This guest article from Psych Central was written by Charles Elliot, Ph.D.
When people you care about or love have problems with anxiety, the most natural thing in the world is to help. You may find yourself wanting to reassure them that everything will be OK. That sounds good, but in other blogs, we’ve discussed how reassurance can boomerang and easily make things worse. No doubt, we’ll write about how reassurance works in more blogs down the road because people fall into that trap all of the time.
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Alternatively, you may want to coach your loved one through the problem. That strategy actually works sometimes, but it’s very tricky and we recommend professional guidance for both yourself and your loved ones if you want to become their coach.
Coaching, like reassurance, can easily backfire, cause arguments, or be perceived as criticism by people you’re trying to help.
Perhaps you’re tempted to try a confrontation or so-called “intervention” in which you and other family members tell the person how badly she needs help. That too is at least as likely to backfire as it is to help. Confrontations usually cause defensiveness and often, anger.
Instead, consider fully and unconditionally accepting your loved one and all of his problems with anxiety. After all, you likely fell in love with this person as a whole package that included issues with anxiety. And you probably have a few flaws and struggles yourself. Who doesn’t? So instead of forcing the issue to a head, consider embracing and loving the one you care about “as is.”
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Acceptance delivers a positive message that may allow you and your loved one to actually become closer. When you drop pressuring people to change, it sometimes actually frees them up to make changes. When you convey the message that you’ll care about someone no matter what, it can actually enable them to start taking risks which is one of the things they’ll have to do if they want to overcome their anxiety.
In fact, change always requires being able to take risks, be vulnerable, and make mistakes. When people feel safe, they can do these things more easily. So, try letting go of your need to see your loved one make changes. Realize that whether the one you care about changes isn’t really about you anyway. Acceptance just may take you further than you think, but changing your loved one shouldn’t be your goal. Let go of that need and it just “may” happen a little more easily.