Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Help Someone Who Could Use More Mental Strength

You likely know someone who could benefit from bigger mental muscles.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

Whether your adult child struggles to make decisions or you have a colleague who is terrified of rejection, you can likely think of a few people who could benefit from building a little more mental muscle.

It’s tough to watch someone you care about struggle. But how do you help someone build the mental strength they need to reach their potential?

For some people, it’s tempting to try to help too much. For others, it feels more natural to retreat from someone who can’t get their life in order.

Neither of these approaches is particularly helpful.

While you can’t force someone to perform the mental strength exercises they need to become stronger, there are some steps you can take to support their efforts—if they’re willing to try.

What Not to Do

Don’t lecture. Telling someone they shouldn’t eat cake while on a diet isn’t helpful. The other person knows this already. Hearing you tell them what they should be doing differently isn’t likely to spark change.

So no matter how much you think a person needs to hear your wisdom, avoid lecturing them about their choices. They’ll likely spend the entire conversation focusing on how annoying you are, rather than thinking about how they should change their behavior.

Don’t try to change the other person. You can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed. So don’t try to change someone who isn’t invested in doing the work it takes.

Although you might see their potential, nagging, begging, cajoling, and altering their environment won’t do any good if they lack the motivation to change themselves.

Don’t enable. There’s a clear line between helping someone and harming them. It’s important to make sure that you’re not enabling someone’s bad choices simply because you don’t want to watch them struggle.

Giving money to someone who has constantly spends more than they make or covering up for an alcoholic’s poor decisions could make things worse, not better. Before you dive in to help someone in a tough spot, make sure your actions are going to help them in the long run and not simply escape immediate consequences.

What to Do

Do listen respectfully and ask questions. Rather than jumping in and offering advice, listen to the other person talk. Show an interest in hearing how they’re feeling and how they’re managing their struggles.

Ask thought-provoking questions that might help them think differently. For example, “What do you think you are going to do about this?” or “What are your options?”

Do set healthy boundaries. Although it’s important to listen, you don’t need to participate in a pity party. You may need to establish healthy boundaries by saying things like, “I don’t think I’m being a good friend to you by listening to you vent for 30 minutes every day about the same problem when you’re not doing anything to create change.”

Remember that helping others build strength may require you to say no to their requests more often. When you refuse to support their unhealthy choices, they may grow uncomfortable. And their discomfort may motivate them to change.

Do talk about what works for you. Instead of telling them what they should do, simply talk about what has worked for you. Just make sure you don’t come across as self-righteous.

Focus on how you addressed a struggle more than how you rose to the top. Saying things like, “I lost 50 pounds and kept it off,” may cause the other person to feel worse. But saying, “I wasted years feeling like a failure because crash diets didn’t work. Hiring a trainer made all the difference,” may show that you’re credible.

Do focus on being a good example. The best thing you can do is to exemplify mental strength in your own life. Just make sure that you are actually modeling inner strength, rather than simply acting tough.

When others see that you’re trying to face your fears, learn from mistakes, and recover from failure, they might grow inspired to do the same.

Building Mental Muscle

Everyone has the ability to build more mental muscle, and no matter how strong you are, there’s always room for improvement.

While you can talk to someone else about how to build mental strength, you can’t force that individual to perform mental push-ups.

Provide guidance and support if it’s welcome but also know when to back away and allow the other person to make choices about how they’d like to proceed.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Odua Images/Shutterstock

More from Amy Morin
More from Psychology Today