How to Handle Unwanted Advice by Setting Boundaries

Though it's usually not the intended outcome of giving unsolicited advice, many who receive it often feel stressed, offended, or simply annoyed by unwanted suggestions. Setting a boundary in this regard, if you feel you need one, is perfectly reasonable and something that can bring you increased emotional safety. But it's best to do so in a way that takes into account the individual's underlying reasons for doing what they're doing to avoid conflict and more stress.

Why Some People Give Unwanted Advice

People who repeatedly give unwanted advice can be well-meaning and genuinely want to help. It's important to take that possibility for what it is, as there truly may not be more to someone's intention than that.

However, it is also likely—particularly if someone engages in this behavior compulsively—that they are driven to do so by a need for emotional validation. People who grow up in chronically stressful environments in which they did not feel safe, or in emotionally invalidating environments in which expression of their emotions was punished or ignored, may have trouble self-regulating and seek to avoid uncomfortable feelings through external validation.

One way someone might do this is by cultivating a sense of self-worth around the ability to influence the actions of others. One study found that people with a high tendency to seek power were more likely to give advice than those with an opposite tendency.

Under the guise of altruism, people may be driven to give you unwanted advice because it makes them feel powerful or in control, helping to abate their chronic psychological distress. They may not be fully aware of this drive, however.

These people may also display a problematic degree of emotional vulnerability, becoming upset very quickly, expressing emotions dramatically, and/or taking a long time to calm down. It is possible that their emotions were only validated in childhood when they were at their loudest, encouraging them to adopt responses to discomfort that are hyperbolic in most situations.

Tips for Responding to Unwanted Advice

When someone is giving advice in order to make themselves feel more powerful, there is underlying anxiety to their behavior that recipients of the advice tend to pick up on. It can be tempting in this situation to react harshly to the advice giver and to accuse them of being manipulative, but this approach might backfire.

If the act of giving advice is contributing actively to someone's feelings of self-worth, an outright rejection may be perceived as a threat, activating their fight-or-flight response, possibly causing them to double-down on their validation-seeking behavior or leading to a larger conflict.

Take space from the situation so that you can respond from a nonreactive place. When you feel that you can do that, validate their advice in order to create an atmosphere of emotional security.

The key is to validate without over-identifying. You can let them know that you've heard them and appreciate where they are coming from without taking on the potentially damaging narrative that you couldn't have gotten by without their help.

To do this while proactively communicating a boundary around further advice, you might say something like, "Thanks for the idea. I have my own plan for handling this, but I really appreciate your perspective and will take it into consideration. Can I let you know when I need help in the future?"

If you have trouble setting boundaries without being reactive, prioritize working on your own ability to self-regulate. As uncomfortable as it may make you to continuously receive unwanted advice, if you can respond with compassion, the situation will likely diffuse much faster.

When the person giving you advice is simply doing it out of the goodness of their heart and truly has no other underlying motives, taking this same approach can be helpful—but it might feel mean. Remember that you can simultaneously appreciate someone's caring nature while respecting your own comfort level.

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