When we want someone that we care about to make changes in their life, we often gravitate to telling them what we think they should do. It can be especially frustrating when we tell someone to get help for a mental health issue or to take better care of themselves but they just refuse! However, if you think about it, does anyone actually like being told what to do? Do you? Even children don’t like it. Telling others what to do sometimes makes people want to dig their heels in and do nothing or even do the opposite of what they’ve been told.
An alternative approach to just telling someone what to do is to guide them in the direction of positive change. The idea here is to help the other person come up with their own solution to the problem. Ok, fine, you say, but how exactly do I do that?
One way is to make suggestions or share information by using “wiggle words”. For example, instead of saying “here’s what you should do”, you could say:
- Maybe, you could consider…
- I have found it helpful to ….
- What are your thoughts about…?
- Another option is…
- Here’s an idea…what do you think?
These phrases don’t assume that we know exactly what the person that we care about should do, how they should do it, or when they should do it. The “wiggle” words send the message to the person that they have choices, that you respect them, and that the decision about if, when and how to change is theirs alone. This can be very empowering and can help people to start thinking about the changes that they are ready to make without feeling that they are being forced. Even if the person that you care about isn’t ready to consider making a change or getting help, you will at least know that they have been made aware of some options. If they are just saying no to all options you suggest, you could ask them if they have any ideas to improve the situation, or you could offer to explore the reasons for their resistance with them. For example, you could say something along the lines of:
- I’m hearing that you aren’t interested in seeing a doctor/counsellor but can you tell me why you think this would be negative for you?
- I get it that you don’t want to talk to me about what’s going on, so can you think of someone who you would be more comfortable talking to?
What if the person in question still refuses to make any change? Being a caregiver to someone who is struggling emotionally can be very draining and can lead to feeling burnt out and depleted. At this point, it is important to remember to take good care of yourself, to get support and to let the person know that you expect them to respect your boundaries.
By Polly Guetta