How to Get Help for People Who "Don't Need It".

Getting Help for the Ones We Love

Graydon G. Goss, MD

How do you help someone get help?

All of us, at one time or another, experience the terribly awkward sense of helplessness that we feel when we see that a loved one is in trouble. It might be an aging parent or grandparent that is showing signs of senility, a spouse with a drug or alcohol problem, a friend who is being abused, a child who seems depressed or a teen who’s behavior or school performance is deteriorating. We see the problem clearly, but we hesitate to point it out or say anything because we fear insulting them or getting into some kind of confrontation. For some reason, they either don’t see the trouble or seem reluctant to address it or seek help.

It’s an awful feeling. We want to say, " You have a problem! I love you and I want you to get some help! " But all to often we hold our concerns in and watch helplessly as things get worse and worse. Our worries grow and we fear waiting too long. We experience dread. The longer we wait the harder it gets.

How can we break this cycle?

To answer this question we have to understand our own reluctance. What is it we fear?

The solution to these fears is honesty - not about our observations but about our feelings. If we tell dad we’ve observed him drinking too much he’ll deny it, feel accused, and argue his case. If we tell our kids we’ve observed their grades dropping they’ll give us excuses, tell us we’re wrong, or put the blame elsewhere. Our observations involve them, not us. It feels safer to talk about them, but it never works.

The solution is honesty about us! If we’re worried about mom’s weight, we are the ones with the problem --- we are worried. Mom may not be bothered at all! To be honest we need to talk about us. We may be wrong about her but we’ll always be " right " about our pain.

So what do we say?

" Dad, sit down a second. I need to say something. I’m worried about you. Maybe I’m crazy and there’s nothing at all to worry about but I’m worried nonetheless. I need your help. I’d like you to talk to someone. Then I’ll feel better. Please help me with this. "

In this example I’ve said nothing about dad. I’ve told the truth about my feelings. I’ve asked dad to help me! I’ve said nothing that dad can disagree with or argue about. If he responds that everything is fine I can continue..." You’re probably right, but I'm still worried. Please help me..."

This technique works very well in a wide range of circumstances, but it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. If you are concerned about a loved one and are struggling with your own feelings we’d be happy to help you help them.

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Copyright 1997 Graydon G. Goss, MD
Last revised: March 28, 2015.