I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

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I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jul 01, 2015 8:57 am

There's one thing I've noticed in recent interactions with people: I feel healthy, at ease and happy only when I feel useful to someone. When I'm hearing a person who complains about a problem (any person, and of any kind of problems) my first thought is how to help them fix it and I try to throw out some ideas to see if they like it. If they do, I feel great: energized, happy with myself, at ease, and ready to do more. If they don't like my ideas, but come up with some ideas on their own, I also feel the same, because I helped to come to that conclusion (I love brainstorming).

The problems come when someone seems to shot down all my ideas and not to come up with any ideas of their own. I find it really, really hard and frustrating to listen to someone who complains but isn't willing to do anything about it. I want to help them, but they make me feel useless, a failure, frustrated with myself and with them, and overall very depressed even if the issue is of minor importance.

Now rationally I know I can't fix every problem in the world, and neither can anyone else. But how can I deal with those situations (people complaining about an issue that affects them but that they see as inevitable and with no possible solution) in a better way?

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by reboot on Wed Jul 01, 2015 9:40 am

Oh, I feel you. I am also drawn to being helpful, so much so that my career is in social assistance/humanitarian aid. I also used to get frustrated when people did not do what I thought they should do. A few things helped me get over these feelings to the point that, although I am sometimes disappointed if my advice is not followed, I do not feel bad:

1. Your advice is based on imperfect information. If people are rejecting it, it is often because there is something they do not want to reveal to you that makes your advice impracticable. Trust them to know what works in their situation.

2. Learn more about Stages of Change It was developed for addiction interventions, but applies to most behavior. People may just be in the contemplation phase and are not ready to move on yet

3. Your advice might be wrong. I know it is hard to admit, but unless something is in your specific area of expertise, you might be giving bad advice.

4. Never, ever offer unsolicited advice

Also, never try to argue someone into taking your advice. It makes them defensive and more likely not to use it because their back is up. If they say it will not work, ask them why and then try to build new advice based on the new information. Make it collaborative.
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Hirundo Bos on Wed Jul 01, 2015 10:05 am

It's also possible that people aren't really looking for solutions to their problems at all, that what they want is to have their feelings about a thing seen, acknowledged, validated... when I'm like that, and someone offers advice, or even just encouragement, I react in much the same way you describe. I shoot down everything they say and grow increasingly frustrated in the process, because in order to "prove" that my feelings are valid, I have to come up with even more reasons for them... adding to what made me feel bad in the first place.

Different communicative acts can have different intentions behind them, and aligning those intentions between speakers is part of the challenge of communication. In my case I've started training myself to say "I'm not really looking for advice" when that's the case. I suppose the other side of that would be to ask "are you looking for advice right now, or do you just want somebody to listen?"

And of course, different people have different things to offer. If someone is better at advice than at emotional support, their boundaries for offering those kinds of help respectively will differ. But if it's a matter of feeling useful, then seeing and acknowledging pain, and validating emotions are also useful things.
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by reboot on Wed Jul 01, 2015 10:37 am

Hirundo has a great point. Sometimes people talk about their problems just to get the words out of their head. It can be for validation/encouragement or just to put into words what they are thinking. If someone reacts the way you describe, Andrew, maybe just ask, "Are you interested in advice or do you just want me to listen right now!"
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Enail on Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:25 am

I'd add to that that sometimes people even frame the conversation as advice-seeking when they're not really looking for advice, just because "can I ask your advice on something" is a relatively easy way to introduce "I want to talk about something that I'm upset about that doesn't flow directly from what we've been talking about."
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:27 am

reboot wrote:If someone reacts the way you describe, Andrew, maybe just ask, "Are you interested in advice or do you just want me to listen right now!"

Good point, Hirundo and reboot! I'll try to come up with different ways to say this (according to situation I'm in), so that then don't get frustrated with my advice if they don't want it and I don't get frustrated with providing advice that isn't wanted. It's a win-win situation!

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:49 am

Enail wrote:I'd add to that that sometimes people even frame the conversation as advice-seeking when they're not really looking for advice, just because "can I ask your advice on something" is a relatively easy way to introduce "I want to talk about something that I'm upset about that doesn't flow directly from what we've been talking about."

Yeah, the problem is that if they frame the conversation like that I'm probably going to give them advice and feel very frustrated if they don't seem to like it or come up with something better on their own.

Sometimes I wish society allowed people to express what they think and feel more openly, with much less judgement, so that people could vent without needing to worry about other people calling them a "whiner". Social clichès about the "strong man who should never his emotions" are harmful just as much as clichès like the "emotional woman who can't deal with something in a detached manner".

They're both false and both pretty much pointless. All human beings have emotions and all human beings can learn to be coldly detached and rational when they need to. Some people may like to express themselves more, some less, and some people may have stronger or weaker emotions and empathy, but both being forced to bottle up your feelings because you have to follow a script or being attacked by others for being too "unemotional" can cause you serious harm.

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Enail on Wed Jul 01, 2015 11:56 am

Andrew Corvero wrote:
Enail wrote:I'd add to that that sometimes people even frame the conversation as advice-seeking when they're not really looking for advice, just because "can I ask your advice on something" is a relatively easy way to introduce "I want to talk about something that I'm upset about that doesn't flow directly from what we've been talking about."

Yeah, the problem is that if they frame the conversation like that I'm probably going to give them advice and feel very frustrated if they don't seem to like it or come up with something better on their own.

Yep, I find it so frustrating when people do this. Especially b/c IME, they don't always even know that they don't want advice, so it's hard to realize that's what's going on.
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Prajnaparamita on Wed Jul 01, 2015 3:28 pm

Oh wow Andrew... Okay. I can get where you're coming from here, I too feel much more positive about myself when I know I can be making a positive contribution to the world and helping those around me, but the dynamic your describing is something that's actually driven me away from relationships with people in my life, because I find it really harmful all around.

I can tell that you've thought a fair bit about how you want to help people, but maybe it would be helpful to think some about what it might feel like to be in their shoes. For me, when I'm in pain someone attempting to offer advice about how to make it better is usually the absolute worst thing they can do, because I know my capacity in those moments of depression/anxiety/pain, and I know it's pretty low and I'm not going to be able to do any of the things they suggest. But telling people this often leads to them pushing back at me about how no, I really can. And I find this incredibly insulting pretty much 100% of the the time. I'm the one who knows what it's like to be me, and what I can do when I'm, say, trying to recover from a panic attack or pick myself out of a depressed mood, and if I just can't in that moment, I just can't. But when people push back at me and tell me that I just need to try it anyway, I feel like I need to somehow "prove" my struggles to them, and somehow show them that I really am in pain, which is incredibly exhausting and insulting on top of dealing with those struggles myself. I'm sure you can understand that when you're dealing with mental health issues, or other life issues that might be compounded by mental health issues feeling you have to prove to those around you who you otherwise safe with, and feeling like they're telling you you're just not trying hard enough or whatever is crushing, even if that isn't their intent. Because I find this dynamic so painful, I generally don't talk about my personal issues at all, because when the dynamic of unsolicited advice that leaves me feeling judged comes up, it just doubles my pain and leaves me even more resentful of the person, which can really damage friendships and relationships.

So yes, please please please don't do this. I already lost a friend for feeling like I constantly had to prove that I was really trying and really was in pain to him, it's so exhausting and awful.

However, as someone who enjoys giving advice and helping others, especially in regards to issues of mental health, here are some of my personal strategies that I try to use when I wish to help others without feeling like I'm preaching at them or putting them on the defensive. I *always* use "I statements" when providing advice, saying things like "You know, when I'm having a panic attack, I tend to..." (as opposed to something like "when you have a panic attack, you should..."). This I think helps to not come off as preaching, and also allows the person to hear that you might have personal experience with the issue as well, which makes it easier to listen. Another thing is starting off your statements with something like "I wonder if maybe..." or "I don't know, but..." Showing that you're not absolutely sure, and this isn't some kind of commandment handed down from the gods or whatever also helps to make advice come off less preachy, and helps people be able to potentially reject the advice without feeling like it's an argument with you. Ultimately, there's only one thing you're an expert on, and that's your own personal experience. At the end of the day, you know nothing about what's going on in the head of anyone else, even those close to you, and I think that's always an important thing to remember when giving advice to others, that you can try your best but in the end there's so much you likely don't know or understand. And also, as others have said, don't offer unsolicited advice, just don't.

And on one final thing, often when I'm "whining" it's because I'm in a lot of pain, and all I need in that moment is someone to recognize that pain, to be able to say "Hey, it's going to be okay. None of this is your fault. There are people in the world who love you. You matter." But it's really hard to ask people often to say those things to me, in my moments of depression it feels wrong to ask to be affirmed, like that makes me vain or a bad person, so I don't even though that (and a hug) is what I really need in the moment. And I think a lot of the time, that's what people are looking for too.

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jul 01, 2015 4:19 pm

Prajnaparamita wrote:However, as someone who enjoys giving advice and helping others, especially in regards to issues of mental health, here are some of my personal strategies that I try to use when I wish to help others without feeling like I'm preaching at them or putting them on the defensive. I *always* use "I statements" when providing advice, saying things like "You know, when I'm having a panic attack, I tend to..." (as opposed to something like "when you have a panic attack, you should..."). This I think helps to not come off as preaching, and also allows the person to hear that you might have personal experience with the issue as well, which makes it easier to listen.

Another thing is starting off your statements with something like "I wonder if maybe..." or "I don't know, but..." Showing that you're not absolutely sure, and this isn't some kind of commandment handed down from the gods or whatever also helps to make advice come off less preachy, and helps people be able to potentially reject the advice without feeling like it's an argument with you.

This is really helpful, thank you! Yes, I definitely don't want to come off as preachy or haughty, and this is some very good advice on how to avoid it. I've already done it a couple of times so I'll try to be more consistent about it in the future.

And on one final thing, often when I'm "whining" it's because I'm in a lot of pain, and all I need in that moment is someone to recognize that pain, to be able to say "Hey, it's going to be okay. None of this is your fault. There are people in the world who love you. You matter." But it's really hard to ask people often to say those things to me, in my moments of depression it feels wrong to ask to be affirmed, like that makes me vain or a bad person, so I don't even though that (and a hug) is what I really need in the moment. And I think a lot of the time, that's what people are looking for too.

And this is another piece of excellent advice. Ultimately what I to tell people through the advice is the exact same thing, that I care about them, that I believe in them, that they matter to me and I want to see them happy. I need to understand when advice isn't needed to say that and might actually hurt them and be more direct about expressing my feelings.

And it's definitely a tragedy that depression can make us think that we're vain or bad for wanting affection or confirmation that we matter, when both those things are what every human being needs and deserves.

Thanks again for the excellent advice and insight.

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Prajnaparamita on Wed Jul 01, 2015 4:44 pm

Andrew Corvero wrote:
And this is another piece of excellent advice. Ultimately what I to tell people through the advice is the exact same thing, that I care about them, that I believe in them, that they matter to me and I want to see them happy. I need to understand when advice isn't needed to say that and might actually hurt them and be more direct about expressing my feelings.

So tell them that. Tell them that directly. Honestly, I can't see why you wouldn't, if you feel that way towards them and that's what you wish to convey...

I mean look at it this way--it's either the case that they're in pain and they're in a place where they can't hear advice, or they're in pain and in a place where they can hear advice. If its the former, telling them you care will (likely) help them feel better, while bombarding them with advice will likely make them feel worse. But if it's the case that it's the latter, telling them that you care will also help them feel better. Maybe the advice would have helped too on top of that, but being a shoulder that they can cry on and turn to for support will always be a good thing, no matter what. It's a win-win, rather than potentially a loss.

Andrew Corvero wrote:
And it's definitely a tragedy that depression can make us think that we're vain or bad for wanting affection or confirmation that we matter, when both those things are what every human being needs and deserves.

Yeah, really... Shrug

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:11 pm

Prajnaparamita wrote:
So tell them that. Tell them that directly. Honestly, I can't see why you wouldn't, if you feel that way towards them and that's what you wish to convey...

You're right, and I usually do that, but sometimes I'm afraid that just telling them I care won't help them. I think that this stems from the fact that I lived in a family where proclamations of affection were used as a tool to excuse not doing anything to help each other, or actually even excusing bad behavior (the "but I still love you" card) and where my parents asked me all the time to do things, not just say things (somewhat hypocritically so). I tend to value advice, practical solutions and acts much more than words and I unconsciously believe that everybody does the same.

If people don't ask for my advice but only want to hear that the matter I tell them they matter but I'm also afraid that they won't believe me, that no words can be enough to appropriately express feelings and they'll think I'm manipulating them instead of helping them. If they ask for advice or help and the advice or help works then there is something material behind the words, so to speak.

I mean look at it this way--it's either the case that they're in pain and they're in a place where they can't hear advice, or they're in pain and in a place where they can hear advice. If its the former, telling them you care will (likely) help them feel better, while bombarding them with advice will likely make them feel worse. But if it's the case that it's the latter, telling them that you care will also help them feel better. Maybe the advice would have helped too on top of that, but being a shoulder that they can cry on and turn to for support will always be a good thing, no matter what. It's a win-win, rather than potentially a loss.

You are right, I shouldn't be so afraid of saying people I care for them.

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Enail on Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:48 pm

And don't forget that listening is itself an action, and often a very valuable one.
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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Prajnaparamita on Wed Jul 01, 2015 6:19 pm

Andrew Corvero wrote:
You're right, and I usually do that, but sometimes I'm afraid that just telling them I care won't help them. I think that this stems from the fact that I lived in a family where proclamations of affection were used as a tool to excuse not doing anything to help each other, or actually even excusing bad behavior (the "but I still love you" card) and where my parents asked me all the time to do things, not just say things (somewhat hypocritically so). I tend to value advice, practical solutions and acts much more than words and I unconsciously believe that everybody does the same.

Oh wow man I'm so sorry to hear that was the case in your family growing up. That's just awful, to twist those loving words like that.  Neutral

Andrew Corvero wrote:
If people don't ask for my advice but only want to hear that the matter I tell them they matter but I'm also afraid that they won't believe me, that no words can be enough to appropriately express feelings and they'll think I'm manipulating them instead of helping them. If they ask for advice or help and the advice or help works then there is something material behind the words, so to speak.

And I sort of get this too, because there are times in my depression where I've been so low that absolutely nothing positive made sense (but that was really only when it was at the absolute worst). But the thing is, there are other ways to express care than just saying it outright, and for most people what helps them feel better varies. For example, I have one friend who just needs to vent it all out in a safe space, another friend who won't want to talk about it at all but would appreciate a cup of tea, a hug and some silent company, and in my case all I want is some silly, mindless distraction about something amusing--making me laugh about something stupid is the best thing you can possibly do. I honestly think a really good thing to do with friends is ask them what helps them when they're feeling down, and then communicate what you find helps you. I think it's really important to do this during neutral/positive times, because often when people are in a place of crisis, they often can't articulate what it is they need in that moment, but if you already know what it is a friend finds helpful, you can do that without having to worry about whether or you'll be able to do anything to support them. I'm in the practice of having this conversation whenever a friend asks me "do you want to talk about it?" if they notice I'm down. I'll thank them and then say "No, it's nothing personal, but I don't generally like to talk about it (because that often just brings up those painful emotions again, and I don't like to do that unless I'm in a place, like my therapist's office, where I can do something constructive about them) but what I do really appreciate is just having some distraction." Then I can ask them about what works for them. Also, if they haven't thought through what would help them in moments of crisis, or just can't articulate anything, it's often helpful to provide options of things you could do for them. Say, let them vent, or offer advice, or just offer support, or make them some tea/do some task for them or give them a hug/physical contact, or just sit silently with them. I think that's a way you can show you care even if they don't know exactly what they need.

Andrew Corvero wrote:
You are right, I shouldn't be so afraid of saying people I care for them.

Yes, and I think if we were able to express that sentiment more often, maybe we wouldn't be so afraid to ask for support, knowing that it is there... Smile

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Dan_Brodribb on Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:40 pm

Interesting, Andrew. The first thought I had is that this reminds me a little of your thread about discussing religion/the supernatural. It seems like in both cases you get the sense you are being drawn into offering your opinion and then having that opinion rejected and left frustrated and confused they asked your opinion in the first place.


Andrew Corvero wrote:There's one thing I've noticed in recent interactions with people: I feel healthy, at ease and happy only when I feel useful to someone.

I can relate to this and what surprises me is that it come up in unexpected situations. Lately I'm dealing with it a lot with looking after my nephews. I have this worry that I'm seen as just playing with them and not being useful or helpful enough with the 'hard stuff' and that my sister, mom, or brother-in-law are judging my uncling skills.

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Re: I feel really healthy only when I feel useful

Post by Andrew Corvero on Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:20 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:Interesting, Andrew. The first thought I had is that this reminds me a little of your thread about discussing religion/the supernatural. It seems like in both cases you get the sense you are being drawn into offering your opinion and then having that opinion rejected and left frustrated and confused they asked your opinion in the first place.

It is pretty similar, isn't it? Perhaps there's something to it, a pattern I need to explore. I'm fine with people disagreeing with me (we can't all agree about everything and as long as you respect each other's boundaries you can agree to disagree), but being asked for my opinion and having it completely rejected or being called "smug" leaves me very frustrated. That's really not what I want to be seen as. And then as you said i wonder even why they asked for my opinion if they didn't want to hear it.


I can relate to this and what surprises me is that it come up in unexpected situations. Lately I'm dealing with it a lot with looking after my nephews. I have this worry that I'm seen as just playing with them and not being useful or helpful enough with the 'hard stuff' and that my sister, mom, or brother-in-law are judging my uncling skills.

I can completely relate to that. I'm very worried about being seen as useless or judged.

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