Helping Those Who Refuse Your Help

 Helping those who refuse your help can be frustrating for caregivers working in communities, home care agencies, medical offices, or social service agencies. Even though professional caregivers want to do the right thing, helping others can leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained.


Balance the Desire to Be Helpful

Adult parents, patients, co-workers, and friends —there are people in all of our lives who we seek to cheer up, to make feel better, or to help focus on the bright side of life. But, how often do you give five minutes of your time and unintentionally take on the problems of another person?

The emotional vampires in your life can be co-workers, clients, and others who want to vent or those who complain but refuse to help themselves. These people can be victims, narcissists, controllers, constant talkers and drama queens you come in contact with on a daily basis. (Orloff, 2011)

Identifying the Gap in Needs

Might the disconnect between helping and having help accepted be that we believe we know the needs of others rather than providing support that fits with what others believe to be their needs?

How often does this situation occur with adult children attempting to convince older parents what should be done? Or with health care providers telling a client he or she must shower when there are many other alternatives to ensuring appropriate hygiene.

How many times do we become stuck in our ideals of how another person should act or believe there is only one way to accomplish a task? Can caregivers become too attached to outcomes or to their ideals instead of looking at the expected outcome and working backward?

Leave Responsibility Where It Belongs

How can caregivers learn not to take on the responsibility of another to act, but leave the responsibility with the person? Sometimes when support is offered it may be in the way of expressing concern or criticizing another person. This can be a turn-off that results in refusing help.

The old saying that one collects more bees with honey is true when attempting to help another person. However, this idea may be challenging when the situation is repeated and repeated and patience and consideration disappear.

When this happens, learning to set boundaries is one solution. Ask complainers how they intend to solve the problem. If you are the one complaining, what will you do to change your situation and not become an emotional drain on other people?

Practice Positive Reframing

The greatest success arises from an ability to minimize the negatives of a situation and focus on the positives. A term called positive reframing refers to verbal support able to reassure that a negative event is ultimately beneficial to growth and self-improvement. (Marigold, Cavallo, Holmes, Wood, 2014).

Individuals possessing positive self-esteem respond best to this type of response. Individuals with low self-esteem view this type of support as non-validating of their personal situation.  Research indicates that self-esteem may be the difference in determining the best helpful strategy.

Being empathetic by saying “I understand how you might feel that way,” is another way of providing support. This statement does not mean that you agree with how the individual feels about a certain result or interaction but shows empathy and allows you to establish a potential connection.

Individuals with low self-esteem often react better to empathy, also called negative validation, than positive reframing.

Identify Communication Strategies Based on Self-Esteem

Research shows that individuals with low self-esteem are less motivated to change negative moods even if they know how to do so. Low self-esteem individuals are more likely to believe good feelings to be undeserved, atypical, and potentially disappointing.

Questions arise surrounding the logic of allowing an individual with low self-esteem to remain focused on negative thoughts and feelings.  Mindfulness strategies propose that it is the relation a person has with her thoughts— rather than the content of the thoughts— that is most critical for wellbeing. (Marigold, Cavallo, Holmes, Wood, 2014)

Use Behavioral Motivation Techniques

Balancing responses to self-esteem levels leads to the use of behavioral modification techniques in response to a desire to hold onto old ways of thinking. Posing questions may be a better option.

For example, “I understand how you feel about that, what would it take for you to change your feelings about the situation?”

Helping those who refuse your help may involve interactions with individuals who may not want your help but want you to continuously and repeatedly listen to their problems. Responding to complaints or problems using questions based on behavior motivation techniques may be the only way for you to maintain a relationship with this person and not lose your peace of mind.

Set Boundaries for Helping Those Who Refuse Your Help

Research further indicates that individuals with low self-esteem believe that professionals or friends will abandon them because of their negative behaviors and thoughts. These thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies when professional and family caregivers become worn out because of a lack of appropriate response strategies.

Instead professional and family caregivers can set boundaries to be the broken record of “what would it take for you to change or what steps will you take to change the situation.” This response leaves the responsibility on the person we are trying to help rather than reflecting back on the caregiver who may feel frustrated or unsuccessful in helping others.


Marigold, D.C., Cavallo, J.V., Holmes, J.G. & Wood, J.V. You can’t always give what you want: the challenge of providing social support to low self-esteem individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014. Vol 107, No. 1, 56-80.

Orloff, Judith. Emotional freedom, who’s the emotional vampire in your life? Psychology Today Blog,

©2014, 2022 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

Return to Advocacy PageReturn to All Category Page

Check Out The Caring Generation Podcasts for More Answers to Questions Caregivers Ask

the Caring Generation Podcasts

Looking for a Roadmap to Care for Aging Parents? Check out Pamela’s Online Course

Can’t find what you are looking for? Search by Subject

Check out Videos on Pamela’s YouTube Channel


Pamela's YouTube Channel

Pin It on Pinterest