Just By Caring, You Are Helping Them More Than You Know
By Contributing Author, Kate Harveston
It’s challenging to deal with a loved one who struggles with persistent negative behavioral patterns. They may promise to change a million times, only to revert to previously frustrating actions. They may even vehemently deny that they have a problem at all.
Helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped requires stalwart patience. It also calls upon you to practice self-care and maintain healthy boundaries. If someone you love is struggling with a problem they’re not ready to face, take the following steps to show you care.
Remain Available to Them
Many people who struggle with problems like addiction fall prey because they seek to self-medicate to dull emotional or physical pain. Others fall into depression because of repeated insults and scars from daily life. They’re feeling vulnerable, which makes it natural for them to react defensively. This reaction is a protective mechanism, even if it isn’t ultimately beneficial.
When you confront them about their unwanted behavior, expect a defensive reaction. After all, even when you do so lovingly, you’re criticizing the other party, so be gentle. Ask to make an appointment to talk at a time that’s convenient for you both. Use caring, non-confrontational language and intonation. “I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot more than usual. Is there something bothering you that you’d like to share?” goes further than, “You need to stop acting like such a lush, or I’m not inviting you out anymore.”
Then, invest time in listening to them and encouraging them to share their feelings without judgment. Remember, trust doesn’t grow overnight, even in the healthiest relationships. If your loved one fell into negative behavioral patterns because of past trauma, they’ll build walls around themselves to protect their emotions. If they sense that you’re condemning them, they probably won’t open up completely.
However, Establish Boundaries
If your workday begins bright and early at 6 a.m., you might not appreciate a midnight phone call — for the third evening in a row. Yes, you want to help, especially when someone you care about is going through a crisis. However, you can’t pour from an empty pitcher — you need to set boundaries so that you get the “refills” you need.
Healthy relationships ask permission and take the other person’s feelings into account before acting or speaking. However, somebody trapped in a downward spiral or addiction might not realize how their behavior impacts others. They can become so wrapped up in misery that they seem to lose respect for you. Try to understand that they’re probably not trying to make you lose sleep or get you fired.
Evaluate the situation when your friend does something that crosses the line. Are they genuinely in crisis to the point that you need to contact a hotline to ensure their safety? If they’re not, the next time you talk at a neutral time, establish your boundaries.
If you prefer that they don’t call you between certain hours unless it’s a bona fide emergency, say so. Even if you need to take a weekend away from contact to focus on yourself, let them know. Ensure that they understand that you love them and would grant them the same request.
Point the Way, but Don’t Be Forceful
Despite the drama inherent in television programs about interventions, forcing someone to accept help when they don’t want it often backfires. If you don’t intervene appropriately, you risk damaging your relationship with the individual. A successful intervention requires much planning and support from other people in the individual’s life.
If you’re not able to coordinate an intervention or you’re not sure it’s your place to stage one, point the way to help gently. If you’re seeing a therapist for assistance with any issues, mention how much the process is doing to help you overcome negative thoughts and behaviors in yourself. If you enjoy reading self-help literature, leave a useful book out on your desk or coffee table. Rave about how much you’re getting from it and offer to let the other person borrow it.
Finally, remember that caring for someone who struggles drains you too. Participate in activities that benefit your mental and physical health. Go for a walk or a jog after work, and ask your friend to join you — exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood booster.
If you need a break from contact for a bit, take a solo hike in the woods. Relax in a warm bubble bath. Take a book with you and disappear from the world for an hour.
You May Not Feel Like You’re Helping, but You Are
When you care about someone who’s caught in a negative spiral, it may not feel like you’re making any progress. The truth is that sometimes, merely offering your friendship is the best help you can give.