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How to Help People Who Won't Help Themselves

by Dee Willis

When someone you care about makes poor choices or does not have a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to observe. Problems the person may be facing could include addiction, medical or mental illness, debt, abuse, or impairment of life skills. Friends and family often want to help their loved ones, however, if that person does not want to accept the problems or make changes, there is little that others can do. This does not mean that you should give up on the person you care about.

Listen to the person. Whatever the problem is, listen to what he has to say. It may be tempting to interject with advice or demands, however, this is not always productive. Let him know that you hear him by repeating or rephrasing his statements. Summarize what you heard him say to ensure you understand and demonstrate that you are listening.

Provide options. Initially, rather than suggest or demand that the person make specific changes, provide options. Avoid ultimatums if at all possible, unless the person is in a serious or life-threatening situation such as drug addiction. Ultimatums may have in an immediate positive response, but do not ensure a lasting change. Options give the person control of his decisions and are more likely to have in positive results. If the person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it may be necessary to call an interventionist.

Support the person in her efforts to change. Making life changes is extremely challenging and will not always be successful. Praising and acknowledging all efforts, even those that fail, is more likely to lead to future attempts, which may lead to success. Criticizing failures is more likely to reduce motivation to change.

Explore the consequences of the choices or lifestyle with your loved one, as he may be in denial about the negative effects. Gently challenge any irrational thoughts that indicate that the person has control over the situation or could change it whenever he wants. Avoid aggressive confrontation, which will lead to defensiveness and hostility and deter from your goal.

Explore your own motivation for helping the person change. Ensure that you have the person's best interests in mind rather than your own agenda. Also be sure that your desire to help the person does not result from a mere difference in opinion regarding choices and lifestyle.

About the Author

Dee Willis began writing in 2011 and currently writes for various websites on such topics as stress management and mental health. Willis has a Master of Science in counseling from Freed-Hardeman University.

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