Saturday, March 16, 2013

When you see a need for help but they reject it, what can you do?

Last winter I found one of our very elderly neighbors (93 or older) on her roof shoveling snow. While the stories of stoic New Englanders doing for themselves abound, no matter how you slice it, this isn’t a good situation. One of the neighbors was trying to convince her to go inside, and he’d finish clearing her roof,  but she was having none of it. I walked home thinking “how do you help those who need help, but reject it?”

Whether it’s working in first aid at our local ski area, helping out with the relief effort after Irene, or dealing with people with various issues, health related or other wise, there are many times where I see others reaching out to help, and it’s rejected.

As the most frequently read posts on this blog addresses how people can be helpful to others- Unique Gifts for Hospital Patients and What to Do When Someone is Ill or Injured it’s clear that many do want to help.

So can you, or should you even try to help someone that says that don’t want it?

Like many of the things discussed on this blog, there isn’t one answer that fits all circumstances. Consider the following:

• Why might the person be rejecting the offer? Any of these might be possible
-       Accepting help in some way could be demeaning,  making them feel inferior, dependent or defeated
-       They may not feel they are worthy of help. They feel “guilty” accepting it
-       To accept help is to become “beholden” to someone. If you do this for me, what will I have to do for you down the road.
-       By taking help they have to acknowledge the situation is really bad.
-       They may not really need the help.
-       Complaining may be their way of getting attention and they like thinking they are beyond help.
-       They may be in such crisis that decision making is difficult for them and they have no idea what they are rejecting.

By understanding the situation a bit better, it may help you decide what you can or can’t do. However, unless they are a danger to themselves or others, if they say “no,” accept it.  That noted, you can-

• Redefine how you might be helpful. I recently had a conversation about a mutual friend that has sustained a major set back in their business. The person I was talking to wants to help, has made suggestions and come up with rejection. Truthfully, there isn’t anything we can do to help with the business issues, at least not at this point, yet my friend has a feeling of wanting to do something. What to do?

One strategy is acknowledging it’s a stressful time and provide a well thought out card and enclose a gift certificate to help de stress-massage, certificate to a favorite restaurant, gas cards etc. Sometimes this type of support can be the most helpful.

• But what if they are in danger? Since they’ve rejected your help, you need to evaluate the level of danger. If it’s an immediate threat, call the police or ambulance. If they are not in immediate danger, but you think they are still at high risk, call adult or children protective services or call your local police department for a “wellness check.” If you find yourself saying, “well it’s not like that, but if they don’t do something now, they’ll be in real trouble later,” keep in mind that if they are capable of making choices and decisions, you need to let it go. It’s their life and they will ultimately have to live with the decisions they make now.

• What if they are in crisis? It all depends on the crisis. When we had a house fire and were displaced for several months, the first week we were in shock. The morning after the fire, my husband told me he didn’t want anyone to come by. He was embarrassed and is a typical Yankee, “I can do it myself.” I was quite clear that we needed all the help we could get and so I told him to let that thought go and be grateful for our friends and neighbors. After a day of non stop help, my husband said, “I now understand all those other brain cells that don’t get used. They are actually other peoples’ ideas. They may not think like you, but sometimes they have much better ideas.” He was incredibly grateful and consequently is one of the first to show if a friend or neighbor is in trouble. In situations like this, if there is a need and you can fill it, do it.

• Do they really need help, or is this about your need to be needed? This is a tough question, but answer it honestly. If you come to the conclusion that this is more about your needs than theirs, step aside. 

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