I receive a lot of unsolicited advice. Online, of course, unsolicited advice is abound (should we call it unsolicited advice or just rudeness?) regardless, I’m not going to be exploring that sort of ‘advice’ today.

The thing is, I receive unsolicited advice in real life with alarming frequently too.

I have a theory as to why…

When someone meets a new person, if that new person reminds them of someone else, they will often unconsciously conclude that this new person has traits similar to the person they are reminded of.

This is known as transference.

The concept of transference is something you’ve likely heard of before, it’s a term commonly coined in a therapeutic context, when a patient redirects their feelings for another individual, on to their therapist. These feelings may manifest as love or attraction, but might equally take the form of rage, mistrust, or, at the other end of the spectrum, extreme dependence , or inferring a god-like status to their therapist.

Transference doesn’t just happen between patients and therapists. It happens between parents and children, between you and your friends, you and the ones you love, and, I believe, between you and people you’ve just met.

At least that’s my theory.

Let me give you an example. I meet one of my Dad’s friends. This friend of my Dad’s, upon meeting me, is instantly reminded of his own daughter. Unconsciously, he transfers (or directs), his feelings about his daughter on to me. As such, any advice he gives me, isn’t really for me at all. It’s for his daughter.

I too, have been guilty of this countless times. For example, I meet someone who reminds me of my brother. Unconsciously, I transfer my feelings about my brother on to them. The advice I’ll later give them, isn’t really for them, it’s for my brother.

Perhaps you buy this theory. Perhaps you don’t.

But if, like me, you too, frequently receive unsolicited advice (particularly advice which is wildly off base), then it may make said advice a little less irritating, a little more palatable, and maybe, a little more easy to safely ignore.

(Incidentally, it occurs to me that it sounds like I’m suggesting that all unsolicited advice is useless. That’s not necessarily the case, it’s entirely possible that a piece of unsolicited advice could absolutely hit the mark.)

But maybe this theory of transference doesn’t work for you at all. Let’s try another theory on for size:

All advice is autobiographical.

Austin Kleon

In the preface to his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon notes:

…when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

Austin Kleon

This also resonates strongly with me. In some contexts, from my perspective, this is perhaps another form of transference.

Occasionally I’ll meet someone who reminds me of myself. It occurs to me that any advice I give them, isn’t really for them, it’s for me, forever ago.

The advice I give (and I’d like to believe that the advice others give too) is well-meant. But it still might not be useful.

These thoughts about advice are playing on my mind, because I’ve been working on a talk that I’ll be giving at a meet up next month. I’ll confess to torturing myself somewhat in the construction of it.

Essentially, the talk I’m giving (and perhaps all the talks I’ve ever given) constitute advice.

Those people who attend the talk, are doing so freely, and yet, nevertheless what I’ll be dispensing, will ultimately, be unsolicited advice.

There’s little possibility for me as the giver of advice, to experience transference in this context (I think the sort of transference I made mention of at the start of this post is something probably only occurs when advice is given on a one-to-one basis).

It is likely, however, that in the context of this talk (one-to-many as opposed to one-to-one), the advice I’ll be giving will be entirely autobiographical.

I desperately want to give better advice. I’d love to be able to give advice that people could actually use.

However, in the course of writing this, I’m increasingly leaning towards the following conclusion:

All advice, whether solicited or otherwise, really ought to come with a warning: this advice may not be for you.

PS it occurred to me when editing this post, that in the act of giving and receiving advice transference could occur on several levels – the giver of the advice may experience transference towards the receiver, the receiver may experience transference towards the giver; plus of course outside of the psychoanalytic context the giving and receiving of advice is in itself a transference of sorts – the transference of knowledge and experience from one person to another.

It follows, perhaps, that advice is transference, in every sense.

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