That It May Benefit Those Who Listen: The Harm of Doom and Gloom Advice

“Just you wait until…”

I cringe when I hear those words. Why? The vast majority of the time they are followed by doom and gloom advice. Sometimes it’s the veteran wife to the newlywed: “Just you wait until you’ve been married for a few years. He’ll stop making romantic gestures and you’ll by annoyed by the quirks you think are cute now.” Sometimes it’s the mother of several children to the first-time mother of an infant: “Just you wait until you get to those terrible twos.”

The words “just you wait…” usually indicate that gloomy advice is about to be dispensed. Why do people give advice in this way? Is it helpful?

I’ve long been frustrated with this sort of advice because it’s discouraging. Recently I’ve realized that it’s also contrary to the communication principles set forth in Scripture.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

In the vast majority of situations, doom and gloom advice does not benefit those who listen. I’ll use the examples of marriage and motherhood here, but keep in mind that this sort of advice is dispensed in numerous contexts.

Why doom and gloom advice is harmful

  • It promotes low expectations. Focusing on the negative may leave the advisee believing that negative experiences are inevitable. If they are, then why shoot for anything better? Moreover, if advisees are on the lookout for all of the “just you waits,” they may overlook many wonderful experiences.
  • It adds to despair. For wives and mothers who are feeling overwhelmed, doom and gloom advice is discouraging. They need uplifting and strengthening words, not woeful predictions about the future.
  • It detracts from the advisee’s experience. The Bible teaches us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Whether the advisee is shouting for joy or weeping, when an advisor gives “just you wait” advice, she is turning the focus away from the advisee’s experience instead of rejoicing or mourning with her. Furthermore, if the advisor uses her own experience as an example, she’s turning the attention onto herself.

If this doom and gloom advice isn’t beneficial, why do so many people give it?

Why people give doom and gloom advice

  • To express genuine concern. I believe that most women who give doom and gloom advice are doing it to be helpful. Many remember when they entered into marriage or motherhood with such great optimism and excitement that their expectations weren’t realistic. Subsequently, when they encountered challenges they became overwhelmed and frustrated. They are making these “just you wait” statements to help prepare their advisees for upcoming challenges.
  • To normalize their own experiences. Many dispensers of doom and gloom advice hope their difficulties don’t signify that they are strange or that there’s something wrong with them or their situations. They give this advice to imply that everyone experiences these challenges, thereby normalizing their experiences.
  • To feel superior. Saying “just you wait” is kind of like saying “I told you so.” Unfortunately, some advisors desire to point out the naiveté of their advisees so they can feel superior.
  • To express cynicism. We all know individuals who are pessimistic or cynical. Sometimes the doom and gloom advice is simply a manifestation of these traits.

How can we guard against giving this advice?

Tips to avoid giving doom and gloom advice

  • Remember that every situation is different. Though we want to help the women we advise set realistic expectations, we have no way of knowing what their experiences will be. Some of their experiences may be better than our own!
  • Offer to be there. Instead of sharing “just you waits,” we can offer to be there to rejoice or mourn with our advisees through all of their experiences.
  • Say something positive. When we hear ourselves saying “just you wait,” follow it with something positive. For example, “just you wait” until you joyously celebrate 25 years of marriage with your husband or you feel the immense pride of watching your child graduate high school.

Let’s guard against giving doom and gloom advice so our words truly benefit those who listen.

Have you ever received (or given) doom and gloom advice? Was it helpful or harmful? What do you think is the best approach to giving advice?

Shared on the following link-ups:

Word Filled Wednesday, Wholehearted Wednesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Monday’s Musings, Miscellany Monday, T.G.I.F., Thriving Thursday & Desire to Inspire.

Comments

  1. Charlotte Thiel says:

    A big one I think you missed are the “I understand” in the hospital because my relative, friend, neighbor had the same thing and was in the hospital forever and then died leaving many big hospital bills, Another I hear way too often is telling children, or letting them overhear, that they were an accident or mistake. While it is true that my second child was unplanned and I didn’t think I was ready for her, I NEVER ever told her either of the negatives. I called her a surprise and found her to be the greatest blessing. God knew I would need so many things this girl was for me and I thank Him for her.

    Many times we use these intro statements and experiences because we want to say “I have been there so I understand” but we might be better off just saying that. It is good to let someone else know you made it through, but we do need to be bearers of good news, and the Bible sayse our feet will be blessed! Since I forget my best intentions, I think I will commit this to the Lord for control. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Those are two great examples of awful things to say. I agree that we need to be bearers of good news–there’s already enough bad news being spoken!

  2. Norma VanMatre says:

    Sadly, I used to be one of those people. I have learned that through the Lord, NOTHING is gloom and doom! There is always GOOD, no matter what is going on in your life. Thanks Shannon! Great reminder for when we fall into that habit.

  3. great post today

  4. Love this! I think that a lot of times people give “gloom and doom” advice because they don’t want to admit that it was their own shortcomings or lack of perseverance that led to their problems or failure. They’d rather believe that no one can to it than to admit that maybe they had something to do with it.

    I have always hated such advice. It happens when you get engaged, when you get pregnant, in breastfeeding, homeschooling, etc. It’s such a prevailing attitude of negativity.

    • Hi Crystal,
      I think you’re right that some people give this type of advice because they are unable or unwilling to admit their own shortcomings. This is a good reminder to us to look inward and examine our motives before we advise others.

  5. This is such good advice and I will remember it since I would like to give younger women the encouragement and good advice I lacked. Thanks for linking this up with me over at WholeHearted Wednesdays.

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