Types of Unsolicited Advice That Cause Stress

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Great insights can come from asking a trusted, caring friend for advice. Likewise, polling a group of people—even strangers—for advice can provide a variety of helpful ideas. But sometimes advice is offered when you didn’t ask for it.

New moms, college students, and people who work with the public may be more prone to getting unsolicited advice. However, anyone can be on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, and it doesn't always feel helpful. In fact, unsolicited advice has the potential to create stress.

When someone offers their opinion on what you could be doing differently, it can sometimes feel like criticism. In some situations, the advice givers aren't judging you, but feeling defensive can make the advice feel like criticism.

Other times, the advice giver absolutely is judging you and your feelings are spot-on. Plus, stress can be compounded if the advice giver takes offense if their advice isn't welcomed and followed. When the advice doesn't feel right to you or you reject it, this can put you in a difficult position and create frustration and even resentment on both sides.

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Why People Give Unsolicited Advice

People give advice for many reasons, some of which are well-intentioned, others less so. The key is being able to tell the difference. Understanding a person's motives can be especially helpful.

Because it's difficult to know what to do with unsolicited advice, it helps to examine where the words might be coming from.

Here are some common reasons people are compelled to give unsolicited advice.

Helpful Motives

Whether or not the advice fits with your values or specific situation, this type of advice generally feels good to get. Here are some things that motivate people to offer unsolicited advice.

Altruism

Often, people offer advice simply because they think they can help, and they want to make your life easier. Their motives are altruistic. Perhaps there’s something they think would work perfectly with your situation or personality, and they make suggestions on how to improve your life or reduce your stress, especially if you're talking to them about a problem.

Even if you just need some validation or emotional support, people may assume you are looking to them for answers. Consequently, they offer advice because they feel an internal pressure to provide answers.

Friendliness

Sometimes a stranger offers unsolicited advice as a way to start a conversation. Or a friend gives advice to forge a connection. Friends often assume they can help you by offering a solution, even if you didn't ask for one. This type of advice is well-meaning and can often be helpful at times.

Excitement

Other times, unsolicited advice comes from those who have found something that works for them, and they want to share it with the world. They see your situation as a perfect fit for this piece of wisdom that’s made a positive impact on their life. They may share because they wish someone had told them about it sooner.

It's also common for people who have faced the same challenges you're facing to offer solutions or advice, especially when it comes to things that have worked for them. As a result, they assume their solution will benefit you in the same way it did for them, and they cannot wait to share it with you.

Less-Helpful Motives

This type of advice, though generally harmless, can feel less helpful. Sometimes this advice is relevant to your situation, but oftentimes it's not. Here are some examples of advice given with less-than-helpful motives.

Neediness

Sometimes, people offer unsolicited advice out of their own neediness. While they may have a lot of knowledge in a certain area that pertains to your situation, their motivations for sharing are all wrong—they're not doing it for you, but for themselves.

Instead of being altruistic, they share their advice in order to feel valued, powerful, and important.

Helplessness

Sometimes, when you’re sharing your feelings and frustrations with a friend, they are motivated to help you solve your problem and may view you as helpless. If you're truly looking for help, great. But if you just wanted a supportive ear or a little validation, you may need to communicate that it's all you're looking for.

Many people can’t tell the difference between sharing and seeking advice, so they always default to advice giver.

Message-Sending

If you routinely share your problems and feelings with people as a way of venting, but take no steps toward solving your own dilemmas, your friends could be tired of hearing you complain.

Even if they know that you just want to talk, they could offer advice as a way to get you to do something constructive rather than continually emoting.

Very Unhelpful Motives

This type of advice has more to do with the advice giver than with you. It can sometimes feel like a subtle snub or a slap in the face, and leave you with an uneasy feeling, even if you don’t know why.

In fact, people who are motivated by this type of advice-giving could be considered emotionally abusive. Here is a closer look at the motivations behind this type of advice.

Narcissism

Some people—particularly those with narcissistic tendencies—need to be in the role of "teacher" virtually all of the time. Or perhaps they just like to hear themselves pontificate. Their advice is often long-winded and not always appropriate to your situation. Likewise, their advice tends to be more about them than you.

What's more, these people often can't imagine that their advice won't be the answer you're looking for, even if it doesn't fit your situation.

Dominance

Some advice givers want to take the role of "more knowledgeable person" in the relationship dynamic. Giving advice puts them in that position.

If you find that you have an advice giver in your life who is always putting themselves in a position of authority over you, it is time to take a closer look at the relationship.

Healthy relationships are based on equality. If the advice giver in your life wants to be the one calling all the shots, this pattern illustrates a lack of balance. It's time to re-evaluate if this is truly a healthy relationship or if it's time to move on.

Judgment

People may give unsolicited advice as a way to change you or your behaviors. This advice can often feel like an insult more than a genuine attempt to help. In these situations, it's important to recognize this type of advice for what it is. Remember, a true friend wants to help you be the best you can be, but they also love you, warts and all.

If you feel like your friend's advice is always laced with judgment, you may want to reconsider how much time you spend together. It's not good for your mental health to feel like you never measure up.

Drama

Believe it or not, some people love conflict. They love hearing themselves argue and get a feeling of personal power from telling others how wrong they are. Such people, consciously or unconsciously, tend to give lots of advice as a way of bringing up topics to debate.

They also may play devil's advocate and take the opposite viewpoint in every scenario you present. If you start to see a pattern of drama in your relationship with this person, you may need to set boundaries or limit what you share. After all, this person could be an unsafe person to share personal information with.

A Word From Verywell

Thinking about the motivations behind the advice and examining how it makes you feel are the first steps in determining whether or not the advice giver in your life has your best interest in mind. There will be times when you're being overly sensitive or defensive, but there are other times when the advice giver in your life is not offering suggestions out of a sincere motivation to help you.

The key is learning how to distinguish between the two. Doing so can not only make it easier to handle unsolicited advice, but also can help you determine when you need to be careful about what you share and with whom.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. 5 things you should know about stress.

  2. Schaerer M, Tost LP, Huang L, Gino F, Larrick R. Advice giving: A subtle pathway to power. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2018;44(5):746-761. doi:10.1177/0146167217746341