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When Bad Advice Becomes Bad Beliefs

Psychology Today had a section on bad advice this month.  It got me thinking about the bad advice we often hear and, in many cases, internalize.

Throughout life we receive advice from parents, family, friends, teachers and other authority figures.  Some of this advice is repeated so frequently or presented so definitively that we take it as truth.  Over time, we may not realize where advice originated.  We can take it as fact and incorporate it into our internal belief system.  Unfortunately, bad advice and internalized negative beliefs can lead to numerous life problems. 

Take a look at your history and see if any of these pieces of advice or internal beliefs sound familiar:

  • Saying “no” is selfish.
  • A mother (father, brother, son, husband, wife etc.) must sacrifice their needs to care for others.
  • Making requests and asking for help are signs of weakness.
  • Competent people solve problems on their own.

We all may have heard slightly different variations of these pieces of advice, but if any of these are familiar to you, you may find that your needs are often subverted for the needs of others.  If you have taken this bad advice, you probably have difficulty standing up for yourself and getting what you need.

Advice can encompass a wide range of topics.  The advice below can undercut your ability to manage your emotions effectively.

  • Anger is bad and destructive.
  • Being emotional means you are weak and out-of-control.
  • Frustration and irritation are a result of a bad attitude.
  • Expressing feelings is weak.

It’s normal to worry about standing up for yourself or expressing how you feel.  No one wants to feel rejected or to have others suggest their emotions are unfounded.  But taking advice that leaves you sacrificing your own sense of self and stuffing your emotions usually leads to problems.  Believing this advice keeps you from standing up for yourself, getting your needs met and righting wrongs.

Two strategies to counter bad advice are to:

  1. Argue against them. Tell yourself  “I have a choice to ask for what I need.”  Or “I may want to please people, but I don’t have to do it all the time.”
  2. Experiment and test if they are true.  Look around you and see if expressed anger ever leads to positive outcomes.  Can you find times when outrage over an injustice lead to problems being addressed?  Investigate whether there are people who are very successful and strong, who also ask for help.

We’ve all been the recipients of bad advice, but if you’ve internalized it or continue to follow it despite poor results, it may be time to create some of your own good advice.

When Bad Advice Becomes Bad Beliefs

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2010). When Bad Advice Becomes Bad Beliefs. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 3 May 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 May 2010
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