Written By: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Symmetry Counseling

It is quite common for an individual to attend therapy due to having worry or concern about their partner, their friend, their parent, their child, and so forth. Clients who are worried about a loved one often seek out professional help to learn more about mental illness, substance abuse (among others) as well as to learn how to best approach their loved one about their issues. Whether they are witnessed a loved one go through a depressive or manic episode, a loss, a breakup or divorce, or abusing various substances, it can be very stressful for the client, as this person’s support system. Clients often report feeling helpless as to how to help and provide support to their loved one. Here are four things to keep in mind when expressing concern to a loved one:

  1. Approach your loved one from a place of worry, concern, love, and respect. When bringing up difficult and sensitive topics with a loved one, it is very easy for the other person to become defensive. To avoid pointing fingers or placing blame on the person, come from a place of concern and what you have personally experienced with them, such as, “I have become increasingly worried about you because every time I call you, you either don’t answer or you’re crying. I’m really worried about you, and I want to help and be supportive for you right now.” As opposed to, “You really need help, there is something wrong with you.” Coming from a place of concern and compassion will create a safer space to have a more intimate dialogue about what the issues are and how significantly they are impacting the person. When someone is feeling blamed or isolated, they are less likely to not only open up, but to also get the help and support they may need.
  2. Talk about a difficult time you went through and provide possible solutions or resources. Most people are more likely to open up to you if you are being open with them as well. If you or someone else close to you has also gone through a similar issue, it may be helpful to discuss this with your loved one. For example, “I remember when I got divorced too. I couldn’t get out of bed, I started drinking more, and I isolated myself from my friends and family because I felt so ashamed. I started feeling better when I started going on walks and seeing friends again, and I began seeing a therapist.” If you’ve never experienced the kind of pain or issues that your loved one is facing, you can still validate and empathize with their hardship and feelings. It may be helpful to express that you’ve never experienced what they are going through, and therefore you cannot fathom the difficulty they are experiencing. This “one down” position (where you approach them with curiosity, not as an expert) may also create an open space for a dialogue instead of instructing them what to do.
  3. Accept that you have no control over their decisions. One of the most difficult aspects of watching a loved one go through a tough time is knowing there is a limit to how much you can do about it as an outsider. Witnessing someone you care deeply about go through a difficult time or watching them hurt themselves is one of the hardest things to do. As someone’s support system or family member, there is only so much you can do when it comes to getting someone the help they need, especially if this person is an adult. Accepting that you do not have control over their actions is extremely difficult but necessary.
  4. Make sure you continue taking care of yourself. If someone you care deeply about is going through a difficult time, it is extremely important as a person providing support that you are also taking care of yourself to prevent second-hand stress or trauma. Making sure you are practicing your own self-care, such as sleeping, eating healthy, exercising, and spending time with friends and family, is vital when providing support to others around you.

If you are having a difficult time navigating how to talk to a loved one about an issue, it is always helpful to have a space to discuss it and get insight on how to be a supportive partner, family member, or friend. Contact Symmetry Counseling to set up an appointment with an individual, couple, or family therapist to help navigate these difficult conversations.