We can’t stop them from giving advice, but we can be a bit less annoyed by it — science shows us how.
I don’t think anyone enjoys hearing sentences that start with ‘you should’; no one wants to be told how to live their life — especially if their life isn’t going well. Yet those we care about are often guilty of doing this instead of giving us the sympathy we’re looking for. This is annoying even when it is done in a spirit of love.
We can’t ‘fix’ them any more than they can fix us. We also can’t always avoid ‘fixers’ — and often we don’t want to — so what can we do? Reframing is one method to take the sting out of their fixing efforts.
Mind and Matter: The Study
An example of the power of reframing was demonstrated in a Harvard study by Dr. Ellen Langer. In this study, a group of hotel attendants was divided into two groups. The first was told that their work cleaning rooms was good exercise that supported a healthy lifestyle, while the second was not told this. According to the published paper, neither group changed their actual work, but the first group showed greater changes in physical measures associated with working out, such as lower blood pressure and body fat.
The only difference was their mindset. They saw their work as useful and healthy and good, and with that reframing alone their bodies responded to reflect their change in attitude. How can this help us handle ‘fixers’?
A Question of Intent
Why does it bother us when others try to fix us? It often has to do with how we perceive their intent. If we assume they are trying to control or criticize us, then we feel attacked and get defensive. Our defensiveness can lead to them feeling wounded and a downward spiral ensues that leaves us feeling worse than if they’d kept their mouths shut.
Sometimes we know they have bad intentions — some people have proven they mean us harm. Others, however, we know to have our best interests in mind. Or, at the very least, they care about us. The key is this: if we can be charitable about their intentions we can understand their advice as (perhaps poorly executed) efforts to care for us. Instead of feeling attacked, we can feel cared for.
This doesn’t mean we have to take their advice to heart. It’s enough to listen, know they are trying to show us love, and tell them we’ll think about it. And anyway, sometimes our pain really can be improved if we’d make a small change — what harm is there in taking a moment to consider the perspective of someone who cares about us? Even if the advice is useless, though, it can still be reframed as something that will make us feel seen rather than criticized. We can’t stop them from trying to fix us, but we can decide — to a degree — how much we want to suffer as a result of it through the demonstrated power of reframing.