Helping your loved one takes patience, self-care

By Dave Jansa, program advisor & peer coach

Published July 25, 2018

When loved ones make the choice to seek help from Face It TOGETHER, they’re often desperate for good information. 

It’s understandable to want to do as much as possible to help the person you’re concerned about. However, it’s important to keep in mind that change takes time, and that you both likely have some things you could do differently to make change easier.

A big part of this is learning to prioritize self-care. Before you can help someone else, you need to make sure you’re in a healthy place. Even basic self-care strategies like exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep are valuable. Modeling healthy behavior will benefit you and the person you’re worried about – you’ll have more patience and energy while setting a good example. 

In addition to prioritizing your own wellness, it’s important to be realistic about changes you want to see in your friend or family member who’s struggling. When your loved one does start changing his or her behaviors, expect it to be a gradual process.

Expecting perfection is unrealistic, and will set you up for disappointment and frustration. (For more on handling a recurrence of symptoms, or relapse, check out this blog.) Learning new behaviors takes time and patience. Having a bad day, or making a poor decision, doesn’t put a person back at square one. Acknowledge and celebrate each small step forward.

It’s helpful to think of change as a learning process, and to approach it incrementally, though it isn’t always easy.

Here’s what research shows can be helpful in supporting someone’s motivation to change: 

  • Feeling acknowledged, understood and accepted as they are (not contingent on doing something or not doing something)
  • Getting information without pressure
  • Having options
  • Having reasons that make sense for a particular choice
  • Having a sense of competence about how to change and the
    steps to take
  • Getting positive feedback for positive change

And here are things that work against motivation: 

  • Feeling misunderstood and judged
  • Being pushed by others to do something
  • Having only one option
  • Not having reasons for change that make sense to the person
    doing it
  • Not believing you can do it
  • Getting yelled at

Change takes time. Just think about how hard it can be to make simple changes like eating better or drinking more water. If your expectations are realistic, and you approach your loved one with care and empathy, you can help set them up for success.

Learn more

Source: Foote, J., Wilkens, C., Kosanke, N., & Higgs, S. (2014). Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. New York, NY: Scribner.