Stop trying to help what to do when your help isn't wanted don't want to change

Stop Trying to Help People Who Don’t Want to Change

Are you a helper, fixer, or rescuer? Are you trying to help or change someone who don’t want to change?

Watching a friend or family member struggling with a problem or making “bad” decisions is hard. You naturally want to help. You want to make your friends and family’s lives easier and more joyful. You want to fix their problems and relieve their suffering.

Trying to keep a loved one out of harm’s way seems like a good idea, except it doesn’t work when they don’t want your help. Not everyone wants to change (or not in the way you think they should) and that’s their prerogative. Despite your desire to help, you can’t make people change and you can’t fix their problems (even when you have great ideas and their best interest at heart!). You can’t fix or solve other people’s problems and trying to do so often makes things worse.

“It can be hard to accept that not everyone wants your help or is interested in changing.”

Identify which part of the problem is in your control

Most people accept that they can’t control others or solve their problems. But we get sucked into trying to change and fix because we’re confused about whose problem it is. Sometimes our desire to help, protect, and be the hero clouds our judgment. And sometimes we think we know what’s best and foist our ideas upon others regardless of what they want.

We tend to think that problems that affect us are ours to solve. This false belief leads us down a futile path of trying to control things that aren’t within our control. For example, just because you’re affected by your spouse’s unemployment or your teenager’s smoking, doesn’t mean these are problems you can solve. You can’t get a job for your partner nor can you make your child quit smoking. However, if your spouse’s unemployment has left you in debt and feeling anxious, stressed out, or angry, those are problems you can do something about.

And yet, some of us persist in trying to fix or change other people and their problems. This is classic codependent behavior. We abhor having things out of our control. It reminds us of bad things that have happened in the past. And we get anxious and afraid of the catastrophic things we anticipate happening if we don’t step in and try to change things.

Accepting what’s out of our control and that we can’t solve other people’s problems doesn’t mean we’re powerless. Quite the contrary; it allows us to put our energy into identifying what aspects of a problem we can solve and to change the things we can.

Trying to solve other people’s problems can damage relationships

Not only is it impossible for us to solve other people’s problems, but we can also inadvertently cause a host of other problems when we try to help people who don’t want to change (in the way we think they should).

Trying to solve other people’s problems often makes things worse, not better.

To be honest, I often wish that I could solve other people’s problems. But it always ends badly when I try. I get bossy, give unwanted advice, and act like I have all the answers. It’s definitely not something I’m proud of and I imagine at least some of you can relate.

Sometimes, it’s downright presumptuous for us to assume that we know what someone else needs or wants. Our efforts to help may be conveying this harmful message: “I know how to solve your problems better than you do. I don’t trust your judgment or abilities. You’re incompetent or unmotivated.”

It’s not helpful to try to solve other people’s problems because:

  • Nagging and giving unwanted advice leads to more stress, and conflict, and negatively impacts relationships.
  • When we try to fix, change, or rescue, we assume that we know what’s best. We take on an air of superiority and can act condescending.
  • Making decisions for others takes away their autonomy and their opportunity to learn and grow.
  • We become frustrated and resentful that our efforts to solve other people’s problems don’t work and that they aren’t appreciated.
  • We get distracted from solving our own problems. For some reason, fixing other people always seems easier than fixing ourselves!

Instead of doing things for other people, we need to allow them to live their own lives, make their own decisions and mistakes, and deal with the consequences of their choices. Not only does this free us up to focus on what we can control, but it also respects other people’s autonomy.

Recognize when you can help

Of course, sometimes we can and should help others. But it’s important to distinguish help from enabling or doing things for people that they can reasonably do for themselves.

It’s also important to be sure that your help is wanted. Before trying to help someone with their problems, ask yourself: “Does this person want my help?” If you’re not sure, ask them.

In addition, be sure that the kind of help you’re giving is the kind that’s wanted. For example, if your partner wants help with his efforts to eat more healthfully, you need to know how you can be supportive. If he wants help cooking but you remind him of the calorie count of everything he eats, your “help” will be unappreciated and counterproductive.

When someone doesn’t want your help or advice, you need to respect their boundaries. Sometimes the best advice is no advice. Otherwise, the unsolicited advice is probably to quiet your own anxiety or a bad habit, not really to be helpful. If you’re available and approachable, your friends and family know they can ask for your help if they want it.

Understand the difference between having influence and having control

Another common pitfall is that we confuse control with influence. Often, we can influence our loved ones, but we can rarely control them. Meaning we may be able to shape or guide their decisions. We can counsel them or provide them with information if they are receptive, but we can’t force our own agenda.

How to stop trying to fix, change, or solve other people’s problems

Before trying to help or change others, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this my problem or is it someone else’s problem that’s affecting me?
  • Is this a problem I can fix or change?
  • Is changing this person or situation in my control?
  • How can I redefine the problem so that I’m focusing on what’s in my control?
  • Do I have any influence?
  • Did they ask for my help or ideas?
  • Am I forcing my solutions and ideas onto someone?
  • Am I helping or enabling? What’s the difference?
  • Why am I trying to solve this problem?
  • Is this an attempt to manage my own fears and anxiety about what may happen? And if so, how else can I deal with uncertainty and feeling out of control?

If you’ve been trying to fix or change people for years, it will take time and effort to change these patterns. In addition to being patient and compassionate with yourself along the way, try to focus on what’s in your control and the problems that you can solve. And remember that if you’re feeling particularly frustrated with your inability to change or solve a problem, you may be trying to solve someone else’s problem.

Finally, if someone doesn’t want your help or doesn’t want to change, work on detaching and managing your anxiety about the situation.

©2024 Dr. Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.

Stop trying to change people who don't want to change

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Codependency Maze ebook

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Navigating the Codependency Maze provides concrete exercises to help you manage anxiety, detach with love, break through denial, practice healthy communication, and end codependent thinking. It was written by Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping people overcome codependency, people-pleasing, and perfectionism and find their way back to themselves. For more info and to view sample pages, click HERE.

Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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