Client: Shomit, I hope you don’t mind me asking your advice about something.
My friend’s husband is depressed (or has those kinds of symptoms, anyway). His behaviour when he’s low is awful, and he’s low quite a lot of the time. I think you or someone like you could really turn things around for him but he absolutely refuses to seek help. He seems like such a textbook case – he is so closed up and tense. You would sense it immediately if you met him!
My question is how does my friend persuade him to seek help? Does she have to wait for him to do it himself, even though that seems highly unlikely at this point?
If you could offer any small tips I’d really appreciate it.
Shomit: I’m sorry to hear this. One of the hardest things to do is to get a person who is suffering to take that first step towards getting better. Suffering is often a cocoon – so that, no matter how great the pain, there is an element of familiarity about it, and this affords a degree of comfort. Getting better, in contrast, seems terribly scary – as it involves leaving the familiar cocoon to embark on a journey through a region of terrifying uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the first step has to be taken by the patient himself. If your friend badgers him, it will only put his back up. And he will take this step either when he feels he has had enough or when something happens which forces the issue to a crisis point.
So what should your friend do?
First, She should delineate clear boundaries: she should make it clear to her husband that certain things in his behaviour are simply unacceptable – and she should not be afraid to make him pay a price for behaving in a way that upsets her. That way, she will not inadvertently “reward” her husband for being the way he is. Odd as this may sound, every ailment has a hidden upside. To give you simplistic examples, people often get stroppy because it scares people into listening to them; or they retreat into a shell because they get looked after. Your friend should be mindful of this: she should try and see what the upside is for her husband and make sure she is not falling into the trap of catering to it.
Second, she should make it clear that she expects him to seek help – but she should leave it at that. She should neither badger him not plead with him. She should put it to him that she is not prepared to carry on like this and that it is his responsibility to do something about it. The key is to put the option on the table and then to leave him to act on that. He will perhaps ignore her to begin with – because he has perhaps done so already to great effect! That is when her challenge would be to step into her power and make it clear that she is unwilling to put up with his refusal to address issues that have such a negative effect on their relationship. Here it is vital that your friend understands that her husband’s depression brings with it a lesson for her. Perhaps that lesson is about strength, perhaps she has catered to him for too long and has not paid sufficient attention to her own needs in this relationship. I don’t know – I can’t say without seeing her. But there is always some powerful lesson in such situations for both people.
You could send this email on to your friend if you feel this helps. I would also be happy to chat with her if she’d like to call. We could arrange a time.
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