5 Keys to Instilling Self-Reliance in Others
Posted April 12, 2016
Relationships take on various forms, and they can change over time. You may find that a person you really enjoyed at one point has become a burden to you. Or you may have a person whose neediness seems to have no end. No matter how much you comfort them or support them, the well never seems to be filled. You can recognize the needy ones because you may find yourself asking:
- Why is he/she calling for the millionth time today?
- Another text message? Ugh... What does he/she need now?
- He/she wants to meet tonight for a chat... I bet this one is not going to be any shorter than the other two we already had this week.
- This person has been taking up all of my free time recently, I don’t even see other people or have time for myself anymore!
- I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to find an answer to really help this person.
- Why don’t they ever take any steps to change?
You may care very much about the person, but no matter how much you work to satisfy the needs of the needy friend or loved one, it’s never enough. The unfortunate truth can be that by accommodating their needs, you are perpetuating the situation. Eventually any kind of association with this person begins weighing heavily on you, depleting your energy and draining joy from the relationship.
Most people who have never been in a relationship with a needy person don’t understand why one would choose to make such a connection in the first place. Your other friends or family may say “Just stop spending time with him/her.” It’s often more complicated than this – you may bond with others because you feel needed by them, or you may believe it’s your role to “help” whenever possible, or you may not know how to unwind a relationship that’s become too interconnected.
Neediness can stem from a lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem or some experience that life has done one wrong. Some who have been hurt before don’t have the easiest time making new connections, so when they do find someone they can trust and rely on, they might end up clinging too tightly to their new relationship for the fear of being hurt or left alone again.
For other people, their neediness can be ascribed to inadequate parenting: Kids with overprotective parents grow up unable to independently take care of themselves; kids whose parents rarely said “no” to them become very frustrated and lost when it’s time for them to leave their parents and start taking responsibility for their own lives; and kids who never had warm and loving familial relationships or felt less loved than their siblings seek to fill that void in their relations with other people.
Whatever it is that needy people seek – love, attention, approval, etc. – it’s usually not the thing that they really need in order to be happier and improve the quality of their lives. What they actually need are the guidance and skills necessary to become more self-reliant. By constantly relying on others for help, needy people deprive themselves of joy and happiness that come from personal growth, a sense of accomplishment, and the ability to take care of others.
If you genuinely care (or at least used to care) about such a needy person in your life, instead of simply providing what they ask for, lashing out at them when you cannot bear it anymore, or severing your bond and letting them deal with their problems on their own, take a more proactive approach and help them become more self-reliant. Teaching a grown adult how to manage their responsibilities may not be an easy task, but if you really want to help your friend or loved one, it is by far the best thing you can do for them.
- Positive self-talk: remain positive and teach them to do so too. There can be very little positivity in a relationship with a needy person, but if you are going to try to help them you must stay positive throughout the process. Needy people have a lot of self-doubt and many insecurities, which they tend to compound by talking negatively to and about themselves. Encourage them to eliminate staples like “I don’t think I can do this”, “I’m afraid I will fail”, or “This is too much to handle for me,” and adopt positive mantras like “Let me try and see” or “I am strong enough to do what is good for me” instead.
- Have an honest conversation. Honest and open communication is key to understanding other people and building healthy and sustainable relationships. Talk to your friend or loved one about what is happening in their life, what they are struggling with, what makes them insecure or upset. Let them know that you noticed recently they don’t seem as happy and that you are worried about their wellbeing. Tell them that you would like to help, but the two of you need to establish some boundaries in order to maintain your relationship. Don’t let them guilt trip you into doing things their way; offer help but offer it on your own terms.
- Help build self-confidence. Encourage them to take ownership of different aspects of their life, try new things and meet other people. Be supportive of their endeavors and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. Even the smallest accomplishments and everyday victories help boost self-esteem and motivate people to keep on going. Prompt them to adopt one new responsibility at a time, and start with less challenging tasks first to ensure good progress. Also, don’t forget to let them know that you will be there to pick them up when they stumble.
- Ask questions instead of providing answers. When you choose an easy route, and simply give them what they want, you essentially are condoning their neediness. Next time you are asked for help, don’t just give away the solution so that you don’t have to deal with the whole situation for too long. Instead, ask “What do you think should be done?”, “What options do you have for resolving your problem?” or “What would you have done differently?” to promote independent problem-solving and greater self-reliance.
- Encourage them to take action. Ask your friend or loved one about their priorities and goals in life. Ask what stops them from getting closer to their desired outcome. What obstacles do they face? How can they overcome these hurdles? Introduce them to the SHIFT model in order to help them manage change and accomplish their goals easier and faster. It would be a good exercise to sit down and put everything in writing; not only will it help them sort out their thoughts, but this exercise will also provide a written reminder that can be used for reference later.