You Need Help
On today's episode, Tina talks about those whom we care about, worry about, and know would benefit from receiving care and support in their lives. She looks at the different ways we often convey these thoughts and feelings to them... and what's wrong with those ways.
Join Tina as she takes us through the challenging conversations we have with people when we want them to "get help". Listen as she gives examples of well-intentioned strategies, that just don't work - AND - meaningful examples of relationally truthful expressions of concern... with an invitation to being cared for.
Language matters, especially when we are speaking to people who really matter to us!
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I want to talk to you today about the people we love; that we are concerned about, who we think should be getting help for some issues in their life, but they don’t agree. They don’t see it. They do not think they need help. Or at least that’s their stand. And so far, they are sticking to it.
What can be done about this? Because clearly, we know best, and we know they need help! And we aren’t trying to stick our nose in where it doesn’t belong. We LOVE them. This is out of genuine caring that we want them to HEAR what we are saying and AGREE to getting help.
Listen, you don’t have to convince me that you authentically worry about someone you love and know that they would benefit from having support in their life. I believe you.
I also agree that it is very much likely that it is out of genuine caring that you want them to HEAR what you are saying, in order to agree to getting help. But if we agree that HEARING is a major goal here, then we need to also agree that it will very much matter what you say, and how you say it.
And let’s be clear right from the start, we need to respect people’s autonomy. At the end of the day, they have a right to say no to receiving support. And we need to realize that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t express ourselves in love, concern, and desire for something else for them.
What we are talking about today, is a better way of expressing, then maybe we have done in the past. But you won’t hear about how to force them, manipulate them, or give ultimatums.
Just clear and direct communication to convey our thoughts and feelings, in an encouraging and respectful way.
Let’s think of someone who we care about, who we have tried talking to about getting help. Let’s think of some of the tactics we have used in this quest.
Doesn’t it often start with little nudges? Gentle little prods. Where we are really being too direct, but we sure hope they pick up on the hints we are dropping.
For example, “hey, did I tell you my neighbor started counselling with a wonderful therapist uptown? Ya, she loves it. Says it’s so great. Wishes she would have done this years ago because it’s changing her life so much. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this. So funny that it just popped into my head. Anyways, how are you doing?”
Now, that sounds a bit silly, and we can laugh at that. But if we are honest, some of us are laughing right now, in a mortified kind of way because it’s been used. It’s been said. Out of our own mouths.
We’ve tried this backwards little poke, haven’t we? Let’s reflect for a moment. Did it work? Because if it did, they were already thinking about going. You didn’t really do much with your sly intervention there. If it didn’t work (gasp) why not??? It sounded so clever.
Ya, I’m poking fun here a bit, but it’s because I’ve done it too. No, it didn’t work. But I’ll tell you, it is often the first thing we try, with the people we really respect. Because we are trying anything to not disrespect them by saying, “hey, you need help. Why don’t you try the therapist my neighbor found uptown?”
We are trying to get them to get help without having to make a big deal out of it. We don’t want them embarrassed or feeling bad. We just want them better.
But when it doesn’t, but we still care too much to leave it alone, so we take it up a notch. We try a little persuasion. Surely, this will be what it takes. And it can go something like this…
“No, no, no, it’s my pleasure. I am thrilled that you let me take you out for lunch today. It’s been so fun. Hey, I just remembered something, I was talking to Aunt Louise the other day and she said she was thinking of getting a smaller place and wondered about renting out her house. I remembered you were looking for a bigger place but then thought you’ve been under so much stress lately, maybe that would be too much. I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s do-able. Maybe with a bit of help, you’d feel better in no time and Aunt Louise’s place would then be perfect for you. I don’t know. What do you think?”
Ugh. Anyone cringe hearing that? Now, did you cringe because it sounded so obvious? Or because again, you’ve done it? Most of have. And again, out of love and respect… but it doesn’t really work, does it? It wasn’t effective in the way you had hoped it would be. It was just another attempt to get someone to get help. Here’s a question though, if you recoiled hearing that, because it was so obvious in the manipulative attempt, what do you think the person who was being manipulated thought and felt?
Possibly belittled? Demeaned? Degraded? I’d be thinking, “you must think I’m stupid, if you think I can’t see through what you tried to do there”.
So, the person we love, who we are trying to get help for either says “no thanks”, or politely makes their escape saying, “thanks for lunch, I’ll think about it” and they are only going to think about how to avoid you in the future.
So, you step it up another notch. Because they are way too important to you, to let this go. You have to try something a bit stronger. Not too strong. But definitely a little more vigor in it. Because they are not picking up on your hints or encouragement. Let’s be direct.
“Hey, it’s me again. This is crazy, I keep getting your voicemail. You must be busy again. Listen, I was hoping to speak to you directly and not leave this as a message, but I haven’t heard back from you yet. I got the name and number of my neighbor’s therapist just in case you wanted to give them a call and see what they’re like. I’ll leave it at the end of this call. Give me a call tomorrow and let me know when your appointment is. I can take you, and then maybe we can go for lunch after. Wouldn’t that be great. I think it would be good for you. Call me later. Love you. Call them today. Don’t forget. Ok, Bye”.
Are you laughing? Because that sounded ridiculous? Because you have someone in your life who would do this? Or because you have done this? Don’t you want to throw your hands over your face and go “oh no, that’s so terrible. That’s totally my sister. That’s my dad. Ahhhh, that’s me”.
Quick question… who thinks that person is getting a call back from their loved one? And especially saying “appointment is next Thursday at 2. Pick me up and we’ll have lunch before’.
Ya, I don’t see it happening either. I don’t see a call back happening at all. What else is there to do… but take it up a notch again?
Who said begging is undignified? Surely begging will be what it takes. Begging has got to be the answer here. Let’s leave another message.
“Me again. Ok, maybe I’m being silly, I’m sure I am, but I’m starting to feel like you’re avoiding me. I don’t understand it. I’ve wracked my brain and can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset you. I’m just really worried about you. I want you to call that therapist. Please call that therapist. Honey, I’ll never ask a thing of you after this. I just really, really want you to feel better. And don’t tell me you’re fine. You don’t even call me back when I leave you messages. Please, please, please. Get help. You need it. I’m begging you now. Get the help you need. Call that therapist today. Then call me back. Love you”.
And now we wait. Because they will hear this message and realize that this is serious. You are begging. You must know more than they do about the seriousness of their condition. Anyone who would plead like that, must know what is best for someone else’s life.
And maybe that is not a wrong statement. Maybe you do know this is serious. Maybe you even know better than they do at this point that this is more critical than they understand. But these tactics, these strategies don’t seem to be making much of a difference.
Is there a way to upgrade the method here? Where do we go from here? Well, what kind of attempt would we really be making if we didn’t try a good old fashion guilt trip. Pack your bags, we’re going to leave another message.
“Me again, I’m going to try my best to leave you another message. I’ve been crying for days, and I don’t know how well I can speak right now. Aunt Louise is stressed because she doesn’t know how to make future plans regarding her home. I keep telling her I’ve left you several messages and I haven’t heard back. So now she’s a mess, I’m a mess, and quite honestly, I’m not even sure that you care about how you are making us feel. We need you to get help. You don’t realize what this is doing to your family. This is not who you are. This is not how you were raised. Now, think about someone else’s feelings besides your own right now, and call us back and let us know what is going on with that therapist”.
Now can we be honest, you know our loved one is one the phone with the therapist. And they are calling to make you an appointment because you are a mess.
What they are not doing, is calling you back to say anything that sounds like you were right, and they can see that now. But that’s ok. Cause you have another strategy to try. No, it’s not badgering, because that has already fit in nicely within the other attempts.
We haven’t tried it all though, until we try shaming them. It’s like a guilt trip, but with added personal attacks.
“Me again. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I mean, you’ve been given the chance to get better. All you have to do is call the name and number that I found for you. How hard is that? I would think it’s much harder to continue living a life that isn’t really paying off for you. Look around. What do you really have in life? Not much to speak of. You could have so much more except you are so stubborn you think you are fine. Well, you’re not fine. Take that from someone who knows that it takes to work hard at getting somewhere in life. It’s not easy. But you can’t expect life to be easy and you to just get what you want out of it. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll call that therapist. Love you. Call me back”.
You know what? I think you might just get a call back after this message. I might not be to hear what you were wanting to hear though. But it’s your chance to employ your last resort – the confrontation.
This is where you both get to go back and forth arguing about what someone needs, wants, recognizes, or doesn’t. It can get nasty, ugly, and things get said that you don’t even mean. Sides of people come out that aren’t true representations of who they are, what they actually think, or what they really feel. It’s heated, escalated, and emotionally charged beyond control. It certainly harms the relationship. Sometimes ending it altogether.
What starts out of love, ends up putting relationship at risk – certainly strained – you become someone to avoid, someone you wouldn’t be otherwise. Except you grow more and more desperate for a loved one to live their best life.
We have to remember again, that we don’t have the right to decide anyone’s best life for them. We intervene when their life is at risk, and we can express our concern in other times as well. But it is their choice in the end if they want help or not.
If it ends up being a flat out NO, and their life choices are affecting ours, then we go back and listen to the episode on boundaries, called “I love you… Now get outta my yard”. We put in the boundaries that allow us to continue in a relationship that is protective of our health, safety, and well-being.
If we want any chance though, at them HEARING us in our concern, we have to be aware of the importance of the language we use, and how we use it.
We exhaust ourselves, and the person we love with our strategies of trying to get them to see that they may be mentally unwell.
When Albert Einstein himself gave the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and getting nowhere. We look at our loved ones as being mentally ill while we do the same things over and over to help them… with no results.
We need to be able to have love and trust in our relationships if we are truly going to be able to help someone we are actually worried about.
“Stop being delusional” doesn’t make sense but it’s what we are often saying
When we try to convince something that “they need help” … there is no collaboration between us and them. And they do not trust either that mother knows best, or sister knows best, or friend knows best etc.
And yet somehow, we expect gratitude for our concern, receptiveness to our suggestions, and adherence to our proposed plans or even medication suggestions.
What our attempts end up doing is causing shame, guilt, loneliness, demoralization, fear, anger, suspicion, and hiding or withdrawing.
Genuine, authentic, non-judgmental relationships is the way to build trust, and open the door for anything to be considered.
We must show and give respect, if we are going to ask anyone to respectfully consider any concern we might have.
If we can come to place of listening, reflecting back what we have been told so that someone feels heard, they will keep talking. They will begin to build trust and continue sharing.
Empathize with the emotions shared within their stories of their experiences.
People want to correct, minimize, change someone’s perspective – to make themselves feel better and more comfortable. That doesn’t help someone else’s experience. And I didn’t say we need to agree with the story, all the details, or the perspective gained within it. I said empathize with the emotions.
Move away from your end result being your main goal… and that is for them to admit they need help.
Because ultimately, if we want them to get help, isn’t the truth that our end goal is for them to have the best life they can have? Then doesn’t it make sense that relationship would be the most important element right now. And finding what you can agree on is more important than them agreeing to help in this moment.
Anosognosia is an unawareness of a mental health condition that needs help.
It is not helpful to argue with a person with dementia or schizophrenia or psychosis that their thoughts are not real.
They are though, still deserving of being heard, empathized with, and cared for within a relationship.
This too, goes for someone with thoughts or emotions that we don’t agree with. Like something is a big deal that wouldn’t seem like a big deal to us. Or that something happened the way it did when we don’t see it that way.
We don’t guilt, shame, bully, or argue them into another way of thinking or feeling. Or at least we shouldn’t.
Join them in those things you can agree on. That has nothing to do with being ill or needing help. “So, all your friends are against you and hate you and are trying to ruin your life? Well, no wonder you are angry. I would be too”
If they ask me if I can see that too? I might delay in an answer.
Or there is a way to say “if you want me to answer the question I will. I apologize for my opinion, that may be wrong. I just hope it doesn’t hurt our conversation. I don’t want to argue. I really want to keep talking. It means a lot to me to have conversation with you”.
And do not be afraid to apologize for previous confrontations. That’s a huge trust builder.
I want to wrap up today with comparing two different dialogues so you can hear and feel what your loved one might experience, depending on the approach.
I want to speak you like you are that special person in your life whom you are very concerned about and want to get help.
I’m asking you to go back to a time in life when you were struggling. Maybe you are struggling now, and this won’t be a far trip to go to visit these feelings. I want you to feel that experience of when there was pain, and hurt, and confusion, and loneliness.
We won’t stay in this. We are just visiting. Maybe no one really knew what you were going through. They surely didn’t understand it. You may have had many people in your life, but they weren’t with you in what you were in.
Now imagine, in those feelings, I sat down across from you and said this:
“You are delusional. Things are not happening TO you the way you think they are. Your feelings make no sense, and you just keep wallowing in them like some kind of victim. You need help. And you don’t even see it. This is not the life for you. If you would just call and talk to someone and let them tell you that you aren’t thinking and feeling properly, you’d be able to get better. Honestly. You need this. You need to get help.’
How did that feel? Because I did an exercise like this not long ago. And I can tell you, I felt it so heavy in my heart and in my stomach. Maybe it’s different for you but I bet you felt it somehow, somewhere in your body. I remember feeling panic like they just didn’t understand. I was in my office with people just outside my door and all down the hall and yet I felt very alone. I was angry too. That someone would have the audacity to speak to me like that and judge me, judge my pain as inappropriate, unjustified, and invalid.
I didn’t know what to do in that moment to feel better but knew I needed to do something. I wanted to leave. Get away. And isolate from that person who was speaking. I wanted to isolate from everyone. In case others would be thinking and feeling the same way about me.
But I want to now express the same desire, that you’d get help. But say it relationally, and with language that reflects back to you that our relationship is the most important aspect here. Not my goal of you getting help, and you agreeing to it.
“You are so important to me. I cannot imagine what you are going through. I have no idea what you feel or what your thoughts are like, I just know that if I was going through what you’ve explained you are experiencing, I’d have such big thoughts and big feelings. Too big for me to carry myself. I don’t know if yours are too big for you, but I know that if they are, you deserve someone to help carry that weight with you. You deserve to have someone care for you and listen to you explain what you’re going through. I wish that could me. I’m here for you. But I know that what you have to talk about, deserves someone better to listen to it than me. I don’t know enough to give you what you need. But we can find someone who does. If that’s what you want. It’s what you deserve. I’m sorry for the way I’ve tried to be helpful in the past. It wasn’t helpful. It was hurtful. I’m truly sorry and I’m trying to be better at it now. I’m trying to do better. I really do respect you and your right to do what is best for yourself. I know speaking to someone is a big decision. So, you go ahead and think about it, and I’ll check back in with you if I haven’t heard from you to see how you feel about it. Whatever your decision is, I just care so much about you. I love you so much”.
Can we agree that felt so much better? It felt like being recognized, seen, heard, and maybe not understood, completely, but honest enough to admit it.
Let’s remember this exercise when we speak to someone we love, out of worry or concern. Let’s remember that our relationship matters. And if we truly want them to get the help they deserve, we will have more success relationally speaking, than any crazy voicemail we heard earlier.
Let’s keep taking care of ourselves and each other. Until next time, love you guys. You deserve everything great and wonderful.
This is Tina saying good-bye for now, and we’ll speak again soon.