“You can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped.” How often have you heard this phrase throughout your life? And do you really believe it? Or is this merely a phrase used to rid oneself of responsibility, of our duty of care to one another as simple human beings?
When people state that you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped, what they’re inadvertently stating is that there are people out there who are intentionally choosing to suffer, to be in pain, to be alone. And I really don’t believe that to be true. We as humans are hardwired for survival; no human is brought into this world with an innate desire to die. Nor to fail. What human do you know enjoys the feeling of failure?
I recently had someone enter my life who has challenged everything I’ve been conditioned to believe by society; the aforementioned statement being one of those things in question. She believes that no one can help her because she doesn’t want to be helped. And perhaps on a superficial, unconscious level, that might be true. But her biology suggests otherwise.
I recall watching a TED talk earlier this year about children in school and how we as a society operate under the belief that kids do well when they want to do well. So when a kid fails, it’s because of a lack of will. In reality though, kids do well when they can do well. If a kid is not succeeding then, it’s because there’s something in their way preventing them from doing well. As humans, we want to grow. We want to succeed. And we want to get along with one another. But often when we’re in pain or don’t feel safe and don’t know how to communicate that, our behaviours tend to give the impression that we really don’t give a shit.
After hearing this girl state that she doesn’t want help because nothing can help her, it prompted these proceeding questions: What makes people closed? How can you help people who don’t want to be helped? How do they get to that point of being closed? What can give someone purpose and hope and a reason to keep on living? How can we create more people like Nicole Gibson’s teacher and my professor? What helps save people’s lives and what doesn’t help? What do people need and how can they get it?
And the one answer that kept pulling at my heart? Connection. And connection in the form of unconditional love. But what does unconditional love even mean? And how can we achieve it?
I’ve spent much of my life trying to find places in which I feel love and belongingness and that’s always been my primary focus. But after having read Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek and revisiting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I realise that my focus has been on something that cannot be felt without something else: safety. In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek focuses on this aspect with specific regards to businesses and companies, but I realise that feeling safe is a necessary component before any single person can feel love and connection. So the question then is not, how can we feel love, but how can we feel safe?
Almost everything in society today is focused on the individual – when you read self-help books, it’s always about how you as the individual can better yourself, and I fucking hate it. Because it’s an endless cycle that preys on the feeling that the majority of us do not feel like we are enough as we are. Don’t get me wrong, investing in yourself and your development is invaluable, but what I’ve found is that it’s not fulfilling. And it misses the whole purpose of what life is really about: connection.
I’ve often believed that with regards to mental health programs, we’re focusing on the wrong thing – we’re focusing on what the individual needs to do to become better, whether that’s learning to identify one’s triggers, learning how to communicate their feelings, or just learning how to manage one’s pain; it’s all tailored towards the individual taking responsibility for themselves. Which, I’ll admit, has its place. But what if, instead of teaching people to work on themselves, we taught them how to be there for other people. What if we instead, taught people how to love? Taught them how to create an environment in which others feel safe to express themselves, to be themselves? Because that, to me, is more transformative than any self-help course I could ever take.
When I asked the question above about what helps save people’s lives and what doesn’t, I looked to what helped save my life three and a half years ago. And the answer? My professor and my really good friend Ida. What did they offer me, other than being there for me, that others didn’t? Complete acceptance and unconditional love. They provided an environment in which I felt safe, in which I could just be without judgement. I put them both through fucking hell; I used to text Ida and tell her no one cares, no one gives a shit about me, why don’t I just die, meanwhile, she was there. She was caring. But I couldn’t see it. I was in too much pain to acknowledge her. And how did she react? She didn’t. She never took it personally. She never judged me for anything that I said or did. She just chose to love me. To support me. To accept me. And that? That’s what saved my life.
So instead of asking, how can we make people feel loved? We need to be asking, how can we make others feel safe? Safety comes from trust. And trust is established in the spaces of non-reaction, non-judgement, and total acceptance. Unconditional love is synonymous with complete acceptance. And I believe these are all things we can work on and develop. Yes, learning how to talk about your feelings is great, but what if the other person judges you? Or reacts to you? What then? What I’ve found is that it’s in those times of judgement and reaction that forces people to retreat, to isolate themselves, and to become closed. I don’t believe anyone truly doesn’t want to be helped; I believe that they’re often in too much pain and have been rejected too many times that they don’t believe help is obtainable. What I’m finding though, is that love changes that. Connection changes that. It’s transformative. And it might just be life-saving.
But don’t you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else? No. Because the truth is, you already do love yourself. It’s just that our perception, based on everything we’re fed from society, has been influenced so much that we’ve been made to believe we’re incomplete, we’re not good enough, and we don’t love ourselves. But if you can understand this perception, it might just revolutionise your life. And for me, this perceptual shift happened a few weeks ago when I was doing some work on altering my perceptions. I was telling the guy I was working with how any time I made a mistake in soccer, I would catastrophize the mistake into believing it meant I wasn’t good enough, in any aspect of my life. He challenged me and said, “So imagine that you have just played the best game of your life, but two weeks later, you play even better - does that mean that in the first game you played, you weren’t good enough?” And the answer was evidently, no, because it was the best at the time. He then proceeded to ask me, “What does it feel like to be good enough?” My initial response was, “Full, happy, content.” Okay, so what do I need to feel those things? And I couldn’t answer that question. He then proceeded to say that “good enough” doesn’t exist; it’s just an imaginary construct. Because everything that you are, in this moment, is who you are. You don’t need to add anything to your life to become “good enough” or to love yourself, because you already do. All of that exists within you. All you need then, is a perception shift. And that’s exactly what I experienced.
Having said all of this, what is my advice? I really don’t believe you need to keep working on yourself in the conventional meaning of that term. Because you are enough. You do love yourself. You have absolutely everything you need within you. Instead, work on creating a space for others in which they can just be. Without judgement. Without reaction. And without ego. When it comes to helping others, don’t. Helping someone cannot be your primary focus because that comes from a place of imbalance, a place of superiority, a place of ego. And how do I know what is best for you? I don’t. And so I won’t help you. But I will love you.