How do you help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves?

It’s not a question of “how” (do you) so much as “should” you.


It is no small task trying to convince someone otherwise who is acting in a way that is destructive to their mental and physical wellbeing and living a good life. Although, plenty of people who aren’t helping themselves do refuse help, the fact that someone refuses help does not inherently mean that they are not wanting to help themselves – slight, but important distinction.


It’s quite a narrow and complex question because it takes the form of “how do I, person A, help person B stop doing destructive behaviour C because of outcomes D, E and F and who is motivated to do said behaviour by X, Y and Z.” We need to back this thing up a bit before we get overwhelmed by the complicated and various factors of all this.


Some questions to consider at length:


  • Does this person need help?

  • Does this person need your help?

  • What is your relationship with this person and thus your obligations to them (and them to you)?

  • Why are you helping this person?

  • Are you trying to change them for you or for the benefit of them?

  • Why do you think this person doesn’t want to help themselves?

  • Is it possible that your help is contributing to their difficulty?

  • Should you be helping this person?


Obviously, the above list of questions is not exhaustive and while I don’t expect everyone to be a psychologist, they’re a good starting point to ascertain many things such as why your help is not having the desired effect.


So, why do we keep trying to help people who don’t want our help? Why do people keep making repeated mistakes? And in spite of our help?

People’s motivations for their behaviour are sometimes obvious, but there are some which a far more subtle, multi-layered and which require much chipping away to discover. Many of us, however, don’t want to discover. Or remember.


If you are struggling to get someone to change for the betterment of themselves, you can try getting them to do it for a loved one. This is sometimes this case when working with addiction patients as their self-destructive behaviour can be of no regard to their own wellbeing. However, if you can get them to see their effects on others and how the change to a new and improved behaviour would help someone they love and care for, this can sometimes be enough to trigger the positive change.


“How deep is your love?”, not only a Bee Gees song, but something the helper may feel is being called into question. Whilst I believe that love holds the universe together, it needs to be like a Mark Waugh cover drive – well timed and well placed. We must be aware of rewarding “bad” behaviour. It is a very difficult question to determine where do you reduce/wind back or cut off your help, in essence your love and support – I mean, that’s what help is, right? I feel you must maintain your personal integrity. You have to say, “I’m not on the side of you that is aiming at your defeat.”


I’ve tried to get you to think as well as give you a bit of a template to follow for you to work through rather than give numerous potential scenarios as I’m not privy to your context so the examples I could use may not be relevant to you.


For more of a conversation of why people care and don’t care, please read the article I wrote last year, “Caring, kindness and compassion – the subtle art OF giving a f*ck.”

59 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All