Helping Those Who Refuse Your Help


By Pamela D Wilson CSA, CG, MS, BS/BA

 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. Sometimes these people leave us feeling more drained than energized. How many people do you know who, as a side effect of giving 5 minutes of your time, result in feelings of being emotionally and physically drained? These people are the emotional vampires in your life. They are the victims, narcissists, controllers, constant talkers and drama queens you come in contact with on a daily basis. (Orloff, 2011)

Might the disconnect be that we believe we know the needs of others rather than providing support that fits with what other 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 rather than looking at the expected outcome or goal and working backwards without relieving personal responsibility?

When support is offered it may be in the way of expressing concern or criticizing. The old saying that one collects more bees with honey is true when attempting to help another person. However this concept may be difficult to hold in perspective if the situation is repeated and repeated and patience and consideration has all but disappeared.

The greatest success arises from an ability to minimize the negatives of a situation and to 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 determine 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 meet 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.

Research shows that individuals with low self-esteem are less motivated to change negative moods even if they know how to do so and they 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)

This lends to use of behavioral modification techniques in response to a desire to hold onto old ways of thinking. Posing a questions, “I understand how you feel about that, what would it take for you to change your feelings about the situation?” may be helpful in offering  support to those who may not want your help but who may want you to continuously and repeatedly listen to their problems. Responding in the manner may be the only way for you to maintain a relationship with this person and not lose your peace of mind.

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 do become self-fulfilling prophecies when professional and family caregivers become worn out because of a lack of appropriate response strategies. We as professional and family caregivers can choose to walk away or we can become the broken record of “what would it take for you to change or what steps will you take to change the situation” so that the responsibility lies on the person we are trying to help rather than reflecting back on ourselves as an inability to help another person who refuses to be helped.



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,

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©2014 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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