Is it okay for you to be okay when someone you care about is not okay? Of course, it is, but have you ever consciously thought about this question? For a long time I didn’t, but now that I have, I am grateful for the awareness. You may recall my post “Taking off the armor” where I shared how my husband, Dave has been working on reconnecting with his emotions after years of wearing an “emotional” suit of armor. This email was mainly from the perspective of someone struggling.

This time I want to share the perspective of the person that is close to the person struggling. I know how difficult it can be to watch someone you care about struggle. You want to jump in and help. You want them to feel better as quickly as possible. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. 

The scenario can play out something like this:

  1. A loved one is experiencing a struggle such as a divorce, a loss, depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.
  2. We feel for them and want them to feel better sooner than later.
  3. We try to help them, we listen, and we give suggestions, resources, and ideas (sometimes what we say resonates with the person struggling and sometimes it doesn’t).
  4. We wait, we worry, we become consumed, and we feel helpless.
  5. If they continue to struggle, this is where we can get stuck in this “struggle loop,” looping back through steps 1-5 over and over again.

If we are not careful we can stay here for a long time without being aware of it. It happens because we care deeply about the person struggling. We want them to feel better, but when they are stuck and not feeling well, it can be difficult for us to allow ourselves to feel okay. It can feel like you are being selfish or uncaring. Yes, misery loves company, but it is not a helpful approach.  

Many people have asked me, “How can I help someone I care about when I see they are stuck in a struggle?” Which said another way is, “How can I be okay when someone I love is not okay?”

Based on my experience and having helped others navigate through struggles, I have thought about these questions a lot. There are no one-size-fits-all answers. It’s also going to depend on the type of struggle, how long they have been stuck, how close you are to the person, etc.

I have learned (and am still learning) many valuable lessons related to this topic, but thought I would share the top 4 with you, starting with the first one today. I hope they can help you when you find yourself wanting to help someone you care about.

The first lesson is that we can only help someone as much as they are willing to help themselves. Sounds simple, right? Maybe, but it is not always easy. It means that sometimes you have to be prepared to watch someone you love suffer. Ugh. Doesn’t sound so simple now, right?

It is tough to watch someone you care about suffer, but if they are not ready to help themselves, you will find yourself getting stuck in the “struggle loop.” From experience, I can tell you this is not a fun place to be. It can be difficult to not take it personally when it feels like they are not listening to you or not taking your advice, especially when you believe you can help them feel better. 

We are all on our own unique paths and it is exhausting when we try and alter or change someone else’s path. I have found that the best thing you can do is let them know you love them and that you are there for them. It may feel like you are abandoning them or like you no longer care about them, but in reality, you are allowing them to find their own way – and at the same time, you are taking care of yourself. When you try to help someone more than they are willing to help themselves, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak, disappointment, and frustration.

When you take care of yourself first, you can be present for them, if and when the person is ready to ask for your help. It is not selfish or uncaring for you to be okay. It does not help anyone if you are both stuck in a struggle.

Next time I will discuss the second lesson I’ve learned that can help when you have people in your life that are struggling. The following quote provides a clue about what that lesson will be:

With love and patience, nothing is impossible.” Daisaku Ikeda