Just trying to help

posted in: Observations | 6

As I’ve worked at trying to be a better friend, more thoughtful, more alert to situations where I can offer support and/or help, I find that one of the most frustrating things is trying to help someone who won’t help themselves. We’ve all been in these types of situations, and often friendships can literally end over them. You have a friend who claims to need help, but when you offer them a way to really do what they say they want to do, they find reason after reason to not do it. I’ve had experiences like that in “real life” and through this site, where I’ve been in contact with someone who is asking for support, seeking a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear, and in those rare occasions where I’m actually able to do something for them or offer some concrete advice on how to make things better, it’s ignored. Turns out all they really wanted was someone to listen, not help.

Now, I certainly understand the fear that comes along with trying to make a change in your life, and I’m not posting this to vent at all the people who won’t take my advice. Actually, what I’m looking for is advice myself. I know. theoretically, that the proper response in these situations is to offer the help or the idea and simply give them the space to make their own decisions, without putting the relationship in jeopardy by demanding they take my advice. That’s all well and good, but it’s also really, really hard to stay the course with that. How do you care about someone enough to want to help, yet remain distant enough that your frustration with them doesn’t become the center of your friendship? Or, is there a point where you simply can’t be a support to them anymore?

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Discuss…. 🙂

6 Responses

  1. Sharon

    “Turns out all they really wanted was someone to listen, not help”.

    Well now….there’s the rub.

    Sometimes, just by listening to someone, you ARE helping, though it may not seem like it. In all honesty though, are you sure that you don’t want them to follow through on your advice?

    I’ve been in similar situations myself, with my parents (whose marriage, as such, is a travesty), with my sister (also in a bad marriage), and ultimately, what it boils down to is that you can give all the good advice in the world, but you have to let the other person decide for themselves whether they will take any action on their own behalf to help themselves, on their own timetable. Of course, there is also the possibility that from where we stand we fail to see all the variables at play, and what might seem like a logical and direct course of action for US might not be the case for them. I wouldn’t make the friendship contigent on whether they do what you suggest. Sure it’s really hard to “stay the course”, as you put it. And so, you have to decide in each individual case whether you can stick with them and provide a much needed listening ear, or gently and benevolently disengage from them. You have to gauge that for yourself. I’ve been on both sides of the issue. It’s tough, and there are no easy answers. You just have to play it by ear and do what you feel is the right thing. Just remember though, to do it kindly.

  2. Emily

    It is hard being a friend when you are trying everything you can and they aren’t. Sometimes you can feel so taken for granted you just have to break off for a while. I think we all have limits, plus we are all obviously dealing with our own stuff too.

    I had one friend whose boyfriend thought a good game was pretending to break into her flat at night and rape her. He had read about it on the internet and thought it was thrilling. She thought she had been raped until he spoke after climax and she realised it was him. In my eyes it was rape. In her eyes a sex game that went a bit too far. I told her to dump him. She didn’t. He then shagged two prostitutes and continues to treat her badly. I have to say I gave up after about five dumping cycles when she declared she had enough and then took him back.

    Another very good mate suffered terrible panic attacks. His father had beaten him badly as a child. He would have fits in the middle of the street or fall down stairs. I was terrified he would really hurt himself and my first aid was poor. The worst thing was he wouldn’t take the medication that stablished his condition. After he fell down two flights of stairs in front of me one night following an attack, I told him I wouldn’t see him anymore until he took the medication. We parted ways. But I know he takes his medication and he has a great job and a great girlfriend. He can’t forgive me for deserting him. I understand. But I couldn’t live with myself knowing that he could really hurt himself the way he was going.

    Sometimes people rely on you too much and it doesn’t help them in the end. DOes that sounds mad?

  3. Andy

    This conjures for me frustration, anger, helplessness and tapping into our own triggers when in this situation and probably worse is that none of that is immediately obvious or apparent to me, with the exception of the frustration/anger.

    But that’s just what happens for me. It also brings up the persecutor, rescuer & victim roles which crop up time and again in this situation.

    Oh, and exasperation.

    But then again, at this stage of my life, I can’t say that I’ve got that many friends, let alone those who are close, more of acquaintences, so perhaps I’m not the best person to be replying really.

  4. Pat

    What I’m going to say isn’t exactly on the same subject as the post, but since you’re talking about friendship anyway, I thought I’d ask. I’m a child abuse survivor myself, and came across this site recently and I’ve found it so interesting, a place where there are people whose stories and feelings I can really relate to. My question is: do you find that the fact that you’re a chid abuse survivor turns people off from you? It’s not that I tell people about my past. When I encounter new people I smile and I’m friendly, but the impression that I have, and my husband’s feedback confirms this, is that people just instinctively feel the sadness I have inside, and they don’t understand it because they don’t know me, and they don’t want to get to know me because they don’t understand it, and they prefer happy, “normal” people. I try not to take it personally, but it’s really hard and makes me feel like such a loser sometimes even though I know I’m not a loser when I see what I’ve done with my life. I used to meet more people in the past I could relate to and who liked me, but it seems that something has happened in the last 2 or 3 years, even though I feel my life has always gotten better with time. Either it’s just circumstances that I don’t meet the kind of people I used to before or something has happened that I really turn people off. I find it hard to connect to people because they see something in me they don’t like, which I think is the sadness I have deep down inside from the abuse and which will never go away because it’s part of my life, and I deal with it and a lot of time I’m on top of it, it’s not that I show it or talk about it, but they can just feel I’m different. It really makes me sad and lonely, even though my husband (who is wonderful) says I shouldn’t care. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m a human being with social needs like anyone else, and the sadness is not something I have by choice and I can’t just remove it. Has anyone else had this kind of experience? And how did you deal with it? I’ve also lost friends that I thought were real friends, people I’d been friends with for years, one since I was a child, but then it turned out (as I see it) that their friendship was strongest when they had difficulties and issues in their lives that I could provide support for, and now that they’re happier, I’m just not the fun kind of friend that they’d like, even though we did have fun in the past. Just not bouncy enough for them I guess. (Strange, but those friendships ended at a time when I made some really big decisions in my life that I felt were positive for me.) I’d really appreciate any comments you might have because it really gets me down sometimes.

  5. Sue

    Andy, hello, I’m a survivor too, still haven’t gotten used to it as it took me ten or so years of living with it to realise, it was abuse. (I’ll just get my background done with first)
    I realised (sounds stupid I know) but I realised I had been neglected, mentally, emotionally and physically abused since I was a toddler by my dad. It wasn’t just that, around May 05 my dad suggested I eat 300 calories a day to loose weight, at the time I was ignorant to the fact that this was anorexia, I spiralled and didn’t really leave the house for a year, all the times I did I could count on one hand, I left college after a day because I was so self conscious. I was diagnosed with depression at fourteen and never properly recovered due to a) my fathers opposition to me receiving therapy and b) my mother who basically used the one sessions I managed to go to, to talk about their divorce.

    Over the year and most of my life, I’ve kept my friends at bay with lies, because the truth makes me too embarrassed. Several of my friends know I have “trouble” at home but do not know the true depth of it, I feel I can’t tell them because most of my trusted friends aren’t very emotionally mature and probably wouldn’t know what to do or say or would freeze up with me (I’m 17 nearly 18, and seem to be profoundly more mature than the majority of my friends). I also find it incredibly hard to trust people, especially adults, I have a constant commentary of what they might do to me, it’s exhausting. Right now I’m dealing with a relapse of bulimia which I think I’m getting control of, I also have limited physical contact with people, i.e. my mother is absent from my life my father is there physically but very removed, I haven’t had a hug/ any display of affection from either for many years. I’m overly aware of how my pulse races and I get nervous at any physical contact. I’m fairly pessimistic when it comes to relationships and can’t help but think of the pain people may cause me deliberately or otherwise.
    One of my friends asked if I wanted to talk about “it” they don’t know what it is they just think my dad’s a bit strict, over txt message, which made me angry basically put my problem is too complicated to be put in a txt.

    That’s all I can think of now.

    But wow, I can really relate to both of you, Mike and Andy.
    Mike, I had a friend like that still do though I doubt the credibility of our friendship as I am always there for them when they are down but they are oh-so unavailable when I need a friendly face. I remember quite vividly helping them with a relationship problem they were, in hindsight, playing devils advocate over and over again. I have this I’m there for them but there not there for me, with many people including my parents as they both used to come to me for advice and to let the weight off of their shoulders.

    Andy, I can’t tell to be honest if people can see the sadness inside me I tend to mask it with my eternal humour and optimism. I’m quite a chirpy, joking, happy person that’s what people see. I do find when my close friends learn about me (that took up to five years for one) they seem put off, go quiet around me. At first I thought they were just plain rude but, of late I’m beginning to wonder if they just have no idea how to act or how to connect with me as they have no experience.
    I really don’t let people get close enough to see the sadness in me, something I regret when I just need a hug or someone to talk to.

    Hope I haven’t went on a bit, and I don’t really know but I for one feel an immense comfort in knowing that I’m not the only person experiencing something like this, as at times it can feel like I am.

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