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How to Help Emotionally Unhealthy People

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You’d be surprised how many calls we get from people wanting to make appointments for struggling friends or loved ones. It’s frequent. We totally empathize, but unfortunately, treating someone on behalf of another person is an official no-go. You’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.” It’s the hard truth. The good news? There are steps you can take to improve your relationships and interactions with those who doesn’t want professional help.

To start, if you suspect someone could benefit from a mental health specialist, I recommend asking him or her something like, “Have you considered running this by a professional?” the next time they mention their issue. This keeps you from appearing critical or judgmental. If the person bites, great! Be ready with a couple recommendations. If the person doesn’t respond well, it’s time to start protecting yourself instead of trying to change someone who refuses to change.

Here’s an example from one of my coaching clients: Like so many, “Janis” called to make an appointment for her mother who she contended was drinking too much, mismanaging their family store, allowing Janis’ dad to abuse her and spending money they didn’t have. I explained that Janis’ mother would have to make the call to receive treatment, however, I would be willing to see Janis and discuss how to cope with her mother and the situation. She took me up on my offer.

Janis became one of my coaching clients and it didn’t take long for her to realize, through laughter, “I guess I can’t change her or anybody.” This understanding allowed us to focus on and modify Janis’ behavior, the stuff within her control. She began setting boundaries. She walked away when her mother complained about her father. She changed the subject when her mom complained about sadness and anxiety. She started using the highly effective “we can agree to disagree” statement anytime her mom made a bad decision about the store. Eventually, consciously or not, her mother began talking more positively when she realized Janis would not be “sucked in.”

Janis’ story is not uncommon. Many of us relate to wanting to help struggling friends and loved ones in any way we can. But sometimes, the ONLY way to help is changing ourselves.

To your emotional health,

Dr. Dabney


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