It’s such a helpless feeling to watch someone you love self-destruct. You feel like you’re riding a roller coaster that never stops as your loved one makes progress, then backslides in a continual loop of frustrating behavior. Worse, when you try to intervene, they take umbrage.
What are some ways you can help someone who doesn’t want your assistance? While it does take considerable savvy — and patience, you can manage the task. By taking care of yourself and embracing the following practices, you can gently guide your loved one toward the light.
1. Promote a Healthy Environment
Does your spouse have an alcohol use disorder? If so, why do you pick up vodka when you go to the grocery store? You can’t control your loved one 24 hours a day, but you can take charge of your environment and make it supportive of their recovery.
If you live with someone recovering from substance abuse, go through your home and eliminate sources of temptation. Contact your healthcare provider to make sure that doing so won’t send your loved one into dangerous withdrawal. If someone habitually drinks a fifth of whiskey daily and suddenly goes cold turkey, they could suffer seizures, and the symptoms can become life-threatening in rare cases.
2. Anticipate Relapses
The road to recovery from mental health disorders and substance abuse isn’t smooth sailing. Your loved one will likely have setbacks when they relapse. Sometimes, they do so in exquisite style, going on a bender than can have devastating legal consequences. Other times, the signs are subtler because the individual knows how to hide their use from others, at least in the short-term.
When relapses occur, avoid the temptation to mitigate the consequences, but do show empathy. If your son or daughter totals the family car while drinking and driving, let them accept their sentence instead of making a call to your poker buddy, the police chief. Shouting, “I have no son anymore,” doesn’t make the situation better, but neither does brushing criminal behavior under the rug. Support them through the process, but don’t enable them by helping them game the system.
3. Set Clear Boundaries
When you love someone with a mental disorder, their behavior impacts you directly. If someone in your household turns violent, it endangers the health and well-being of everyone else. You need to identify what acts you will and will not tolerate and the consequences if your loved one crosses the line.
Spend some time soul-searching to decide what you will tolerate. Maybe you can forgive another relapse — but not if the substance use fuels domestic violence. Pick a time when you both feel calm and be direct in outlining what you will and will not stand and what you will do if the other person disrespects your boundaries. Do so in a neutral tone — you don’t want to imply that you’re punishing them for past indiscretions. You’re making a plan for moving forward.
4. Use Caution With Monetary Gifts
When you love someone with mental health or substance abuse issues, you run the risk of falling into codependent patterns that cause significant disruption. You want to help them with their problems, but giving them a blank check can result in them spending the money on drugs or alcohol. Before you offer help with things like rent or food, ask yourself if you are empowering or enabling them. The difference is, enabling perpetuates rather than solves a problem — ask yourself if your act of kindness could backfire.
5. Leave Materials Where They Can Find Them
Often, your loved one wants to work on their issues, but the very mental constructs that spurred the behavior in the first place can cause them to become oppositional when you make suggestions. Instead, why not leave reading materials where they can readily access them? Share helpful articles on social media — without tagging them in the post — and leave magazines and self-help books on coffee tables and bathrooms, if you share a home.
6. Check-in With Them Regularly
Mental health disorders can leave those afflicted isolated. If you don’t live with the person you are trying to help, set up routine check-ins with them via text or phone. If they are isolated due to quarantine for COVID-19, you can use technology like Facetime to make them feel less alone — you can even do a group call with today’s apps.
7. Separate the Person from the Behavior
When you feel frustrated with your struggling loved one, it’s understandable to snap and say things like, “Why do you always have to create problems?” However, such statements only undermine their sense of self-worth and make them more prone to frustrating behavior.
Instead, separate the behavior from the person. You can say, “When you do X, it makes me feel Y.” That way, you make it clear that you are disappointed in their actions, but you still value them as human beings.
8. Practice Self-Care
Loving someone who needs help but won’t accept it is exhausting. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher — take time to do something kind and renew yourself every day. Maybe you treat yourself to your favorite yoga class or sink into a bubble bath with a novel. Honor your needs so that you can care for others.
You Can Help Those Who Don’t Want Your Assistance
It’s challenging to help those whose reply to your efforts is, “no thanks.” However, with patience, persistence and wisdom, you can help them change their behavior and make strides toward health.