I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to help people who very clearly aren’t ready to accept help. It’s a “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?
Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way. 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.
I spent this entire summer very, very sick with anxiety and panic. I did not admit I had a problem that required BIG changes until my dad had to fly up and take me back to Florida with him to get my shit together. I didn’t want to think I was living incorrectly. I didn’t want to admit there was anything wrong with me. I didn’t want to think I had an illness that was out of my control — I wanted to keep doing what I had always done. I couldn’t be bothered to notice I was making myself sicker.
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, 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 try to get through to them. You can let them know you care and you’re there when they’re ready but no one has ever truly stuck to what they needed to do to better their situation without coming to that conclusion on their own. This is just one example but the amount of friends I’ve had who didn’t commit to and scoffed at drug rehab or AA after being court-ordered to go is super telling. The ones who realized on their own that they needed help, are the ones who truly turned themselves around. When I was with my ex, who was horrible to me, friends would constantly tell me to break up with him. One time, a group of them even sat me down Intervention-style. But it took another year for me to get it and realize on my own that he wasn’t right for me. I wouldn’t have listened to anything they had to say. I had to be ready.
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.