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How to Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves

How to Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves

May 05, 2011

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” ~Pema Chodron

Recently I got into a hypothetical conversation with someone who very quickly turned hostile and accusatory. Let’s call her Jane. My first instinct was to get defensive, but then I realized this subject was quite raw for Jane, and there was likely something going on below the surface.

Usually when people are combative seemingly without cause, there’s some underlying pain fueling it.

As we got to the root of things, I learned that Jane was holding onto anger toward someone she once loved, and she felt a strong, driving need to convince people that this other person was wrong.

Since she acknowledged that she’d been feeling depressed, lonely, and helpless, I felt obligated to at least try to help her see things from a different perspective. But that ultimately proved futile.

She was committed to being angry and hurt, and all she wanted from me was validation that she was justified.

I kept thinking back to how I felt at eighteen years old, reliving scenes of adolescent abuse that I refused to let go of well into my twenties. I spent years stewing in anger because I felt like a victim, and any threat to that comforting sense of righteousness only made me angrier.

Remembering how badly and unnecessarily I hurt myself, it felt imperative that I help her let go. I wanted to help her get out of her own way. I wanted her to do what I had failed to do for far too long.

Seeing that stubborn, bitter commitment to pain reminded me of how angry I was with myself when I realized I’d hurt myself far worse than anyone else—and how ashamed I felt when I realized I enjoyed being a victim, receiving pity, attention, and (what felt like) love.

Suddenly I recognized that I wasn’t just trying to help Jane; I was also judging my former self.

That internal conflict—those confused feelings and mixed motivations—would make it really difficult to offer the type of unbiased, loving support that would allow her to form her own insights if, in fact, she was ready to form them.

Very rarely do people open up to genuine help when they feel like someone is looking down on them or projecting onto them. None of us want to feel judged, misunderstood, or coerced into believing something when we’re not ready.

So what dowe want? What is it that helps people create change when they’re struggling and resistant to help?

Since I have been on both sides of the table—and I have felt equally powerless on both—I decided to ask the Tiny Buddha Facebook community, “How do you help someone who won’t help themselves?”

Some of the answers that resonated with me include:

1. First, check yourself. Do they really need help, or are you pushing some agenda subconsciously or otherwise? Second, let them know you’re there. Third, give them an example to follow. ~Carl B Salazar

2. People have to come to where they need to be to get their lessons.You can’t help someone who is not willing. But you can love them through it. Send light and love and hold them in your heart space. I had to hit my own bottom and dead end to turn around and climb back up…when I was ready and willing. ~Karen Blake

3. We can stop judging people, assuming that they are not helping themselves. Perhaps the helplessness is the sign of their being out of their comfort zone. If we want to help, we can do some positive things like: Give some encouragement or discuss the situation with them and let their own intuition discover the best way to help themselves. ~Santosh Nag

4. Examine your attachment to their choices. Their challenges and choices are their life lessons, not yours. Is your wanting to help them saying something about you that you need to learn? ~Susan McCourt

5. You can help them by just being there and being supportive. You can still plant seeds. Most minds are so conditioned it is almost impossible to shed any light on their world. So just smile, nod, suggest, and if it does not help then move on with no regret because you tried. ~Skip Blankley

6. Don’t enable them. Put the tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, step back, and be there when they trip. Love them when they fall. Repeat repeatedly. ~Crystal Boudreau

7. You can’t make people be what you want them to be and you can’t decide what is best for them. You can only choose for yourself. There is a huge difference between can’tand won’t. Can’tmight be open to help. Won’t can’t be your problem. The best thing is won’t might not always be won’t. Hope for that. ~ Melodee Luka Kardash

8. Love them until they learn to love themselves. ~ Amber Weinacht

9. Stop trying to make them live as you think they should…How others live is not for us to control, but to learn from. ~ Crystal Sverdsten

10. Let go. They have to help themselves and accept responsibility. ~Viengxay Jimenez

11. Their path is not yours to blaze, and who’s to say they’re not exactly where they need to be at this very moment? ~Fiona Berger Maione

12. Focus on your own well being (boundaries) so that you can provide stable support when they ask for help. Allow them their process no matter how difficult it is to watch. It is neither our right or responsibility to manipulate their journey. ~Robyn Williams

13. People who won’t help themselves usually don’t trust others or themselves. Until they do, help them along by being a friend, but don’t engage in crazy behavior with them. ~Jerelyn Allen

14. How do we know, when we’re in our own little egos, that that person isn’t already doing their work? Sometimes, “helping” someone, means leaving them alone…sometimes, you help just by being yourself and healing your stuff so that others can see the change and know that it’s possible. The best way I’ve found to help others is to try and be as authentic as I possibly can. The rest, well, is just none of my business. ~Amy Scott

15. Don’t turn your back on them. Just accept them for who they are, flaws and all, then decide for yourself if it is worth it to you. If it is, patience is a virtue. If not, then keep a hand out but watch out for yourself as well. No need for two people who won’t help themselves. ~April Spears

16. Support is important. Talk to your friends don’t leave them when they go through hard times, you’ll need them when you’re going through a hard time. ~Rosemin Bhanji

17. Help them see how their actions impact others (children, spouse or parents). ~Eloise Cabral

18. Open the door. They’ll walk through it when they’re ready. ~Devon Palmer

19. Be a role model.Show them what life is like when you cultivate and cherish the self. ~Steven Lu

20. Stay strong! Use your strength to combat their weakness. It takes time. ~Laurie Stahl Sturgeon

I ended up telling Jane exactly what was going on in my mind—how I’d clung to unfairness for years and missed out on a lot of life in the process. I acknowledged that she is a different person. I then told her that I make no assumptions or judgments about what’s going on with her and what’s right for her, but I’m here if she wants to talk.

I’d like to think that in owning my own stuff I may have inspired her to do the same. Sometimes all we can do to help other people is continue to help ourselves.

Photo by niceazurpassionpoesie

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal is available for pre-order now. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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