Do you have someone in your life who is struggling, and you want desperately to help them? You care about that person and you want to see them live up to their potential. You’ve tried in so many ways to help them, but they refuse your help. You are tempted to give more and help more, but you know that you should leave them be.
Here are five strategies in letting go when a loved one won’t accept your assistance.
Cultivate healthy detachment
Recognize when you are trying harder to help them than they are trying to change themselves. You are putting out loving energy toward the struggling person because you have hope that they can change. Maybe you have dealt with and overcome a similar situation and can see their potential, even if they don’t see it.
You want to recognize when you are in a situation of hope against hope, and that the person is really not choosing to change at this point. How would you know? You feel frustrated. You question yourself. You feel helpless, and disappointed – like your efforts might be for naught.
That’s when you want to go into a mode of healthy detachment. That doesn’t mean you give up. It means that you care without being overly invested. You can ‘hold space’ for them, respond if they ask for help, check in and monitor how they are doing, etc. But you want to stop proactively putting more hope and energy into ‘getting them to change’ than they are showing.
To practice healthy detachment, it can be helpful to know ‘why’ you are so invested in helping this person. I’ve been in situations where the crumbs of appreciation I received from helping the other person made ME feel ‘needed’, so I kept doing it. When I started putting my efforts into activities that, instead, made me happy and more successful in my business, then I had less bandwidth to bleed my energies into that person who refused my help (yet kept wanting my attention). Feeling ‘filled up’ made me less tempted to get my ‘feel-good’ from someone who wasn’t capable of giving it to me.
At the point that you realize you might be sacrificing too much of your time and energy, you can lovingly set boundaries with the person. Here’s where you have to do your ‘internal homework’ to figure out what you are willing to do going forward to stay engaged with the person, and what you are not willing to do. Then share these boundaries with that person (you’ll be a good role model for them – they need to do this too!).
Setting boundaries might sound like, “I have time for a quick 15-minute call before I have to get home to my children” (this is a boundary against the person’s previous “you-go-on-for-an-hour-but-then-don’t-do-anything-I-say” calls). Or, “I will have coffee with you on Saturday but I am not willing to go over to your boyfriend’s house for that party because he doesn’t treat you with respect”).
Expand your compassion
You see them making unhealthy choices and may be tempted to judge them. And honestly, you don’t want to hear their droning on and on again. You may feel annoyed by them; instead, have deep compassion for them.
Remember that their refusal of your help isn’t about your qualities or abilities. It’s an indication that they are so caught up in their patterns that they are not able to see (with the clarity that you have) how destructive their behavior is. It means that they are so unable to feel the love in themselves that they turn to people or substances who are harmful in order to find that love or ease the pain.
As painful as it is, and as much as you want to prevent it, some people need to hit rock bottom in order to change. Have compassion in knowing that their behavior will never get them what they truly want and hold the vision in your mind that they can turn to more healthy ways to find that love and acceptance.
Don’t “play God”
You don’t know why their current situation is happening to them, how it is part of an overall arc to their life or what is going on in their biology. Based on their circumstances, there is a way in which they need to grow. As much as you care about them, you can’t deny them their opportunity to learn from the situation they are going through. Think of all the inspiring stories of people who went through tragedies or faced despairing times where they thought they couldn’t go on … but then found a strength or a new approach that enabled them to eventually do great things.
Love your life the way it is
Though the person might grow and change, expect that they won’t. Live your life (or make it better) based on that expectation. If you can’t get what you need from them, then find a workaround for your life. Find ways of loving yourself without needing their love in order to feel whole. Find ways of feeling calm inside your own body and mind. Pursue ways of overcoming the barriers you face in your own life (they will often be curious about what is working for you).
In short, do you!