How to Help a Loved One: Respect

How to Help a Loved One: Respect

Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.

Thomas Paine

NOTE: This post is the 2nd in a series on How to Help a loved one. (Read Part 1 and Part 3.)

When someone we love is hurting, it can leave us feeling panicked. Desperate to help.

That’s part of being human. When we care about a loved one’s emotional wellness, we want them to feel better NOW.

This can prompt us to speak and act hastily, potentially causing more harm than good.

The good news? By practicing 3 simple principles, we can avoid these common pitfalls and help support the ones we love.

Last week, we focused on the importance of empathy

Today, we share the value of demonstrating respect.

Respect: a feeling or understanding that someone is good, valuable, important, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.

Continuing our series on How to Help, we highlight the role of respect in helping a loved one who is hurting. Read on for some common impulses you might experience, and practical steps you can take instead.

Plan ahead.

When you’re worried about a loved one’s well-being, and you’re unsure how to help, a common impulse is to spring into action without warning.

While this stems from good intentions, sharing your concerns on the fly can feel abrupt, invasive, and disrespectful to your loved one.

Instead, try to give yourself enough time to formulate a basic plan.    

(If a situation is potentially life-threatening, seek help immediately by calling 911.)

What you can do:

  • Cultivate empathy. Take the time to try putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes by recalling a time when you were struggling. You might also take some time to educate yourself on what you’re noticing in your loved one. (See Part 1 of this series for a review.)
  • Consider the setting. Choose a time and place to share your concerns with your loved one. Is there a quiet, neutral place where you’ll be able to talk, uninterrupted? Sometimes it can be helpful to meet somewhere outdoors and share your concerns on a walk with your loved one. Wherever you decide to talk, try to keep your loved one’s comfort in mind; avoid crowded, noisy, public environments.
  • Extend the invite. Maybe it makes sense to call your loved one and let them know you’d like to talk. Or perhaps it feels more natural to simply make plans together, and then share your concerns when the timing feels right. Trust your intuition and use your best judgment based on what you know about the relationship.

Respect their autonomy.

In addition to the impulse to spring your concerns on your loved one, it’s also natural to speak in the heat of the moment.

You might find yourself saying things like:

“Enough of this!”
“The whole family agrees with me…”
“If you don’t get help, we’re done.”
“If you cared about me, you’d stop.”
“I’ll tell you what you need to do…”

If you feel temped to say some of these things, know it’s a natural reaction to feeling scared and unsure how to help.

But, in order to be truly respectful of your loved one, it’s important to respect their autonomy.

What you can do:

  • Speak for yourself. Often, when we’re concerned about someone we love, we turn to other friends/family/coworkers/neighbors to share our concerns, exchange information, and seek support. Regardless of any such exchanges you may have had, however, it’s important that you keep your conversation with your loved one focused on what you yourself are noticing and feeling. It’s also helpful to let others share their concerns separately rather than staging a group meeting, which can feel invalidating and aggressive to your loved one.
  • Don’t force or coerce. We don’t typically intend to corner our loved ones with threats, ultimatums, or unsolicited advice. And yet when we feel concerned for their well-being, we often forget how controlling these approaches can feel. Do your best to focus on the act of communicating to your loved one, without any expectation of how they’ll respond.
  • Pause to check in. One way to demonstrate respect for your loved one’s autonomy is by checking in with them once you’ve shared your concern. Ask how they’re feeling, if they have any questions about what you’ve shared, and perhaps even offer a chance to take a break from talking for a bit.

Offer (specific) support.

Once you’ve set the stage and shared your concerns, the final step in communicating respectfully is offering your support.

What you can do:

  • Avoid vague offers of help. It’s common to default to the stock offers of support (e.g., “If there’s anything I can do…“,  “If I can help in any way…”), but this (unintentionally) places the burden back on your loved one to generate and request specific types of help. To someone navigating a particularly vulnerable time, this can feel overwhelming.
  • Name 1 or 2 specific ways you can help. You know your loved one best… what kind of help could they really use right now? Would assistance with childcare free up some extra time? Maybe an organized meal delivery schedule so friends/family can sign up ahead of time? If they feel they might benefit from therapy, could they use some help researching options, scheduling an appointment, or accompanying them to their first session? The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be for your loved one to take you up on your offer.
  • Follow up. In the days, weeks, and months following your conversation, make a point to follow up with your loved one periodically and see if they could use some additional support. This could be as simple as a quick text or phone call. Just knowing that you’re thinking of them could mean more than you know.

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

How to Help a Loved One: Empathy
How to Help a Loved One: Limits
3 Myths About Emotional Wellness


Ready to connect with a therapist for support and guidance on how to help?