in, and let us know if you’d like to submit your own adventures.

Our first Case Closed involved a 30 something year old woman questioning her relationship and needing advice. We shared the situation and the advice she received in person and from Sooth. Read on to find out what advice she followed and what happened next.

THE SITUATION & THE ADVICE

WHAT HAPPENED

I agonized over when and how to bring this up again with my boyfriend. The last thing I wanted was to to re-open the wound when we had both moved on. But I didn't want us to walk on eggshells around each other, either. I got up the courage to address it one night and found he was as embarrassed as I was about how he'd behaved (he blamed the stress of moving and some problems at work) and had hoped we could just pretend the whole thing never happened. It was a much better conversation this time around. We did apologize to each other for the way things escalated, and he said that while he, too, hadn't experienced this level of fighting in previous relationships, he took it as a sign of his comfort around me, that he was willing to express himself so fully. I'll try not to make too much of his last comment, which scares me, but I feel a lot better after we at least had one calm and rational conversation about it.