A father tries to get his daughter to raise her grade by offering an iPhone, a son constantly reminds his elderly mother to drink her water so she doesn’t dehydrate, and the roommate pours all the vodka down the drain to try to get him to stop drinking.
And yet, the daughter’s grade remains the same, the mother insists on drinking tea or nothing at all, and the roommate continues to spiral down from his addiction.
Helping others can be frustrating and discouraging at times. We love and care for people and want what is best for them. We believe part of being supportive is encouraging them to do their best and take care of themselves.
The truth is, we can only do so much for others no matter how much we care for them. I know this personally of course and professionally, as I am a therapist. People have to want to change in order to be helped. When they are motivated and ready, we can step in to offer assistance and support.
Until then, the key is building solid relationships with the people in your life. Invest in them, understanding what they value, what they need, and what their dreams are. Build a friendly rapport and establish trust. Spend quality time getting to know them and letting them know you.
Enjoy the good times and show appreciation for the role they play in your life, whatever that might be! Then, when something goes awry in their world or they express a desire for things to be different, you have already planted the best seed for helping them. You know them. They trust you.
Listening to them tell their story is probably one of the greatest gifts you can give them. People are desperate to be heard. They want connection and understanding.
Be careful not to jump too quickly into advice mode. Even therapists use many other approaches to be helpful before giving direct advice.
Often people have their own solutions buried inside them and are searching to figure out what they already instinctively know needs to happen. Having a safe, compassionate, understanding person to talk things through with can make all the difference.
Many times, people want their loved ones to change but the person actually doesn’t have any desire to or see a need for that. Like the examples above, you may be working very hard to help someone change in a way you feel is best for them, but they may not have any motivation or desire to do so.
When you find yourself working harder to help someone than the efforts they are making themselves, you may want to step back and examine why this is so important to you.
If you’re losing sleep over this person’s choices, if you are regularly frustrated with them for not changing, you may need to consider what your problem actually is and whether you need to back down or not.
Sometimes people can be very attached to getting people to live how they want them to live. They can destroy their own lives attempting to “help” someone else.
At the end of the day, it’s important for you to live out your life as you see fit. However, it is not your decision how other people live. If someone cries out to you for help, then give all you can to steer them in the best direction.
However, if people are not seeking change, it is also not your job to try to change them. If their choices are deal breakers for you, then leave the relationship. Otherwise, accept how they are different from you and enjoy everything you can about your relationship.
The best way to help others is to consistently live in a way that feels best for you and create meaningful relationships with them so they have somewhere to turn when they truly want support. You cannot do it for them. They have to help themselves. I hope this helped!
© - Cindy D. Whitmer (May 31, 2014)