In both speaking and writing I have spent a lot of time exploring what helping can look like in a caregiving situation. I cover this topic so much because it is so crucial. But important things are often hard things, and helping someone who is in a caregiving situation is no exception. Because both offering and receiving help require such vulnerability, this can lead to situations where offered help is rejected. The effort involved in extending a helping hand feels even more futile when that extended hand is brushed aside.
What should we do in times when help is not wanted?
There are many causes for why an offer of help might be rejected. Sometimes an offer of help is rebuffed because it was presented poorly, perhaps in a pushy manner or at the wrong time or place. The first thing we need to do if our offer of help was rejected is perform a self-check. Yes, we meant well but did we execute it badly? It stings when an offer of help is met with something equivalent to, “Get out of here! I’d rather die than have your help,” and this can make a person hurt and angry. We can then become so fixated on how hurt we feel by the rejection that we overlook how we may have hurt the person to whom we offered the help. But sometimes with a bit of calm reflection it becomes apparent that our offer (however well-intentioned) came across as condescending, rude, or even just poorly timed.
So the first thing I would encourage in anyone who has found their offer of help rejected is graciousness. It is incredibly difficult to peaceably respond to the rejection, but remember that the person to whom you offered help is struggling. They are in a hard place, and they need grace. Maybe you made a mistake in how you offered to help. Maybe they screwed up in not accepting the good thing you offered. Maybe it is both. Maybe you can’t sort it out. But the first step in going forward rightly from the place of rejection is to conduct yourself graciously. Anything else will make a bad situation worse.
If you have managed to accept the rejection of your help without an explosive conflict you are off to a good start on the path forward. You can now take some time to reflect on what you can do. Whether it was you or them, or a combination of both, what you need to do to accomplish future good are these three things:
Whether you understand why your help was rejected or you just think the person was just plain crazy for scorning your offer–be patient. You might have come on a bad day, and they might regret their angry rebuff and accept your help a few days later. Hint: A vindictive “I told you so!” from you won’t help. Or perhaps they’re stubborn and it will take them more time (weeks or months) to come around to the idea of accepting help. Being patiently persistent in an offer of help is one of the most important steps in helping.
Your offer of help may have been rejected today, but that doesn’t prevent you from preparing for when your help will be accepted further down the road. Today you offered help to Mom or Dad and they angrily told you that they were perfectly capable of managing things and taking care of their spouse. But that rejection doesn’t prevent you from researching and preparing on your own for the day when Mom or Dad admits their need for help–or when circumstances will force them to accept help. Doing your preparation in advance will be a huge help to both you and them on the day when your offer of help is finally accepted.
When an offer of help is rejected it can be extremely painful, and the natural reaction is to pull back. If your genuine offer of help was met with the angry suggestion that you go take a long hike off a cliff the inclination is to do just that. “If they don’t want my help see if I ever come around again,” is the angry thought, and we check out of the life of that person we were previously trying to help. The impulse to do this is understandable, but if you really want to help that person it often requires being patiently present in their lives until they have wrestled through their own issues to the point where they are able to accept help. As an observer whose help was scorned, this can be incredibly frustrating to witness. But if you don’t walk away the day may yet come when your help is desperately needed and gladly received. And maybe–just maybe–they will thank you for being one of those people loving and persistent enough to stick around even when they had rejected your first offer of help.
My Personal Experience
When I was in the caregiving role I found it very hard to accept help, a fact I’m not proud of today. There were a number of reasons why I was reluctant to accept help. It felt hard to explain, and I didn’t want to try. Part of my reluctance was pride (I wanted to do everything myself), but part of my hesitation was that accepting help sometimes felt like it made the situation more complicated. If someone offering help didn’t understand exactly what was needed I had to explain, and the effort of explaining how I needed help could feel like too much bother. On top of all that, sometimes my attitude for the day just wasn’t great. Being grumpy is being grumpy. Between one thing and another, I didn’t always accept help with the gratefulness that I should have, but I am still grateful today for the people who were present and did help even in small ways.
From the other side as the person offering help daily to my grandfather in his journey through Alzheimer’s I had to learn a lot about being present and patient in the offering of help–and waiting for the right time of acceptance. It was a process for both of us. With time Grandpa became better at accepting help, and I became better at offering help in the right way.
Almost all of us will face having our offer of help rejected at some point in our lives. If you can successfully learn how to handle this rejection, then you will be able to be present when the door is finally open for you to help that person. Patience, preparation, and being present will get you there.