There Are Some People You Just Can’t Help

“Be there. Be open. Be honest. Be kind. Be willing to listen, understand, accept, support, and forgive. This is what it means to love.” ~Lori Deschene

A few months ago, I was totally freaked out.

I was having a cup of tea with a soul-sister friend, and we were in deep conversation. I was crying.

I was explaining, between hiccupping sobs, about how there was someone in my life who was suffering deeply.

Sitting at the café that day, I said to her, “There is this person in my life that I love so deeply, but he is suffering.”

I told her about all the ways I was connected to this very special person, and told her about how I was committed to helping him.

My friend was empathetically listening, and my story went on and on.

“He’s so depressed. When I’m around him, I just suddenly feel so sad. I feel his pain. It’s so deep. I have tried to share my wisdom with him, to help him evolve out of his depressed rut, but he won’t listen. I know he can make a change, but he just won’t listen to me. It’s like his ears are closed to me. What do I do? How can I help him?”

It was then that my dear friend replied in a way that I will never forget.

She placed her hand on my shoulder, and looked deeply into my eyes.

We sat in silence together for a moment.

Finally, she spoke, with such a gentle tone in her voice. “Anya, your lesson is to learn in this situation is simple, yet difficult. Your lesson is that you cannot help this person. Sometimes, there are people that you just can’t help.”

I gasped. Chills ran down my spine. Her words resonated through every cell of my body.

It was all so simple.

There are people in my life that I just can’t help.

So simple, yet so profound. Why hadn’t I realized this before?

And how had I somehow fallen into the trap of taking on someone else’s burden as my own? Why had I gotten trapped in suffering by trying to “fix” someone who was suffering?

These traps are, unfortunately, all too common for those of us with big open hearts. They are quite common for those of us who are caregivers, lovers, amazing friends, healers, spiritual way showers, and all those who wish to use our lives in service to a higher good.

Since that day at the café, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sweet friend’s advice. And I’ve come to a few insights of my own.

First, in order to be helped, a person must first ask for help. A person must make themselves available, vulnerable, open, and humble.

And this is not easy! It’s not easy to be open. It’s not easy to say, “I don’t know; please help me.”

Second, in order for you to help someone with your words, that person must first resonate with the kind of wisdom you have to share.

As a matter of fact, my depressed friend has a totally different worldview than I do, so it’s no wonder he wasn’t open to my words of advice.

There are a thousand paths and a thousand ways to interpret the world.

My way may not be your way, and your way may not your neighbor’s way. We are often so different in our concepts and language for interpreting this mysterious thing called life.

In short, for a person to want your help, that person must be somewhat already aligned to your philosophical or spiritual worldview.

Further, in order for a person to receive your help, they also must present themselves to you in the most perfect, synchronistic moment.

Indeed, they must be standing before you in the most precise, delicate moment: the moment just before the blossoming, just before the great change occurs. It can be as small as a split second of opening.

Timing is everything.

In that moment of perfect timing, they will be not only ready but hungry for evolution, hungry for growth, hungry for truth, hungry for new ways of seeing the world beyond their limited old perspective!

My dear friend who is suffering does not want to grow in the way I wish he would (consciously evolve out of suffering through spiritual practice)—at least, not at this time.

He is suffering and he does not even want to admit that he is suffering. He believes he can achieve no higher or better state in this lifetime.

Once I realized that there are some people I just can’t help, I felt a tremendous relief. A giant stone lifted from my heart, and I could suddenly breathe again.

I realized that I had unwittingly taken on his suffering as my own, in a misguided attempt to figure out how to “fix” him. I had allowed my natural empathy to become a wound in my own energetic body.

If a person you love is stuck in a place of denial to their own suffering or their own addictions or stuckness, then there is a strong possibility that what you say won’t make a bit of difference.

Denial is an incredibly strong force. And if your worldview differs too much from theirs, then it may not be your place to plant any seeds of wisdom. It may be your place to step back from trying to speak at all.

That’s a tough lesson of love, I know, but if you can remember it, it will save you a lot of heartache.

Indeed, if someone is in denial to their own suffering, then that very denial may very well block them from truly hearing you speak.

So, what do we do in these kinds of situations?

Can we take any action at all?

The answer is yes.

When we deeply love someone and we are invested in them (such as a lover, a friend, a child, or a business partner), what we can do is simply radiate love.

When we are in their presence, we can be as light, happy, and conscious as possible.

This light, this presence, this subtle vibration, will subtly shift their energetic field. And though no words are spoken, they will feel a little bit more peace while they are near us (whether they consciously know it or not).

And we can of course listen to them. When they need to talk, we can listen, and we can offer a hug or a gentle, reassuring smile.

Indeed, sometimes, when we love someone, the best thing we can do is shut the heck up.

The best thing we can do is simply be.

Friends painting by Jerry Weiss

About Anya Light

Anya Light, PhD, is a life coach and author of Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness. She writes about meditation, Reiki, and other spiritual topics on her blog Awakening With.

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  • AJD

    Thanks so much for your post Anya. I always believe what we need to know comes to us at the perfect moment and this truly resonated with me as there is someone in my life that I’m always trying to “cheer up”. Now I know I need to focus on loving them unconditionally wherever they are at.

  • Stephen Fraser

    As a retired psychotherapist, self described empath and healer, I’ve learned mostly through my own failures and shortcomings, that we are all responsible for our own healing…to the exact degree that i believe i have wisdom or knowledge that another needs to receive from me am I deluded and have lost my own way…we compassionately hold space for each other…we bare witness to another’s journey and suffering but we share no responsibility for the resolution of their struggles…i can share my time and my own struggles..but it is entirely up to the other to take what they think they need or not. Realizing this has freed me from causing harm or taking responsibility for others as well as given me the space I needed to see my own lessons in each encounter.

  • Kris

    Thanks Anya for this lovely article. I am currently passing through this phase and can place my current frame of mind in the context of your piece of writing. It is a strange and sometimes powerfully sad feeling that one gets when one tries to be as helpful and compassionate to another who is suffering, trying to (in our minds) show them the route to healing and yet the other fails to see the way. It’s almost as if you want to hold their shoulders and shake them off from their slumber. But no, it does not work. As Rumi beautifully said – ‘Open your hands if you want to be held’ – it seems their fists are clenched shut. And often your mind tricks you into thinking that the other might be in the mood of ‘Greng-jai’ in Thai, meaning – The feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them. You start to think that maybe they are not responsive because they feel that you will be in pain when you try to help them. But I guess not. And as you say, the best way for yourself and the other is to be radiating love and compassion without it being self-centered. Peace.

  • Anya Anne Light

    You’re very welcome:) I’m so glad it helped you get some clarity on your relationship. I believe that unconditional love is the deepest most profound lesson we can learn in this thing called human life. It’s heartbreaking and heart-opening simultaneously! Lots of love to you:)

  • Anya Anne Light

    Beautifully stated, Stephen. Thank you. I very much agree: Believing we have wisdom that another person “needs” is losing the way. When we hold space, we allow the beautiful vulnerability of ourselves and the other to shine through. We let life shine through.

  • Anya Anne Light

    What a beautiful quote from Rumi. Allow me to add also: “Open your heart if you want to be loved.”
    I feel it is openness that is the path to a life of peace and joy, that is undisturbed by the moods and the choices of others.
    Thank you so much for reading and replying.
    Be blessed, Kris 🙂

  • Shanna S Mathews-Mendez

    Great piece, and this is so true! As I begin a path to actively reach out and work with women struggling to find their own voices, I have to remember that there will be some that I simply cannot reach. This essay was perfectly timed in my day. Thanks!

  • Clark Iverson

    Nicely done.

  • Anya Anne Light

    Thank you, dear Clark:)

  • Anya Anne Light

    Ah, you’re welcome, Shanna! I’m curious: What kind of work do you do? Could you say a bit more about your path? I can relate to this kind of work/path…I currently work at a domestic violence/women’s shelter. It’s such rewarding, challenging, amazing work.

  • Maria I. Martinez

    “If a person you love is stuck in a place of denial to their own suffering or their own addictions or stuckness, then there is a strong possibility that what you say won’t make a bit of difference.” WOW. I need to save this sentence somewhere.

    I just went through an 18 month relationship where most of the time I trying to “save” him from a depression (he depression had nothing to do with me or anything I did but from a bad breakup before I came along). I kept telling myself our love for each other would help him make it through, that if only he listened to me everything would be fine. I thought I could change everything for him and help him come out of it. Instead, I was the one that ended up just being in a funk ALL THE TIME when I was around him. Finally, I made the decision to love myself, end the relationship, and let him work on himself alone. I hope he does.

  • Anya Anne Light

    Thank you so much for sharing, Maria. Yes, sometimes it’s so confusing because we think “love can conquer all”…no doubt you had/have strong feelings of love and compassion for this person….and yet, sometimes, it’s better for all parties to go their separate ways. All my love to you, and I hope that you find abundant self-love through this process!

  • tom

    In a related way, perhaps of good heart, I’ve tried to help a few friends, who might be termed, “Lame Ducks.” Often this has been financially. Give them a million and they’d soon be broke again. I’ve given up on such to save myself. Nothing wrong with that I have decided.
    Blessings, Tom

  • Anya Anne Light

    Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime. Deeply-entrenched poverty and victim mentality can only be cured from within–no need to stretch yourself thin doing so! Thanks for your comment, Tom:) xo

  • Tera Perry

    Oh my goodness! Seldom have I gleaned such amazing wisdom from a blog, but this really strikes a cord in me. You’re absolutely right! People do have to be aligned to your worldview in order to take in your wisdom. It brings so much clarity to so many situations I have been in. Thanks so much!

  • lilych

    While the subject is about spiritual/emotional healing, it reminds me of material needs & wants everywhere. On this, I appreciate the relevance of the wisdom of Mr Stephen: “we share no responsibility for the resolution of their struggles”. One faith for example, espouses “giving away what you have for thy neighbor” (even while the organization lavishes in opulence) that reinforce a mindset of mendicancy & dependency. It becomes disturbing/ annoying when those wanting impose/badger others for their personal needs when they have the capacities (but capricious/choosy of jobs, wages they think should stand up to their standards of stature or preferences). People need to be responsible for their own lives, carry their respective cross and not pass on personal burden/struggles for others to assume. Regardless of the nature of governance, the rationale for its being is —social contract with the citizens for a level playing field for decent living & a quality of life for all. It is not anyone’s personal obligation to make up for those left behind — unless assumed by PERSONAL choice and prerogative — when, where & HOW. Every individual has the right to their own space and life without infringements from society’s free-riders.

  • Lia Raiss

    I admit to being more than a tad upset, hurt and, yes, angry about your article, and I’d like to share why. I feel there’s a lot of information missing here, about how us depressed folks ‘tick’.
    You put your thoughts on how you can’t help everyone into sentences brimming with “the person must….” Now, please don’t ‘must’ me – or anyone else, or at least don’t be surprised if that was the last you ever saw of us. Especially with depressed folks we may not be willing to have you around if you’re acting that way. And we, too, have a right to refuse any unhelpful ‘help’ thrown our way. Being depressed is difficult and painful enough in and of itself. No need to make it any worse.
    You seem to believe you know how to ‘help’ and what someone depressed really needs, and am I detecting an inkling of feeling superior if we aren’t willing to open up to your advice? You won’t get any further away from being ‘helpful’, let me assure you!
    You seem to believe you have the right to even judge, in an overbearing, passive-agressive manner, how we are in ‘denial’ about our suffering and how we even don’t want to ‘consciously evolve’.
    I even have the chuzpe not to be grateful for the wisdom you offer and get angry with you!
    Please, do us a favour and consciously evolve into someone compassionate who first ASKS a depressed person “What is it you need now?” Ever even thought of that? Let me give you a hint: “Advice” is mostly NOT top of the list, or we would’ve asked for it. We are just depressed, not stupid, and let me tell you, we’re noticing every nuance of your imagined superiority – aka ‘light’.
    Please, be vulnerable, open and humble YOURSELF FIRST, taking a look at your own denial and the possibility that you don’t know the first thing about another person’s suffering and the ways out of it.
    Not grateful for my words? I totally understand.

  • Anya Anne Light

    I checked out your site, Shanna, and all I have to say is: WOW, CHILLS! Chills down my spine…down my arms and legs…chills of recognition that what you write is Big Truth. We need it. Thank you for your voice.

    Advice? My advice is this: The more you bring the Light, the more you heal and clear and release old wounds within yourself, the more the forces of darkness will show up on your doorstep in various disguises. Don’t let them fool you. Don’t let them overwhelm you. Everything and everyone is a manifestation of The One Universe, and so allow your seeming “enemies” to be your best teachers.

  • Anya Anne Light

    Tera, you are so very welcome! I am so glad to hear the blog was a catalyst for more clarity for you. Blessings xo

  • Anya Anne Light

    hi Lia,

    I can empathize with how you might be upset…You interpreted my use of the word “must” as a way of saying “should.” However, that’s not how I meant it. In this case, when I wrote “must” it was as a synonym for “needs to be.” As a way to describe cause-and-effect relationships.

    Here’s some examples of the way I was intending to mean “must”:
    The temperature must be below 32 for the snow to fall.
    The dancer must be limber in order to win the contest.
    The child must be good for Santa to bring the toys.

    I am so sorry that my meaning was lost in translation:) I can see how it could be interpreted that way. Definitely not my intention. That’s the trouble with language sometimes! 🙂

    I am all for simply listening and holding space for someone. And asking “what is it you need now” is absolutely a question I try to ask my friends and clients as much as possible. 🙂

    I hear you.

  • i’ll dare to give another perspective …
    quite simply, most people are not ready to change their lives until they hurt enough to be willing to make a change and part of our work is to let them suffer enough to get really tired of it … meaningly tired, deeply suffering.
    the story of Buddha and a monk sitting by a tree where upon comes forth a farmer in distress over his lost cow is a perfect reflection. The farmer asks the monk if he has seen the cow, the monk simply says no, and the farmer leaves still quite distressed. the monk asks Buddha if he had done well and Buddha confirms the monks answer as perfect in that now, the farmer must deal with his suffering …
    there are many times we must let people deal with their suffering … until people do, they are unlikely to even hear us, let alone do anything about it.
    it boils down to empowering people by letting them handle it … by that, they can grow

  • Anya Anne Light

    I LOVE this perspective, dear one! Thank you so much for sharing it. I resonate strongly with it. And no doubt as I write about this topic in the future (it seems to hit quite a nerve with many people), I am going to take your thoughts in account. I like the idea of empowering people through a kind of stepping back/hands off approach. As you say, just letting people grow tired of it. That is so great. We as teachers can then protect and use our energy most meaningfully when those who have reached the “sick of suffering and ready to change” stage come to us. YES! (By the way, I’ve never heard that particular Buddhist story. Thank you so much for bringing it to my awareness! It’s powerful and simple. Thank you!)