It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with family members who have serious problems. Because we love them so much, it is hard to see them behaving in hurtful ways that make everyone around them miserable. But what can we do when they simply refuse to improve? Luckily, how to help people who refuse to change boils down to one single intervention.
If this describes someone in your life, read on for a game-changing insight.
Reasons why people refuse to change:
1. They really don’t see the problem for what it is.
Self-deception and denial are pervasive issues. As much as it may seem obvious to you, some people really do fail to see their faults and inwardly refuse to acknowledge when they are in the wrong. Surprisingly, many are so self-deceived that it is impossible to hold a rational conversation with them about their problem.
By the time you are done trying to convince them there is an issue at all, much less what to do about it, you have pulled most of your hair out and need to find your own therapist.
Don’t underestimate the power of denial. It’s real.
2. They do see it, but don’t care.
Most hurtful and almost as perplexing as total denial and self-deception are those who can acknowledge what is happening without caring to make a change.
• The smoker who knows it will kill him in the end, but refuses to quit.
• The overweight dude who openly admits he is waiting for his first heart attack before getting serious about his health.
• The young man who won’t look for a job or go to college and doesn’t have a problem mooching off anyone around him.
• The confessed addict who won’t even entertain the idea of getting help.
These and thousands of other scenarios play out in families every single day, to the extreme frustration of those who care. Some people are more stubborn than death itself.
How to help people who don’t want help – the solution.
Assuming you cannot hire a bunch of thugs to show up and force change through inflicting pain, you’ve got to do the next best thing. Interestingly, the next best thing usually involves doing less, not more.
The missing link for so many blind, stubborn people is that they are not suffering enough. Whether they see their problems or not, the solution is the same. Allow the problem to cause pain or extreme inconvenience to the person with the problem.
Pain and pleasure are the universal motivators. It should be allowed to work in the lives of those who avoid change. I am amazed, however, at how easy and convenient it is for stubborn people to keep up their habits, thanks to their willing family members, who resentfully carry the burden.
• Parents continue to pay their 21-year-old son’s cell phone bill, even though he refuses to work or go to school.
• A wife caters to her husband’s wants, reluctantly making his favorite fattening desserts and buying his cigarettes, even though he is obese, diabetic, and has coronary artery disease.
• A husband pays off his wife’s credit card bills after she overcharges with clothing and accessory purchases month after month.
A set of concerned parents once came to my office for advice about how to motivate their 19-year-old son, who refused to work, go to school, or help around the house. All he wanted to do was hang around his friends, play video games and smoke pot. Occasionally, he’d bring a girl home for a sleepover.
I asked these folks why their son did not come to the appointment. “He wouldn’t come,” they replied. “He said he doesn’t have any problems, so he doesn’t need any advice.”
“He’s got that right!” I said. “He doesn’t have any problems. To him, life is easy! And you are making it that way. Before he will be motivated to change, what he is doing needs to become a problem for him. Are you willing to give him some problems to deal with, or are you going to keep supporting his current lifestyle?”
The first order of business is to make the problem a problem for the right person.
This principle reminds me of when my wife, Hope, decided to stop supporting my cigarette habit. We live healthy lifestyles, but I really enjoyed smoking cigarettes. Hope couldn’t stand the fact that I smoked. She complained and begged me to stop. This went on for weeks, as this was a new habit for me. Finally, Hope had enough. She hadn’t signed up for it.
“I have decided not to support you in your habit any longer,” she announced one day. “I love you too much to sit by and watch you kill yourself. It’s just not okay. I don’t like it, the kids don’t like it and it is just stupid! In fact, if you choose to smoke anymore I will leave you.”
“That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?” I wondered…actually, I said that.
“I’m not joking and if cigarettes are more important to you than I am then I guess it’s over.”
She was serious. I tested her. She stuck to her guns. She packed up some stuff and left for her mom’s.
It didn’t take more than a drive around the block before I called her to come home and swore, actually signed a contract, saying I would stop. And, I did this in front of my kids. They still remember, in fact!
I was faced with a choice: Give up cigarettes or give up my wife. Once I made the decision, I never looked back. The choice could not have been clearer. Amazingly, my addiction vanished as soon as it became a real problem for me.
For the longest time, I didn’t have a cigarette problem. Hope did. She frustrated herself, carried resentment, worried and complained, and stressed out. The smell of the cigarettes on me and my bad breath caused her not to be physically close to me. It really took a toll on her.
I just smoked cigarettes, no problem! When Hope decided to make it my problem, not hers, I woke up. On the one hand, it is sad that Hope had to go to such extremes to make it my problem. I do regret not being more responsive. I am just thankful to Hope that she was willing to become so clear. It really helped. I was super stuck, but it didn’t take much to turn the issue around once I was faced with such a clear choice.
Try this brief exercise to learn how to help people better
For the person in your life that needs to change but is unwilling, make a list of everything you do to support their bad behavior. How are you contributing to the problem? And, what are you willing to stop doing so this stops being your problem and becomes their problem. As soon as you learn how to make it a problem for the other person, not you, you will have hired the Universe’s most encouraging agent of change: pain.
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