Help – I Need Somebody?

crop psychologist supporting patient during counseling indoors
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What should you do with someone who is clearly struggling but does not want help?

When we see someone we care for struggling, with for example an emotional issue, more often than not our first reaction is to want to help. As humans we have an innate quality within us that fosters such behaviour. It is sort of our default position. We will attempt to help without even thinking. When a person refuses help and continues to struggle it can be extremely difficult for us.  

Refusing to give up – Does not help

We may continue to try to help, refusing to take no for an answer. Or feel obliged to continue out of a sense of duty or care. We can often ‘feel’ that they ‘know what is best’, especially when it comes to someone we care for. We maybe convinced that our advice or support will genuinely make a difference. To us, a solution can appear so easy. 

So why can it be so difficult sometimes? The simple fact is a person cannot be helped if they are unwilling to be helped. No amount of effort will change this fact. There are even cases where someone will appear to accept help, go through all the motions of taking it but because they really believe it or have convinced themselves they cannot be helped, it will all come to no avail. 

When this happens we can end up feeling completely helpless or inadequate. Sometimes even  frustrated and angry. It can be an extremely upsetting and emotionally draining experience. Indeed it can be very difficult to let go, especially if the issue with the person continues or even gets worse.

A solution?

What to do? Breaking old habits is critical. It can be difficult to go against our instincts. Key here is the acceptance that the person we are trying to help has to want that help for it to have any kind of benefit. 

This acceptance can be both difficult and as painful to come to terms with. Yet unless we do, there is a real danger that we can be dragged into the other person’s issues as well as being  caught up in our inability to solve them. On occasion we may think we can somehow feel that we can ‘feel the pain’ for them or shoulder the burden. We just can’t do that, we just create additional pain for ourselves. Pain that can result in stress, depression and anxiety. 

This type of behaviour certainly does not help the other person, just as much as it does not help us. 

By accepting that a person cannot be helped except by themselves does not mean giving up on them or not caring. Not by any means. It simply creates a valuable space for everyone. It can help to relieve some of the pressure potentially involved, especially for the person in need of help, who may feel somewhat coerced or picked on at times. 

Breaking the cycle 

It also gives us the chance to examine our own  motives. These can be both complex and profound, maybe even difficult to come to terms with. Nonetheless they are worth exploring, they can say so much about us. Of course in many cases these motives will be entirely genuine, however in others they can raise some questions. We need to sit back and really ask ‘why’? It could be that we need a little help ourselves?

Once we have tried the above  (acceptance, space given and any underlying issues explored), we can  re-examine the situation.  We can make it clear that we will not force help upon the other person and let them know we will only help the person if and when they ask for it.

By doing so we can potentially empower the person in need of help to take more ownership of their situation, recognise that they (at least in the eyes of others) need to get help and potentially get that help when they are ready. This may take time and it may but in terms of outcomes it is often really beneficial to all involved. 

Help equals Change

Seeing a person in need of help and being unable to do anything about it can feel like the worst thing in the world. Letting go and accepting that the only person who can genuinely help is the person themselves can feel so counterintuitive and feel like the most ‘unnatural’ course to take. However, by stepping back, taking the emotions out of the situation and protecting one’s own emotional or mental health can have a big impact on how the situation is perceived and potentially resolved. 

In a seemingly insurmountable situation could a new approach be worth trying?  

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