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Asking for a friend

by Logan Moore
(New Brunswick, Canada)

Is there a term for when people pretend to get advice for a "friend" when the advice is really for them? And what are the psychological issues at play when someone is reluctant to admit that they need help with a problem?

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Proxy Seeking
by: Jamie Shaw (counseling psychology student)

The behavior of seeking advice for oneself but disguising it as seeking advice for a "friend" is commonly referred to as "proxy seeking" or "proxy question asking." This term describes the act of presenting a personal issue or concern as if it pertains to someone else to maintain a sense of anonymity or to avoid vulnerability. Proxy seeking is not uncommon, and it can be an indication of certain psychological issues at play:

Fear of Judgment or Stigma: Some individuals may be reluctant to admit they need help due to a fear of being judged, criticized, or stigmatized for their problems. By posing the question as if it's for a friend, they can gauge reactions without revealing their own struggles directly.

Protecting Self-Image: Seeking help can be perceived as a sign of weakness by some individuals. They might be concerned about preserving a self-image of competence and self-sufficiency, so they use the "friend" as a buffer to avoid any potential negative impact on their self-esteem.

Emotional Avoidance: Addressing personal problems can be emotionally challenging, and some individuals may attempt to avoid facing their emotions or vulnerabilities by focusing on someone else's situation.

Difficulty Expressing Vulnerability: Admitting one's need for help or support requires being vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Using a proxy allows them to indirectly explore their concerns while maintaining emotional distance.

Fear of Dependency: People may fear becoming overly reliant on others or being seen as burdensome. Asking for advice for a "friend" can be a way to explore their own issues while maintaining a sense of independence.

Lack of Self-Awareness: In some cases, individuals may not fully recognize their own emotional struggles or the need for help. By focusing on a "friend's" situation, they may indirectly gain insight into their own challenges.

It's important for counselors and psychologists to be attuned to proxy seeking behavior during counseling sessions. Encouraging open and non-judgmental communication can help create a safe space for clients to share their concerns honestly. Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance based on trust and empathy can also encourage clients to be more forthcoming about their own experiences.

When someone is reluctant to admit they need help, the counselor can use therapeutic techniques such as active listening, empathy, and gentle exploration of their concerns to help them feel understood and supported. Gradually, the client may feel more comfortable revealing their true needs and challenges, allowing for a deeper and more effective therapeutic process.

Proxy seeking can be a starting point for addressing deeper psychological issues and fostering personal growth and self-awareness. By creating a supportive and non-judgmental therapeutic environment, counselors can help clients feel more comfortable opening up about their struggles and working toward positive change.

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