Knowing When Someone Else Needs Help

It happens to everyone—wondering whether a partner, family member, friend or colleague needs help. But how do we know for sure? Who are we to say? And, won’t they just ignore our advice, or even worse, be offended? The simple fact is that most of us do nothing about our suspicion because we are not quite sure of its accuracy, we are worried about offending the other person, we are confident that they won’t listen, et cetera. So, in this post, we’ll talk about how you know—and then what you can do about it.

Many people hesitate to offer professional help because they feel they are not qualified to do so. Most likely they have no formal training in psychology or therapy, and even more, they might never have been to see a therapist themselves. However, here is the important thing to remember: you don’t have to be an expert in the field to know when your partner, friend, family member, or colleague is acting differently. You only need to know the person.

Chances are, you know this person well, since you would hardly contemplate telling a stranger to go seek therapy. Given that you know this person, you are more qualified than a therapist to say whether they are acting differently. And it does not take a professional degree to notice that someone is sad, depressed, constantly irritable, not themselves, et cetera.

What Can You Do?

Now, that’s for how you know. The next question is, what do you do about it? Many people are, understandably, hesitant about this part. People have a way of defending themselves when the chips are down; if you mention their abnormal behavior, you are likely to feel the brunt of this defense, whether it is aggressive—“What’s wrong with me? There’s nothing wrong with me. Maybe there’s something wrong with you!”—dismissive—“No, it’s not even possible…”—repressive—“I have no idea what you’re even talking about”—et cetera. Knowing the person as you do, you probably have a good idea how they will take your observation.

But that right there is the key word: observation. In order to avoid as much of the defense as possible, and yet still deliver your message to a cared-for person, it is important that you frame it as an observation—which you are qualified to give. If you give them a suggestion, then a person’s defenses are likely to activate.

So, instead of, “Jeez, you’re really out of control these days. I think you need therapy,” it will probably be better to say, “I’ve noticed that you are really tense these days. Is everything alright?”

The final, important thing to keep in mind is that when you share an observation with someone, they often defend against it in their characteristic way. This might lead you to conclude that your observation fell on deaf ears. However, if you think back to the important things you have been told you in your life, you might come to realize that, at the time of being told these things, you were initially unimpressed. It was only later, when you had time to think of it and let the message sink in, that it became such an influence.

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