Louisa looked exhausted and frazzled. My look of concern and simple “how are you” resulted in a flood of tears. As well as work and teenagers, she was trying to support her elderly mother who refuses help from everyone.
She is so stubborn and independent. She won’t tell me if she is ill, she won’t let me do the hoovering. She looks so frail and thin, I don’t think she is eating properly. I keep trying to get her to take it easy but she just gets so cross. I’m worried about her health–she just seems to survive on biscuits and cakes. Please help me work out how to get her to accept help.
She asked I could give her some tips on how to get her to change her mother’s attitude. “Well”, I said, “I can give you some tips on how to ease your frustration and pain…”
Most of us know someone like Louisa’s mother, determinedly turning their back on people who want to help. We feel frustrated and hurt that our good intentions and helpful suggestions are rejected. Can’t people see how much we are giving up for their sakes?
As the great Nagging video from School shows, nagging doesn’t work, even though it comes from noble intentions. We love the person. We think they are harming themselves, so we try harder and harder to show them that they are wrong.
Instead of focusing on changing them which we’ve usually tried, let’s look at what we can do. Use the Green Cross Code (Stop, Look/Listen and Go Ahead with Care)
When we love someone and we are worried, we tend to overemphasise danger and underestimate their ability to make rational decisions. If it wasn’t your mum but a next door neighbour or a work colleague would you be concerned? Looking at it objectively, is there a need to take action? What is the worst that could happen if nothing changes? How likely is that to happen? If you find worksheets a help in figuring this out, you can download one here. A4 Risk Assessment
What is your motivation?
This might seem an odd question–it’s because I love them and want them to be safe and happy. Is that all? Is there another reason that you want them to accept a particular sort of help? Be honest–there is nothing wrong with wanting to help because you would like to repay them for their help. We may fear their illness or death more than they do. Or perhaps doing things in a certain way helps you as well. People can sense if you aren’t telling them the whole truth. Expressing the impact on you with love and openess might be more effective than pretending that you are doing it just for them.
What is important?
What is the most important thing to you? It may change as the situation changes. With dementia, there are three phases, depending on the condition of the patient. In the first phase, it is to make sure the person is as independent as possible, in the second to ensure their safety and finally to ensure comfort. So in the first phase, letting them make a cup of tea at their own pace and in their own way is great, even if it takes a long time and makes a bit of a mess. At another stage, the physical danger is much greater. So work out objectively what is best–maintaining the other person’s independence or their physical safety.
Are you the right person?
No matter how old you are, your parents will remember that they knew you as a baby. They taught you to talk. They kept you safe. So, accepting that you now want to look after them is hard. Expecting them to think you know better than they do might just be a step too far. If a parent refuses help, rephrasing it in a way that makes them see how it makes your life easier might work better.
Look & Listen When Someone Refuses Help
Sometimes our vision of what is right for others blinds us. This seriously damages our relationships. So once you’ve stopped and looked at yourself, listen to them. Look at it from their point of view. If someone refuses help, there could be lots of reasons other than “stubbornness” or “pride” (the usual motivations we use).
It might not be needed
People have different values. It might be they need something else or they are happy the way they are. List what you can offer and ask what they would like. Be honest with your concerns. Just because people make decisions you think are unwise does not mean they lack the capacity to decide what is best for themselves.
They feel they have no way to repay you
“But I don’t want to be repaid, I owe them.” Recognise that few people like to continually receive without the opportunity to give or contribute. Parents especially want to look after their children, rather than receive help. We all need to feel that we have a purpose and are equal partners. Are you reluctant to accept a gift given willingly and only want to give or help? If you want people to accept your help–accept theirs.
The way it’s offered
The issue shifts. We become determined to prove we are right about what they need and how to provide it. This makes the other person feel defensive and angry and determined to prove us wrong. Maybe we are pushing too hard. Don’t tell, ask.
There might be mental health issues
It may be that someone refuses help because they have mental health issues that alter their perceptions. In this case, it is best to get professional advice before raising the possibility with the individual. There are some excellent resources on the internet. How to start the conversation and Understanding Dementia are excellent starting points if you are concerned about the elderly. Other websites such as Rethink and MentalHealth.gov offer general advice on expressing concerns about mental health.
Go Ahead with Care
Say the “Why” first, then ask permission
You may think that people know why you are offering, but they may not. Tell them you love them or care for them first, then ask if you can talk about something that you have noticed and are worried about. Ask permission to talk about the issue. If they refuse, step back and review the previous steps. Some more tips
Everyone likes to have some control and freedom. When a person needs help, it feels very scary and sometimes it seems the only option seems to be yes or no. Just to keep a bit of control they may say no. Offering a range of things that a person can choose from may help. Make sure that the options are realistic and varied, clear and not overwhelming.
Don’t take it personally if someone refuses your help
It’s not you that is being rejected, it is the help. Taking offence only makes things worse. Making it easy for them to say yes or no will make them trust you more and be more likely to ask.
Let them contribute if they want
If someone asks you to do the shopping and wants to give you the money to pay for the goods, take it. If you don’t they won’t ask you again. Tell people what you get from helping–perhaps you enjoy their company, or perhaps you feel a sense of satisfaction when you’ve cleaned the oven. Everyone likes to be able to give. A friend now feels happier asking me to babysit because I told her how much I love spending time with the baby and thanked her for sharing him and the joy he brings.
Tried all of this and still frustrated? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to book a complimentary 15-minute exploration session–sometimes that’s all you need.
And if you have the problem that people are accepting all the help and wanting more–read how to say no nicely and set boundaries or email me!