If there’s one thing we all need to accept in life, it’s that we can’t force others to make a change, even if it’s for their own benefit. When someone is experiencing PTSD or other forms of severe mental illness, it’s natural to want them to seek treatment. However, we can’t make this decision for them.
If this situation sounds all too familiar to you, you’re in the right place. You might not be able to force action, but you can still offer support.
Today we’re going to talk about how to support a loved one who doesn’t want our help. It’s time to move away from the impulse to control people in need and toward a more positive and productive space.
Read on for our tips on supporting someone who doesn’t want help.
Listen and Reassure
If someone feels defensive, they are much less likely to accept your help. They may start to feel as though you don’t understand what they’re experiencing, which can increase their fear that if they open up, you’ll leave.
Before suggesting any treatment, listen to your loved one. Have open and honest conversations about what you are both experiencing. Reassure them that you love them and that you see them, using phrases like:
- “I can’t imagine what you’re going through and it sounds really difficult”
- “I can see that this is a hard time for you, and I’m here for you”
- “It’s hard to see you in so much pain because I want the best for you, not because your pain is an imposition for me”
Someone who is experiencing severe mental health problems is already living with quite a bit of fear. Work to eliminate their fear that you will abandon them so that they are in a better position to accept your help.
Pay Attention to Desires and Barriers
Most people experiencing PTSD and other severe mental illnesses do want to find relief. However, they may not believe that relief is possible or know where to start. One way to open the door to having conversations about treatment is to ask your loved one about their desires for change and what they feel is impeding this change.
If possible, ask them what they believe is possible or what they would like to be different. How do they think their life would change if they got the right treatment? What would life without the weight of unhealed trauma look like?
Make sure that you’re also making space for them to discuss their fears about seeking treatment. It’s not uncommon for current or former military service members to think of mental illness and treatment through the lens of stigma. If they seem to believe that they should be able to power through their pain alone, try reframing the possibility of seeking treatment as taking matters into their own hands.
Try Boundaries Before Ultimatums
When your loved one is resistant to your support, but their behavior is becoming harmful to you, themselves, or others, one option is to pose an ultimatum. For example, you may feel tempted to say, “I can’t be in your life unless you get help.”
While ultimatums can reveal the stakes and provide motivation to seek treatment, they can also make people feel as though they’re being manipulated. Instead, you may want to try creating boundaries that will protect your own mental health while showing your loved one that their current state is impacting your well-being.
Boundaries are not about controlling other people’s behavior and instead about setting limits on your own reactions, behaviors, and sense of self. Good examples of boundaries include:
- not taking on someone else’s pain as your own
- disengaging with someone if they are being blatantly dishonest
- stepping away if someone’s behavior is making you uncomfortable or unsafe
The key to creating healthy boundaries is communicating them and enforcing them consistently. Boundaries can keep you safe and mentally healthy while also showing your loved one that you can offer support so long as they aren’t crossing the boundaries you’ve put in place.
At the end of the day, healing and treatment are only successful when the person in need is ready to commit. While you may be able to convince your loved one to, for example, go to therapy or take medication, you’re only going to witness lasting change if they’re truly committed to the process.
It’s okay to suggest different forms of treatment but do so in a way that encourages your loved one to explore options. There are several different steps they can take, including:
- attending a retreat for PTSD survivors
- speaking with a licensed therapist or social worker
- working with a psychiatrist to explore medication options
- practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques each day
If your loved one is open to it, talk about these different options and ask them about their pros and cons for each. This will help you to gauge their interest and willingness to pursue each option. In many cases, starting with the option that feels safest can open the door to pursuing more active and lasting forms of treatment.
We’re Here to Help You Learn How to Support Your Loved One
Learning how to support a loved one who doesn’t want your help is not easy. The first step is to resist the urge to fix or control and instead accept that only they can make the choice to act. That said, open, honest, and healthy emotional support can create the feeling of safety they need to move forward.
Operation Red Wings Foundation is here to work with active service members an Veterans experiencing PTSD, mTBI and chronic pain. Our retreats provide group discussions, mindfulness sessions, and other holistic approaches to service-related trauma. If your loved one is ready, take a look at the registration process and get them enrolled.