Have you spent a lot of time trying to help people who very clearly aren’t ready to accept help? This is called the “baby bird syndrome” where you pick the wounded animal off the ground and try to slowly nurse it back to health. But what if all that baby bird does is resist your help? For someone who loves a good “fix-it” job, it’s important to know that trying to help someone who doesn’t want or isn’t ready to be helped is a noble effort, but ultimately it’s like asking to be punched in the face.
How can you stand by, though, when someone you love is self-destructing? How can you not at least try to make them see that they’re hurting themselves?
The missing piece is that the other person has to want help. You can’t force them to believe anything is wrong — wrong enough to warrant some major changes in their life. 1) Change is scary and 2) Admitting you have huge innate flaws is scary. People like to think they have a handle on themselves until they really, really don’t. And even then sometimes, they will fight you, kicking and screaming, and still not realize they are in trouble. They’re so used to being on a boat with a hole in the bottom, retaining water, that they don’t even believe in boats without that.
The person you are trying to help wants to believe they can live a normal life, just like they assume everyone else is. They want to believe they don’t have to sacrifice, that they don’t have special circumstances, and they don’t have tendencies other people don’t. If their problem is drinking or drugs or relationships, they wonder: why when everyone else does these things does it not end up in disaster? Why is it when I do them, there are always major consequences or problems?
You want to help them. You want to be there for them and see what you can do to make their problems go away. Maybe at first you do help them, gently making suggestions, then more adamantly pushing them to admit they have a problem. But then they harden. They turn stubborn and think you’re trying to sabotage them or that you’re overreacting or that you don’t care about them, when all you’re doing is caring.
You can not help someone who doesn’t want help. I know it’s frustrating. It’s like a terrifying Ferris wheel, where they keep going ’round and ’round, making the same mistakes over and over while you stand on the ground and watch, sucking in breath through your teeth and holding your tongue.
If your offers of advice and support are being rejected, you may feel like you’re powerless to do anything. But you can still be there for your friend; you might just need to take a different approach to the way you’re supporting them.
Continue to be supportive. Listen to your friend when they need to talk.
Give suggestions, if and when your friend reaches out to you and asks for your advice.
Do a bit of research into what help is available in your area that could be useful for your friend. That way, if they decide they’re ready to seek help, you’ll be able to give them some direction about who to go and see.
Talk to someone yourself
You need to look after yourself, too. It can be really frustrating, and make you feel helpless, if a friend won’t let you help them. Talk through how you’re feeling with someone you trust.
You’re not going to be able to be there for someone at every moment of every day. Set some limits on things you’re willing and not willing to do – and stick to them!
Don’t force the issue or put pressure on them
If you try to pressure or force a friend to get help, it may come from a good place, but it can actually have the opposite effect to what you intend and could turn your friend off seeking help altogether.
Don’t avoid them
If you avoid your friend, it’s likely to make them feel isolated. It may also mean that if and when they’re ready to seek help, they might not feel comfortable about coming to you for support.
Let people grow on their own level. Don’t try to pull them up just because you can. Your intention may be helping but in reality you may land up doing more harm than good.
It’s their experience, their journey and their challenges to overcome. Leave them be unless they come to you for help.
After all, maybe the ones who don’t get it, aren’t supposed to.