One of the hardest things we might experience as caregivers and friends is wanting to come alongside someone we love who is hurting, but being declined in our offers to help. Instead, our friend resists any efforts we might make to talk about what is going on. Sometimes, they might stop being around us altogether, avoiding eye contact or ignoring text messages and phone calls.
It’s challenging not to take it personally, because it does, indeed, feel like a personal rejection. And it hurts.
But the truth is, this is a normal response and it’s okay.
It’s okay for someone to decline your offer to help. It’s okay for someone to take some space while they work some things out. It’s okay for someone to just not be ready to let others in yet.
It’s okay. But it’s hard.
“[Jacob’s] family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘I will go to my grave mourning for my son,’ he would say, and then he would weep.”Genesis 37:35, NLT
Understanding Why Others May Not be Ready for Help
Many times when someone rejects our help, it’s not about us. That’s why it’s so important for us not to take it personally. There’s a reason underlying their resistance, even if they can’t verbalize that to you.
But we can still take steps to try to understand what might be going on.
In her book The Art of Comforting, Val Walker writes, “When we understand our own barriers to receiving comfort, we are better prepared to be patient and accepting when we face the barriers of others.”
What are some of those barriers for you? Can you think of a time when someone offered encouragement or comfort to you and you said, “No” with your actions or words?
Perhaps one of these might strike a chord with you:
- A need to work through feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt surrounding the situation
- The desire to be alone
- Being hurt by others and not ready to trust again
- Having a broken relationship with the one offering help
- Not feeling worthy of someone helping you
- Being angry about a particular loss or situation
Val continues in her book, “My own personal experience has opened my eyes to how uncomfortable we can be about receiving comfort, especially when we are starving for it. Sometimes, the more we need it, the more we hide our need, to the point that when someone offers it freely with no justifications, no agendas, and no keeping tabs, we get scared and suspicious. And it can be just as hard for the comforter to persist past this resistance as it is for the one in pain to open up and receive their comfort.”
“That’s why I said, ‘Leave me alone to weep; do not try to comfort me. Let me cry for my people as I watch them being destroyed.’”Isaiah 22:4, NLT
How to Respond When Others Refuse Our Help
What does Val suggest we do when others decline our offers of care and comfort?
Taking a step back.
“When we, as loved ones, are deliberately kept out of a comforting role by the person in distress, we can still facilitate care and comfort by letting go of our need to provide more immediate comfort and helping in other, more resourceful ways…. When we ‘back off’ a bit, we are really upholding their freedom, integrity, and privacy” (Val Walker).
In essence, we create a safe space and allow them to come when they are ready.
It’s hard. But it’s do-able.
You can do it, my friend. You can create a place where your loved one knows they can come to you when they are ready to do so.
“Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.”1 Thessalonians 5:14, NLT
Let’s commit to staying present in the midst of the pain of others by creating a safe refuge for them and waiting patiently for them to be ready.
In future posts, we’ll talk about how to create that safe place for others, as well as what to do when they talk to others but not you.
Check out Val Walker’s book, The Art of Comforting, to learn more.