Knowing how to help someone get help isn’t always easy, but you do have the power to have a positive impact on the lives of the people you care about. 

I know that many of my counseling and coaching clients are kept up at night by worries about someone they care about. Unfortunately, most of us will have this experience at some point. There are many people who are depressed, addicted, or just not getting the help they need to live happy, healthy lives. And while none of us have the power to rescue others, fight their battles, or override their choices, we do have an important role to play in the lives of the people we care about: to hold up a mirror that reflects what we see, with compassion and honesty. 

If you wish your loved one would get into therapy for depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, or undergo treatment for an addiction, or get support with ending an unhealthy relationship, this article is all about how you can help. If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.   

And I also want to give you a heads up that this article and podcast episode touch briefly on suicide, although it’s not the main focus. Take care if you need to.

How to Help Someone that Won’t Help Themselves

As much as you may want to come to the rescue of the friend or loved one you’re concerned about, having the right mindset when you’re helping someone get help is really important. If you go into the situation understanding 1) what you can do, 2) what you can’t do, and 3) how the process of growth and change looks, you’ll have the best chance of being genuinely supportive, rather than critical, enabling, or overburdened with other people’s problems.

There are a few things you can do to help your loved one who’s struggling. First, you can be an open door. Allow them to share what they’re going through with you without judgment or criticism, which will only lead them to feel shame and to hide things from you. This can be really tough to do when the person you care about is acting out in ways that are self-destructive, like using drugs or staying in a toxic relationship. But their relationship with you is like a lifeline that they can use to pull themselves out of the darkness when they decide they want help. In the meantime, you need to keep that relationship strong by offering empathy and emotional safety.

Being an open door means being a good listener. That means listening without talking and validating their emotions and perspective. You don’t have to agree with someone to validate them emotionally, you just have to acknowledge that their feelings are real and that they make sense. You can also express care and concern. Empathy creates connection, and it lets them know you have been through hard stuff too and that you understand. 

Before you share your point of view or any advice, ask them if they want that. It’s natural to want to offer solutions, but when people receive unsolicited advice, they feel criticized, especially when they’re going through something that they feel ashamed about. Instead, try to stay in a receptive space where you’re seeking to understand them, while also letting them know you could offer your perspective, if and only if it’s welcome and wanted. 

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How the Growth Process Works

Any time someone takes a big, positive step forward in their lives — like seeking counseling for depression, or entering an addiction recovery program, or cutting the cords to a toxic relationship — it’s the result of a deep, internal personal growth process that is invisible to outside observers. 

When you don’t understand how the growth process works, it can be pretty frustrating. You might feel like watching your loved one bang their head against a brick wall again and again, ignoring your pleas for them to just stop hurting themselves. In reality, what looks like no progress at all can be an important stage of growth. Understanding this will help you stay hopeful and compassionate. 

Every growth process begins with subjective distress. Something unwanted is happening in their life that is causing them pain and suffering. This is just how human beings work — nobody does the hard work of making deep changes in our lives unless something feels bad. In this way, pain and trauma are the catalyst of growth. When your loved one is in this stage of growth, your role is to give them the space to understand and experience their dark emotions, without shutting it down, trying to fix it, or trying to jump over the other stages of growth by pushing them to move directly into change. Offering validation and emotional support at this stage can help them feel their feelings and stay in the ring with them for long enough to move into the next stage of growth.

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Next, we begin to become more self-aware. We reflect on the pain that we’re feeling, why it’s happening, and the role we might be playing in creating the problems we’re experiencing. At this stage, the person is becoming more empowered to draw their own connections and insights. Even if it sounds like they’re just talking about how terrible everything is, they’re likely building self-awareness even if they’re not landing on any solutions yet. 

Next, we begin experimenting with doing something different. This stage of growth can have a lot of starts and stops, but it’s an important part of the process. An alcoholic may experiment with only drinking wine and beer, or only drinking on the weekends, for example. They may try three dozen half-measures that fail before they’re finally humbled enough to reach for effective help with getting sober. Don’t lose hope if you see your loved one taking stabs at change only to fall back into old habits. This is all part of the growth process. 

Finally, with enough effort, we begin to land on changes that stick. At this stage, the alcoholic may be sober, avoiding places where others will be drinking, and attending several support meetings a week. They have mastered a few new habits that are working for them, and they’re making them a part of their lives. Eventually, they will be able to maintain these habits and their sobriety without a lot of thought and effort. The change will be theirs to keep.

Of course, this rarely goes smoothly. It’s totally normal to get “stuck” at one stage of the growth process for quite awhile, and this can be draining and scary if you’re watching your loved one’s life fall apart over a prolonged period of time. You may be listening to them talk about problems for months or even years without connecting the dots or making any changes. Or you might be watching them try to make changes again and again, only to fall back into old habits. 

If your loved one is stuck in the growth process, you can validate their stuckness and have empathy for it, while also letting them know that there are well-established paths forward (in the form of therapy or coaching). You’re letting them know that there is a way to resolve their problem — but it’s not by continuing to vent to you, or to rely on you in other ways that may be enabling destructive behavior. This sets a healthy boundary for you, while also providing them with appropriate guidance for moving forward. It returns the control and the empowerment to make things better back to where it belongs. 

Healthy Boundaries when Supporting a Loved One

Unfortunately, kind, compassionate people who care about other people’s wellbeing can be vulnerable to overgiving in a way that’s not healthy for them, or for their loved ones. Despite wanting nothing but to help, you may unintentionally create a codependent relationship dynamic that keeps both of you stuck

To have a healthy relationship with someone who’s in a bad place, you need to be able to set boundaries. Crucially, healthy boundaries are not about controlling what someone else will do — they’re about having clarity about what is your responsibility in a relationship and what is not, and deciding how you will respond to unwanted behavior from others. 

For example, rather than telling your friend with substance abuse issues that they can’t get high when you’re together, you might say, “I can’t be around you when you’re using. If I notice you’re high, I’m going to leave.”

It can also be important to set limits with people who have a tendency to view themselves as victims, and an unwillingness to recognize the role that they’re playing in creating their own outcomes. We all get stuck in this place from time to time, but if a victim mindset is pervasive and doesn’t shift, it can interfere with their ability to grow in the ways that make change possible. Rather than reinforcing their victim mindset by validating it, tell the person that you notice them blaming others a lot, and while you’re happy to talk about things that they have the power to control and change, you don’t want to talk about other people’s wrongdoings anymore. 

It’s also important to set and hold boundaries with someone who seems to be using you as a “venting person,” without a genuine desire to change. Let them know that you worry you might be condoning or enabling them to stay stuck in their problems by being a willing ear, and that you don’t want to do that any more, because you care about them. It can feel selfish to set boundaries with someone you care about when they’re going through a hard time, but it’s an important part of emotional self-care that can help you remain healthy and supportive.

When to Intervene

There are times when it is appropriate to take a more active role in intervening in someone else’s problem, even if they’re not talking to you about it. 

First and foremost, if you are worried that the person may be at risk of suicide, don’t hesitate to address it openly with the person and to call help. If you call for help, request a trained mental health professional, not a regular police officer unless you have no other option. You can also get your friend or loved one to the emergency room, which will have psychologists on staff who can offer immediate help. This might sound a little extreme, but if you’re worried the person’s life is in danger, don’t think twice. 

Even if you’re not concerned about suicide, mental health issues can make it difficult for the person to seek help themselves, which means you may have to take a more active role in assisting them. If your friend is deeply depressed, for example, they may literally lack the energy and motivation to book an appointment with a therapist. You may have to offer to handle some of the logistics in order for them to take the first step. 

Support for Helpers

People who need to intervene with friends or loved ones often experience a lot of self-doubt. It can feel like you’re being mean or critical by talking openly about your loved one’s problem, which they likely feel a lot of guilt and shame about. But these are courageous conversations that we all have a responsibility to have when they’re needed. Helping someone get help can and does save lives. 

And if you are on a mission of growth in your own life, you likely could use some support for having healthy relationships with other people who may be in different places. If you’d like support from a relationship expert on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.

xoxo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — You can find more advice like this in our “personal growth” and “healthy relationships” collections of articles and podcasts. I hope you’ll check them out — they’re there for you.

If you or someone you know are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to

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How to Help Someone Get Help

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music in this episode is by Wolf Alice with their song “Storms.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

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Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you are listening to The Love, Happiness and Success podcast. When someone you care about is struggling with a mental health issue, an addiction, a toxic relationship, or any other self-destructive pattern, it’s hard to know what to do. Should you intervene? Should you mind your own business? What if your loved one’s idea of getting help is telling you all about their problems? How can you help someone get help while still having healthy boundaries? That’s what we’re talking about on today’s episode.

We’re listening to Wolf Alice with the song “Storms” from their Creature Songs album. You can learn more about Wolf Alice and see what they’re up to. They have some new records out, I think they may be going on tour relatively soon. But you can keep track of all of it on their bandcamp page,

Hey, before we dive into today’s topic, I just wanna say thank you so much. I am not typically sort of on top of podcast stats all the time. I do this because I like doing it and I’d keep doing it. You know, nobody listened to me at all, but I happened to be messing around. I noticed that our monthly audience has grown to like 300,000 people, which I can’t even think about that hard because I’ll get all nervous and stage fright and be weird about it.

But I just wanted to acknowledge that and just thank you guys so much for your support. I know it’s because you are listening to this show and sharing the show and helping it grow and so it’s very heartening. It was just a few years ago that seemed like maybe about 10 people listened to each episode, one of them being my mother.

Anyway, this is such a labor of love for me and it’s really exciting to see it grow and I think the part that’s meaningful to me is knowing that it’s growing because it’s meaningful to you. That makes me just so happy. Thank you for listening and thank you for supporting the show.

You know, just sharing episodes as people who you think might benefit from them. If you cared to take the time to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you listen, certainly subscribe to the show. Those are the kinds of activities that help the show, I think be more visible that will put it in front of other people who may be stumbling across episodes and in their moment of need or opportunity for growth.

On behalf of them, thank you. Again, thank you for listening and also for co-creating this with me. I am so always eager to hear your questions, your comments, your reactions to know what’s important to you. I’ve been getting tons of emails to our main hello inbox, and also certainly on social media. That’s always fun to connect with you there, so keep them coming. That’s why I’m making these shows is around your interests and if I don’t know what these are, I just won’t have any idea what to talk about. We’re doing this together and  thank you for being here. Okay, I’m gonna stop now. Just a quick heads up here, my friends on this podcast, we’re going to be getting real.

One of the many things that we’re going to be talking about,  although briefly today is suicide. It is not the main focus of today’s podcast. But I did want you to be aware that this is going to be coming up later so that you can take care if you need to. Okay, the reason why I wanted to talk about today’s topic of helping someone get help is that it has come through in a number of questions from you guys. But also it’s been coming up with clients, even with colleagues.

There is just something in the air right now where I’m connecting with a lot of people who are having a very common experience. They are feeling really worried about their friends, their family members, their loved ones. Maybe it’s their partner, maybe it’s a sister or a brother, but it’s causing a lot of stress, anxiety, concern, and also a lot of conundrum.

It’s a difficult relational place to be in when you have somebody that you care about very much. They are not okay, and you really want them to get help and to grow, and to move forward, and you want to be supportive. But like not really knowing where those lines are. What is supportive versus what is enabling? What is helpful versus what is being authentic or honest to the point where it could damage the relationship?

What is being a good listener and a supportive friend versus being in a relationship that feels very draining and difficult for you at a certain point? There’s a lot here to unpack. Let’s start by just acknowledging how common this is. I think that every single one of us in our lives, whether or not we’re a professional therapist or just personally have been in a relationship where we are watching someone we care about and just go down a bad path.

I mean, it could be a friend or a loved one sinking into a dark hole of depression and not taking any action to climb out, which is hard. You know, maybe you care about somebody who’s drinking too much – using drugs. Maybe they’re in a toxic relationship that is so destructive to their lives, their self-esteem, their future, and you’re worried about their wellbeing.

When you’re in this position again, which is so common, I think one of the defining features of it is the powerlessness. The feelings of powerlessness that come with it. Because as clearly as you can see their situation, understand what’s going on from a macro level, like as an observer, right? As much as you want to help them, it’s really not always clear if you should intervene. If it would be welcome, unwanted, or even if you wanted to– “Okay, I need to do something.” How does one do that successfully or appropriately? Because the line between helping and you know, meddling can be fuzzy in places. The last thing that you want is for your well-intentioned efforts to backfire, to make it less likely that your loved one would get help or even to damage the relationship itself.

Because the truth is, I mean, we cannot rescue other people. At the same time, I do also believe that we have an important role to play in the lives of those we’re close to people that we care about. One of those responsibilities may even be, to be honest, to show them what we see with compassion and honesty and that takes a lot of courage, but somebody is struggling and when they do eventually get help, that is often part of their story. You know, and they are in the therapist’s office for the first time. I say, “What brought you in?” You know, it’s not uncommon for me to hear that they are sitting with me at that moment because their friends, their loved ones, encouraged them to come. They expressed concern, they spoke up about what they saw and maybe you can recall a time in your own life when someone did that for you and it made a difference. I’m sure you would like to pay that forward, right? 

Today, I mean, we really are gonna be talking about how to have these uniquely, courageous conversations that require so much compassion, authenticity, bravery, but also emotional intelligence. I hope that you can put these to good use in your own life. We’re gonna be talking about how to have those conversations. But also, on the other side of this too, I really do wanna have a conversation with you about how to set appropriate limits and boundaries with loved ones at a certain point, which will also actually support their growth.

We’re gonna be talking about both of those things. First of all, to help someone get help, the number one most important thing, I think that any of us can do is to be in the kind of relationship where it feels like the door is open for them. They feel safe and comfortable telling you about what is going on in their lives. They are not concealing things because they’re worried about judgment or criticism, right? We need to create an emotionally safe environment for the people that we care about and making it okay for them to be real with you and to talk about hard things. 

Some of just the basic ways any of us can do this is to simply be better listeners, right? Which involves listening without talking, listening with your mouth closed. When it’s appropriate, validating them in the sense of not having to agree with what they’re saying or with their perspective, but to acknowledge that you can see the situation from their eyes. It sounds like this has been a very difficult time in your relationship with this person.

It’s been causing you a lot of pain, but creating a lot of stress for you and some of, you know – pretty confused and not really sure where to go either way in this relationship. That would be an example of a kind of listening where after you have heard their story, not interrupted or interjected with your own ideas or opinions, you’re simply validating their experience by reflecting it back to them. This is what I heard you say. 

This is a very simple communication tool, and it’s great to use for with friends who might be struggling with something, but truly in any relationship in your life. This is a communication skill that will strengthen any relationship because it communicates understanding and it contributes to emotional safety, that is one to tuck away in your tool bag. Another thing that is just so basic, but I think that we can forget to do it sometimes, is that when a friend or a family member, a loved one is telling us about a difficult situation or a problem that they’re facing, to simply express care and concern. 

That is so difficult, I could understand why you would be really hurt or worried in this situation. I could understand why you would be feeling disappointed. I heard you say you’re feeling disappointed in yourself, and that’s a bad place to be in. I felt that way before, in my own life. Finding ways of expressing care and concern that are empathetic, that create connection. You know, maybe even sharing  a personal moment where  maybe you felt something similar, perhaps a different circumstance. But I think that there’s a lot of power in acknowledging that maybe you too have gone through difficult situations in your life.

You have empathy for how it feels, you know, it’s difficult, you remember what that time was like. That is the kind of communication that cultivates connection. So expressing care and concern, and asking if they would like support, or your thoughts or your perspective. They might not want support or your thoughts or your perspective, but I think it’s very important to do both of those things.

Offering concern, offering care, being empathetic, and also recognizing the fact that if nobody is asking for your advice, your feedback, your input, your perspective, you don’t actually have permission. Thay you don’t have consent to do that. Be very careful because I think the natural and normal reaction that many of us have, and I have this too, when I’m not being a therapist or a coach and I go back into being the big sister or the mom, right?

It’s very natural for us to want to say, “Oh my gosh. I know exactly what you should do. Let me give you some advice. Here’s what would solve that problem, here’s a book you should read.” I’m horrible with that because I’m always reading books and I’m like, “let me give you this book.” No, stop. Please don’t.

To be self-aware of that tendency to fix, give advice, tell people what to do, and instead come back into this receptive and also curious space. But also like letting people know that you are available to provide support or share your ideas if they would be welcome. You are putting that ball in their court and really, again, supporting the emotional safety of your relationship by having the humility to say out loud, “I have some thoughts, or some things are coming up that I could potentially do that might be helpful to you. But I don’t know if that would be welcome or wanted. You know the door is open, but I won’t walk through it unless you invite me.”

You’re like a vampire, right? You have to be invited in. That’s what this situation is like. Just know that these are some of the basic ingredients and it’s also important to be able to understand how the growth process works. I know this might feel like a weird segue, but it’s actually really important for you to understand how the growth process works. Because knowing that will help you feel more hopeful for your friend or your loved one and also be able to participate in their growth process in a more helpful way.

Whenever anyone grows, me, you, anybody else in the world, the growth process always begins with some kind of discomfort, perceived failure, something hurtful is happening, something uncomfortable or unwanted is happening. There is some kind of catalyst for growth that is generally negative. I wish it were different. I know we all did, but it is truly through the experience of adversity that any of us are motivated to grow. If everything is hunky dory and everything is great, and “Why should I change? Why should I reflect on my own process?” Or you know “What I’m doing and how that might be creating these negative consequences for myself and my life.” Nobody does that in the absence of distress. 

The fact that your friend or family member might be experiencing distress, unhappiness, disappointment, angst, any of the things is very positive. This is the first stage of growth is being aware of a problem. I just wanted to say that because I think that culturally, we often believe that we should all be happy all the time. That any kinds of dark or negative feelings are unhelpful, unwanted. Things that should be moved away from, and nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously, we do not want to be marinating in dark emotions endlessly, right? But we also need to be listening to them to take wisdom and guidance from them so that we have motivation to grow and make positive changes in our lives.

The fact that your loved one is feeling bad, is fantastic when it comes to their growth opportunities. Your role in this as a loved one is to give them space and opportunities to understand the darkness, understand the negative emotions without shutting it down, without shaming them, without telling them what they need to do in order to feel better, right? Because the second stage of growth is self-awareness. When we experience adversity, we are then invited into this process of self-awareness, which is what’s going on? Why does this feel so bad? Is it something I’m doing? Is it something other people are doing? What should I do in the face of this challenge? Where is this coming from? 

It’s this really beautiful and powerful opportunity for reflection that people really need to enter into in order to continue changing and growing. People have different ways of gaining self-awareness. I, personally, I enjoy journaling, I like to write. If I’m going through something that feels hard, I will often write about it.

It is also true that when we put our experiences into words, either through writing or through simply speaking, we are actually making connections. When we are explaining something to another person or to ourselves, we are making connections, gaining insight. Like achieving understanding that is often very much rooted in self-awareness. To have a friend, a family member, a loved one who is talking about what is going on in a kind of reflective way with you, is incredibly helpful for their growth process because it’s actually through the articulation of that, that they’re making the connections like, “Why does this keep happening to me? What could I do differently?”

The really cool thing here is, and I say this as somebody who is a trained counselor, is that oftentimes, particularly if you have somebody who is going through something hard and who typically has like a high internal locus of control. Meaning that they generally perceive themselves to be active agents in their own lives. You don’t have to do anything because they will tell you what they could be doing differently. You know, it’s always so much more powerful when people have the opportunity to connect their own dots and come to their own conclusions and think, “yeah, I should probably do that” that is self-generated.

You might have told them exactly the same thing, but if you say it, they won’t like it as much as if they say it. I say this with some caution because I also certainly don’t want you to be put in the position of being an amateur therapist or taking the responsibility for somebody else’s growth process because that is not appropriate and can actually be quite detrimental for both of you as we’ll talk about later in this show.

But to be a good friend or you know, a sister or a partner, a family member caring enough about somebody to support their growth process as a civilian is incredibly powerful, It’s effective, and it’s also so much easier. You know, I mean, many people to this day and I think it’s changing culturally, which is awesome, but there can still be some feelings. You know, around going and talking to a therapist about what’s going on, right?

It can also, you know, therapists charge money that can be expensive. There are barriers, right? There are obstacles between a loved one and somebody like me, and there aren’t the same obstacles between them and you, right? It might be your roommate or somebody that you see frequently and for you to say, how are things going? Have them be honest with you, really listen to the answer, and to give them the opportunity to connect some of their own dots and process things is just such a gift of friendship and a really awesome thing for you to do. Then what happens in the rest of the growth process?

First part of the growth process is subjective distress, and then it is self-awareness and then the next step is having the opportunity to learn or practice doing things differently in order to progress or grow or get different results. This could be somebody literally doing something differently. For example, I’m going to start exercising because I feel really low and low energy and I’ve noticed that when I get some exercise every day, I really feel a lot better, that would be an action. Sometimes it could be removing something painful from one’s life, If it’s a toxic relationship, if it’s an unhealthy relationship with substances. Somebody might say, and I’m done, that would be an action.

Sometimes the change that people make and actually very commonly is an internal change related to the way they are talking to themselves. Related to their own mindset. Creating internal closure, building different stories that help them feel better. That could be an example of the kind of action that somebody would  learn and put into practice.

Then the final stage of growth is like mastery of it. That somebody has gone through something challenging, used it as a vehicle for self-awareness, allowed that self-awareness to motivate them to learn new skills, strategies, ways of being, changes to make. Then there’s like this consolidation where it becomes a part of them, it stops being like this active process and is just integrated.

They are no longer experiencing the distress that first led them into this growth process. It’s kind of like, you know, getting to another plateau. Along the way they’ve learned new skills, strategies, ways of being that are now theirs to keep, right and it’s a very positive process. The thing that can be very difficult and that commonly is for our friends or for ourselves, I guess I should say. If we have friends or family members who are really trying to do this  growth process but, is that they can get stuck in an earlier stage of this.

They can be experiencing something really difficult, they can be talking to you or other people about it in a way that can raise self-awareness and lead to growth and positive change, but they can also get stuck in this space where they are talking to you about what is going on. They’re telling you how horrible X, Y, and Z is and they are not really connecting the dots around how their own way of being or handling the situation may be contributing to the results that they’re getting or the perpetuation, I guess, of the negative thing that they’re going through.

That can be very challenging for us as friends, as family members, as loved ones when we can see them spinning their wheels. They’re kind of just perpetually not okay, and they’re happy to tell us about all the things that are going wrong. But it’s never turning into the next step of the growth process. Which is an active exploration of what do I need to do differently in order to feel better or get better results?

There can be this helpless quality to it, which is really understandable because I think it’s an unfair expectation for either of you. That you should know what to do. You’re not a trained, well, I don’t know, maybe you are, but most people are not a trained mental health professionals. Even in personal relationships, it’s not appropriate to like move into that space where you’re kind of now an active guide in somebody else’s growth process.

That’s not an appropriate relationship to have with a friend or a partner or a loved one. That needs to be a clear boundary, but again, it’s, it’s also very common and very fair for somebody to feel genuinely stuck. I literally don’t know what to do differently in order to feel better or to change a situation or to make an  improvement in some area of my life. That is very important to validate and if you have a friend saying that to you, or if you’re experiencing this with your friend, like, I have heard you talking about what a painful and  upsetting situation this is so many times, but you know, it seems like you’re stuck here when we talk about it.

My sense is that you genuinely don’t know what to do differently in order to change the circumstance or to feel better, is that true? Again, approaching it with curiosity and humility, but also validating that because why should they know what to do? This is a complex discovery process that can take a long time and really can often come from. You know, working with a professional or almost entering into an educational process. You know, reading books, listening to podcasts, like really seeking answers, seeking growth. You know, that is a very powerful entry point into helping somebody get help is by reflecting their stuckness.

You can also consider using some of the same strategies that we discussed earlier, you know, appropriate self-disclosure saying, “I remember a time in my life when I felt stuck in X, Y, Z situation, so I know how difficult it is.” I would also like to encourage you to really mentally and emotionally go back to that space because chances are you’ve gone through a number of your own growth cycles in your life.

I think that when we are on the other side of that growth process, I mean, you’re gonna have another one, growth never ends, I’m still going through growth cycles. But when you have done work in the past and arrived at a plateau, it feels comfy. You know, have attained mastery of whatever the growth work was that you sought out to do.

Being in that good place can create almost like an amnesia or a loss of memory of what it was actually like, before that when you were in that space of distress or were you, when you were still working on gaining self-awareness or even if you were feeling stuck. Really do try to put yourself mentally and emotionally back into that place so that you have genuine empathy for what it really does feel like for them.

I wanted to encourage that because I think then that when any of us are, are in that comfy place, having done our own growth work. It can be frustrating almost to see somebody else just kind of going around and not taking the action that you ultimately took, sometimes we can feel a little bit judgey. “Come on, just get on with it” and that kind of energy will often close the door. 

You know, they’re in the midst of their own process and to stop talking to you and having the opportunity to make those connections is typically not helpful and can contribute to feelings of shame or rejection. Like, “Everybody hates me and what’s wrong with me? Why am I always talking about this stuff? Nobody wants to hear those?” That can, you know, kind of marinate and metastasize into a proper depression. Just to be compassionate with people who are in this space and let them know that they’re not alone. You know, these are things that we all go through.

Now, there are also things that we can do in these moments when the door is open. When we are saying to a friend, it seems like you are stuck. We’ve had this conversation a lot of times, I care about you so much and I’m happy to be your friend and hear about what’s going on, but you deserve more. You deserve better, you deserve to have a growth process and come out the other side of this. I know what it is like to get stuck in the time before I’ve been there. I also know that there is a path forward that works. Talking to a therapist, talking to a, potentially a coach, doing some education or learning around, you know what, what do other people with this problem do?

What is the path? It seems to me friend, like you deserve to have this same opportunity. Is this something that you’ve ever considered? Just opening the door to the conversation. What we’re trying to communicate here isn’t, you know, what they should do, but empathy for the reality of getting stuck. That happens and that there are just well-established paths forward to bring to their attention, the fact that they do have opportunities, they are empowered and there are things that they can do, even if they don’t know what the actual resolution would be. That the path of figuring that out is typically one of education or getting professional help.

That trajectory is then, hopefully landing with a professional such as myself who can help people have conversations that develop their awareness further. That develop their motivation for change and also develop their sense of empowerment and sense of control of that – really nothing is going to change in any of our lives until we do.

Then what are those specific changes that need to be made? The difference though, when somebody is working with a therapist like me compared to a friend like you or a sibling like you, is that with my clients, there is a therapeutic contract for change. The reason that we are having a relationship is because they are asking me for my help in assisting them, in creating positive change.

In fact, they are paying me to help them with this. This is my job, right? This whole dynamic is part of what creates change in a therapeutic relationship. I know the people are here because they wanna change. They know that my role is to help them do that and like that’s the basis of their relationship. In that, I have permission to be talking to people in a very different way than I would ever talk to my personal friends or my family member. I would not do that with somebody that I was in a personal relationship with because the boundaries are different. The relationship itself is different.

I just wanted to highlight that fact because part of the reason why I think being in a relationship with somebody who’s not okay can be so frustrating is because of that helplessness. I mean, we don’t know what to do to help them and almost expect that they would be able to make change. Make those connections without the benefit of the support of a counselor or a coach, or some kind of learning process.

That in itself is an unreasonable expectation. Again, to be saying that out loud, “My friend, I can see that you are in this awful situation. I know that it’s something that’s been going on for a while. I can see that you’re stuck in it and I’m always happy to talk with you as a friend. But you know, talking to me about this stuff isn’t going to change anything for you and I’m afraid that it could even be perpetuating the problem because you’re venting to me. But it’s also keeping you stuck and I wonder if you were were in a relationship with somebody for the purpose of creating change in your life, like a good therapist.

If it might help you feel a lot better than talking to me about it feels. Because you know, I can’t help you create change in your life. I’m just a sympathetic ear.” But to be saying that out loud to your friend is doing a couple of things, it is providing them with feedback, about how they appear to you which is stuck. It’s also providing them with guidance that the way people get through these kinds of things is by doing personal growth work.

There are different things you can do: classes, therapists, reading books, all the things. But also beginning to set a boundary and making it known, putting it out into the air. Telling me these things, as gratifying as it might be, isn’t going to change anything for you. Like saying that out loud can be very powerful. I say that out loud to my clients sometimes, because that is also true.  Telling me about how you feel is not going to create change for you. Ultimately, what does is being able to learn and put into practice new ideas, mindsets, ways of being, ways of doing things. I have those conversations with my clients too, but they can be very powerful because it’s empowering, you know,  it’s returning the control back where it belongs to the person who is in this growth process, whether or not they know it. 

Okay, now we’re gonna talk about one other thing that may be on your mind, which is what to do in this situation where you have a friend, family member, loved one who is doing self-destructive things. Or not like functioning very well, and may not even be aware of the presence of a problem. You know, there are a number of things that can be going on with people that are terrible for them and the people around them.

But that are not consciously perceived as painful or problems. Because of that, they’re not talking about the painful, hard aspects of this. It’s like you don’t have an in, you know, they’re not opening the door to, let me tell you about this really hard thing, which can really be more difficult in a lot of ways because people who are talking to you about how they feel, there’s opportunity there, but when people aren’t talking, when they’re hiding, when they’re isolating, that is a different animal in this year’s circus.

What I’m talking about, if somebody is really depressed, maybe they’re not working, they are not taking care of themselves. They are letting fundamentally important things go like, parenting, taking care of their kids, they’re just so unwell, they’re like not  functioning. This can also be a very extreme forms of anxiety or PTSD, can be a lot of withdrawal, reclusiveness, avoidance of a lot of things, refusal to talk about stuff, being very shut down. Not wanting to go anywhere, not wanting to do anything, not wanting to engage.

Certainly if people are using substances, alcohol, other drugs in a way that is really destructive, unsafe, dangerous. If they’re doing things that are putting their own lives at risk or other people’s lives at risk, if they are behaving really erratically all of a sudden, like spending a bunch of money or  doing kind of outrageous, impulsive things. That could be a sign of something like bipolar disorder. Certainly. if they have been talking at all about killing themselves, ending their lives, if they start giving all their stuff away. Or if a really depressed person seems unreasonably happy all of a sudden for no good reason why, that can actually be a dangerous sign.

There are a lot of ways that this could look actually, certainly if you see them, any evidence that they are physically harming themselves, like cutting themselves, burning themselves, those kinds of things. It is likely, and in my experience, not uncommon at all for people who are at this extreme level of not okay to be hiding this, concealing it sometimes protecting it. Particularly, like if somebody has a substance use disorder, they may be trying to protect their relationship with substances. They do not want to talk about it because they are trying to maintain their relationship with their substances, right? These situations are really hard. First of all, let me just say this clearly and unequivocally, if you are ever afraid for someone’s life, you are worried that they might kill themselves, you’re worried that they might hurt somebody else, you have got to get in touch with the authorities. I know that this can be fraught particularly for black Americans. There are people who have understandably very traumatic experiences with law enforcement and there are more recent cultural shifts in many law enforcement departments.

There are now trained responders who have expertise in dealing with and de-escalating people who are experiencing psychiatric issues, psychiatric crises. Instead of calling 911, you could call the main line and talk to the dispatcher about your concerns and request that a trained professional be called upon to check in on them.

You can also get in touch, large community mental health centers will often have kind of a crisis hotline or emergency responders that can also be deployed to do welfare checks on people. But again, we’re talking about situations where you’re afraid that somebody’s life is in danger and the right thing to do is to get other people involved because people can and do kill themselves.

They can and do kill other people and these are like psychiatric emergencies where people are literally not able to care for themselves. Other people need to step in and care for them until this crisis has passed. It can be law enforcement, it can also be, you know, if they will get in the car with you driving them to your local hospital emergency room and bringing them in.

“This is my friend. He is suicidal. He needs to be evaluated and potentially hospitalized.” I know that this may sound scary or like a lot, but it is the right thing to do, and being ethical and having integrity means doing the right thing. Even if it is uncomfortable or hard or embarrassing, or somebody gets mad at us because this, this action could and does save lives. I just wanted to say that out loud. That is another extreme, and again, in some ways is more clear cut about what to do, right? What I think can be the most difficult situation of all is when you love somebody who is not talking and also not having a psychiatric emergency to the degree that you can take action and get other people involved, but is really not okay.

They are maybe drinking themselves to death. They are using so much cannabis that they can’t form a thought. All they’re doing is sitting around in their underpants and playing video games and not taking good care of their kids, right? If they are really depressed and or anxious and or dealing with PTSD, but it’s not to the degree where they could, you know, be put into treatment. 

They need to decide to go into treatment, but they’re also so unwell that they don’t even know, like how to talk about it,  or what to do, or that they have been living that way for so long that it’s just kind of the way it is and the as difficult maybe as their life experiences, they have kind of gotten into a space where living in this dysfunctional way is somehow less scary than the thought of doing something different or getting help.

It’s also important to consider the fact that mental health issues change the way that people think and can in themselves be a barrier for people getting help. You know, I will tell you my corny psychiatrist joke. It’s really related to medication, but I think it also relates to people getting help in general.

Here’s the dumb joke, people who are depressed won’t take medication because they’re convinced that they are a uniquely horrible case, and that while medicine works for other people, it will never work for them. People with anxiety won’t take medication because they are convinced it will kill them and people with ADHD don’t take their medication because they just forget to take it.

Again, that’s like an old psychiatrist joke. But I think that there is some validity in that people who are dealing with serious mental health stuff are thinking in ways that create barriers to their getting help. For example, if somebody is profoundly depressed, it feels hopeless. It feels hopeless. They don’t feel like they can act on their own behalfs. You know, they may, this therapist will tell me, I’m crazy and hopeless and it’s all my fault.

You know, they’re having catastrophic negative thinking about getting help because depression, right? People who have really serious anxiety will be terrified of talking to somebody because they’re going to throw me in the loony bin or what, whatever catastrophic ideas that there are. People with active substance use disorders, again, are so attached to their substance of choice that it becomes that getting help is a barrier. Because in order to get help, they need to decide that they don’t want to use the substance anymore. 

That is actually one of the stages of change that is a prerequisite for substance use counseling to work is for somebody to want to stop using and at prior stages of this, they really don’t in that way, they are not really help-able at that point, these are hard. In these cases, I think what can be very helpful and important to the degree that you are able is to have an honest conversation with a person that you care about and say, “My friend, I see what’s going on with you and I think you are struggling with a major depressive disorder.

I think it’s hard for you to see that because you’re in the thick of it. I would really like to help you get help. Will you allow me to do that with you?” They might say no, and that’s okay. They might get mad at you, whatever, and they might also say, “You know what? I think you’re right.” In that moment you can say, “I would like to research some therapists for you, I would like to, you know, call around to some different places,” but actually offering to take a very active role in helping them get connected to somebody who can help them because in the presence of a serious psychiatric thing, they are not thinking in a way that will really allow them to do it for themselves sometimes.

Offer and then follow through, look up therapists, help them make an appointment. You may have to sit with them and they need to make the appointment themselves. Because, you know, as a therapist, I don’t typically  accept appointments being made for someone else, you know, unless it’s the parent of a child obviously.

But you know that there needs to be a voluntary commitment to engage with me as a partner in growth that starts with somebody making the appointment to come in and talk to me for the first time. They need to do that, it is a powerful part of their growth process and do not take that away from them and totally okay to research different therapists and show up at their house and like, okay, “I found these three different places, let’s look at them together and I think you might like this one and I’ll sit right here with you while you make the appointment.”

That kind of act of support can be super helpful. If they reject you or get mad at you or tell you that they don’t wanna do that, you know, that is also okay. But I think all of us as friends, family members, loved ones, have a responsibility to try and not avoid courageous conversations and not avoid trying to do the right thing on behalf of the people that we love and that we care about. I just wanted to offer you that. 

Okay, and then lastly, let’s talk about one other situation. This is related to how to set healthy boundaries for yourself in the event that you are in a relationship with somebody who is not really having a healthy relationship with you. Normal, natural parts of the growth process that we have talked about, somebody’s not in a good place, they need self-awareness, talking with you is a way of creating that, It opens a door that you kind of help them go through and you know, to a successful growth process. There are, I don’t wanna generalize it as personality types, but I will say that there ways of perceiving the world that are not typically conducive to growth.

Specifically, I’m talking about people who have a real, victim orientation. You know, they are innocent victims of all these things that other people are doing to them. That’s really how they see the world, it’s there that, and also I think people who just generally aren’t having a good time because the world is not conforming to their expectations of how it should be.

You know, other people are always the problem, “Let me tell you about this terrible thing that somebody said to me, or I’m having to put up with this situation at work now.” It’s just a lot of negativity and they are dealing with distressing experiences, certainly, and talking about them could be a vehicle to gain self-awareness.

If you get the sense that they are simply venting, complaining that it’s just kind of going on and on and that they’re also not even considering a little bit, the fact that they have a role to play in their life experiences, right? They’re not open to gaining self-awareness or reflecting on what they might wanna do about this.

First of all, it’s okay to say that, say, you know, I’m always so happy to hear about what’s going on with you and you know, when we talk about these things, I’m left with the impression that it’s always somebody else’s fault that these things are happening, is that true? You know, see what they have to say. They might get mad at you, it might be your fault. Maybe you’re invalidating them now, right? But just to open the door to that and see what happens.

Maybe sometimes a person would be defensive about that in the moment, but sometimes you can plant seeds and they’ll come back and be like, you know what? I do blame other people, I’m actually a part of this too, right? But if you are in a relationship with somebody who you start to feel like is almost using you, like it’s gratifying to talk to you and vent and tell you about what a jerk their bosses and XYZ, but is really not just stuck, but like not even desiring to gain awareness or to grow.

It is okay to figure out what your own boundaries are and what they should be in these situations. A quick reminder about boundaries, we’ve talked about this on other podcasts, but all boundaries are, is your own self-awareness and your own clarity around what is okay and not okay for you and the limits that you are going to set in response to different situations.

Setting boundaries is not about controlling somebody else’s behavior. You know, people say to me all the time, “Well, I set a boundary with so-and-so, and then they did this again.” Like, “Yeah, they did, because it’s not their boundary, it’s your boundary. For you to be thinking about what, “Wow am I going to respond if this continues happening?”

If you are in a relationship with a victim or somebody who is, you know, angry at the world and is faultless, or who is just churning in complaint without any desire for growth, it is okay to say, “You know what, I love you. I like you. I like spending time with you, and I don’t love it when we have conversations about all of the angst, all the problems, all the things that are going on. It seems like you have a habit of blaming other people for a lot of your life experiences and  not a lot of reflection on how you might be contributing to those issues in your own life.That’s okay. 

You don’t have to, but it starts to feel uncomfortable for me when we’re in these conversations because I have a different perspective and I think I see opportunities for growth that you don’t. I’m happy to share those ideas with you if you would like to hear them, but if not, I think I’d rather that we talk about other things so that we can both enjoy our time together. I hope we can do that and if we can’t, here’s what I’m going to do next and I’m saying this fast, you know, I would certainly have one conversation, what I would share, honestly, I’m not gonna keep doing this with you.”  

Hope they hear it and you know, then try to guide the relationship to be a different kind of relationship. Maybe you go and do fun things together instead of sitting around and talking. I mean, that can be one way of maintaining a relationship while also limiting the opportunity for it to do, you know, turn into a complaint fest, that’s completely fine. If you have been very clear about what kind of relationship you want to have with somebody, what kind of relationship you’re willing to have with somebody and they keep trying to drag you back into complaining conversations, it’s okay to say, “I’m gonna go and maybe we can try again, maybe next time we get together we can go see a movie or something. I think that would be fun.”

You know, go do something that doesn’t involve quite as much talking. It is also 100% okay to have a similar conversation if you see somebody who is really engaging in self-destructive behavior. You know, substance abuse to say, “Here’s what I see, it is very difficult for me to be around you when this is going on, and I would love to help you get help. I would love to support you in your growth.

When you’re ready to do that, call me. I will be here in four seconds and I cannot collude with you in what you’re doing right now. I can’t support this and I am not going to be involved in this, I’m not going to be spending time with you when you are doing these things. My doing, I fear is enabling this, condoning this and that is not true and I love you way too much to do that to you or with you. I am going to be a supporter of your health and wellness and I am 100% here to do that with you. Call me anytime.”

They may get upset, they probably will. They may be unhappy with you, that is okay. It is a brave, courageous, and ethical thing to do, to be giving somebody very clear messages of love, compassion, support. “And also, I think you’re making a mistake. I don’t think that this is good for you. I don’t think you should keep doing it. I think that you need to get help, would love to help you with that. But like my presence in your life when you’re doing this is like tacit approval and I can’t do that because I love you way too much.” If you’re feeling a little bit nervous right now, thinking about having this conversation with somebody, that’s okay.

It may even be that I’ve just given you a little nudge into your own growth process. If this idea is making you feel uncomfortable, that is where growth comes from. I would encourage you to think about what you heard on this podcast today. Do some of your own reflection work, do some journaling, talk about this with somebody else so that you can gain self-awareness, make some connections, and hopefully turn this into action for yourself, cultivating a different mindset, cultivating a different response. You know, thinking about what you might say or do differently with a loved one in your life rather than sitting around, wishing that somebody else would change, right? Because you are a partner in growth. I think for any of us to be a good friend to somebody in this situation, we need to be taking responsibility for our own growth process.

To be asking yourself questions, you know, “what about my friendship or way of relating to this person could be perpetuating this? What do I need to be doing or thinking about differently in order for myself to have different outcomes in this situation?” Exactly the same thing that you wish your friend would do here is your opportunity to live the change you wish to see in the world.

I know it’s hard and I hope that hearing this conversation was helpful and I will also share that in my experience, people on a mission of growth as you are because you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast if you weren’t. But people who are on a mission of growth often have deep and meaningful and very productive work to do around how to have healthy relationships with other people.

Many times with the subject of counseling or coaching with my clients is how to navigate relationships like the ones that we’ve been talking about today. But not me talking to the person who has the major depressive disorder or whatever, it’s me talking to their sister or their friend or their mother or their partner around, you know, what do you need to be doing in order to be healthy yourself, in order to not fall into co-dependent relational dynamics, in order to have healthy boundaries. In order for you to feel positive and okay and grow and have a nice life. Whether or not the person that you love is ready, we’re able to do that right now. Let’s talk about that. 

Anyway, I just wanted to put that out there, that this is a very rich opportunity for all of us. I hope that this discussion today has been helpful for you. If you would like more of healthy relationship advice, there’s a lot more for you. I’ve done so many different podcasts on various aspects of this topic.

You can also visit the blog on my website at Come over to the blog and podcast page and you can come into probably the Love Collection or the Happiness Collection and from there, you’ll find content collections on personal growth, healthy relationships, empowering connections, growing together, healthy family dynamics, there’s so much. 

I hope that you come and take advantage of all of it. tItis all there for you. As is this podcast, thank you so much for spending this time with me today, and I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode and in the meantime, here’s more Wolf Alice.

Therapy Questions, Answered.

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