Are you worried about or even upset with someone in your life? Although many problems have surfaced, whether it’s about their physical health or mental health, there seems to be a lack of motivation to change or do something to improve their situation. Or, they could simply be clueless or lack awareness.
We could try to not think about them and remain safe in our own bubbles, but it could be difficult if we are in an intimate relationship with them. Or, as a human being, we could be thinking of extending a helping hand and encouraging them to seek out resources that could help alleviate their suffering.
Bearing witness to people’s pain or being impacted by their inaction or indifference to change, can affect our mental health too. Whether they are an elderly parent, a romantic partner, a colleague or friend.
We may ask: “How do I get them to seek help?”
We might say: “It’s so obvious that something is wrong!”
It can be agonising.
Why do we want the person to change?
First, we should ask ourselves why we wish for this other person to change. One of the main reasons is that we care. There could be other reasons too. Whatever the rationale we have for them to change, it is ours. We can make the case in a persuasive argument, but the person has to accept and internalise it.
In a nutshell, part of the journey is about accepting that they have agency and choice.
Although we could have some influence on the people around us (either through coercion, persuasion or manipulation), we cannot make them change.
We can only determine our own actions and hope that they would be able to take some steps towards change or consider seeking help: by communicating care, showing them support and encouragement and giving them feedback on how we are affected.
In this post, we could explore some ways that we could show our concern for others, support them, and communicate with them. To hold space for them and create some space for ourselves and our hope.
Do note that this post may not be applicable for individuals suffering from domestic violence, and abuse in an intimate relationship. If you, or anyone in your life, are suffering from abuse, please get help from the relevant authorities. Those residing in Singapore can call ComCare (Tel: 1800-222-0000) or contact PAVE to break the cycle of violence. If you know that someone is in imminent danger or harm, please call the police or go to the nearest hospital.
Recognise that change is hard
One of the things I tend to address when talking about other people’s resistance to change, is to look at our own journey in life.
Is there something that we think we should change?
The tone of voice we use? Exercising more? Limiting screen time? Our spending habits?
This section is not about who has a worse problem or whose problem is more severe. It is about understanding that the process of change is difficult.
Access empathy and show compassion
Observe how we react when we think of the things we need to change. How do we feel?
Defensive? Helpless? Disappointed?
Now, consider the reactions when someone implies that we need help, that we must change.
Embarrassed? Defensive? Angry? Indignant?
When we begin the narrative that these people in our lives need to change, we are judging them. It unfortunately implies that they are not up to mark, and that they are not good enough. Judgement would stir shame and disappointment. In a position of already believing that they are not doing well enough, you are likely to be perceived as demonstrating “I know more than you.”
When we are perceived as attacking a person’s ego, rarely would we be able to spur them on a “FINE, I WILL SHOW YOU WHAT I’M CAPABLE OF”. In fact, we are likely to create more resistance, even deception.
When we take on a position of curiosity for their struggles while recognising that change is really hard, we are likely to create space for empathy and compassion. Truly, you don’t know the winning formula to get this person to change; you could only have an intelligent guess, based on your own assessment and knowledge. Separate the person from the problem. When we are able to see that they are not the problem, and that they have a problem, we can stay away from a personal attack and look at it from a behavioural perspective.
We could take some steps to gain some clarity.
First, distinguish our reactions to the situation. We think many things and experience many feelings. Generally, they fall under two categories “I am affected” and “They are affected”.
“I am affected.”
These reactions arise from the impact of their actions: when their behaviour affect us.
We could be feeling neglected because when they are always stressed, they only talk about themselves. Or when they tell a lie, we could feel hurt or angry. We could be upset by their second-hand or third-hand tobacco smoke.
“They are affected.”
These reactions arise from witnessing their actions and the impact on them.
We could be confused by their repeated patterns of perceived irrationality. We could feel helpless when they are not doing anything to take care of themselves. Or, we could be disappointed because we are hopeful that their lives would improve, but they refuse to change or seek help.
Accept what you have control over
When we can gain some clarity about our own reactions, we could better understand and respond in a more empowered manner. Own our reactions and our thoughts and we can decide what we want to do. We could complain/ give feedback to the person or take actions by setting boundaries. We can have some control.
Decide and do what you can while you wait for change
Communicate care and demonstrate empathy and compassion
When we acknowledge the difficulties they face, have conversations about it, validate their experiences, we are showing compassion. We recognise the humanness of our struggles and make space for mistakes, problems and “not knowing”. We are also showing patience and hope that problems can be managed. I wrote a post on “How to Support Others” and you could refer to that for some ideas.
Having looked inward, we now have the language to make sense of what is going on. We would be in a better position to communicate our thoughts and feeling.
Many self-help writers discuss the use of “I – statements”, promoting less blaming statements for interpersonal communications. I found an interesting read on Psychology Today written by John A. Johnson discussing the effectiveness of “I -” versus “You-” statements, should you be interested in further reading. Using “I – statements” is less accusatory than “you-statements” and if we are starting out conversations with our people, it is a less intimidating way to give feedback.
When we however only express our reactions repetitively, we may unintentionally put ourselves in the position of the “victim”, waiting to be rescued or persecuted by the person involved. Be mindful of that and choose to do something else.
If you find yourself increasingly annoyed by what you observe, perhaps it is an indication to limit your interactions or discussions about the “offending” behaviour. Especially if you are more annoyed or offended by them than they are, and you find yourself being triggered.
Bridge the gap
Be curious and find out what is stopping them from changing. Sometimes, it could be an informational or knowledge gap: they are clueless about their next steps. Or it could be a lack of resources. If you have the means to, help them bridge the gap. It could mean discussing with them on some possible options e.g., seeing a dietician, a mental health professional, time management, budgeting.
Seek support and help
If your mental health is affected, exercise self-care. Some people seek help from a therapist because they are frustrated with someone in their lives who are not willing to change and the relationship is affected. Remember, we can only do so much. Take care of your own mental wellbeing. I have helped individuals who are troubled by such issues. Recognise that it can be really stressful and it helps to have support from a trained mental health professional.
It is not my intention to simplify the process and dish out a quick fix for a complex issue, but I hope I have been able to shed light on some ways we could explore to support someone’s change. Hopefully we can hold space with compassion and faith while they work through their struggles and ambivalence. Also, when we can change the existing dynamic with this other individual through changing our own behaviours, we could take care of ourselves in the process or even influence the person in the process.
I hope you find this post helpful. Let me know what you think in the comments 🙂