To intervene or not to intervene

In my latest vlog, I divulged that I believe connectedness is why we are here. When I am suffering, however, I can tend to disconnect when I need connectedness the most.

Help Point by Mark Hillary from Flickr
Help Point by Mark Hillary from Flickr

In years past I have let readers in on how difficult this coming season is for me. My husband will be gone from sun up to midnight, often longer. We may see each other in passing for 10-15 minutes to exchange pertinent information, or we may go days without seeing each other. This particular season is already proving to be challenging; the girls and I have already come down with our first colds. What makes this year particularly tough is the impending one year anniversary of my sister-in-laws passing, as I recall the difficulties of last year, trying desperately in vain to save her.

All of this has made me think about how connectedness actually is supposed to manifest when our fellow human beings suffer. What do you do when you know somebody’s having a rough time and you have the ability to help them but they didn’t ask you for help? Do you intervene?

Do you let them figure it out by themselves?

Clearly if they wanted your help they would’ve asked for it right?

We all know that there have been times that we have needed someone’s help, yet we did not ask for it. We might’ve known that, while this person could help, they were clearly in the middle of dealing with their own issues. Maybe it was just too personal of a problem to divulge. Probably for most of us, we feared that we might change someone’s mind about us by sharing that we have this problem. So, people, like you and I, do not always reach out for help, even when they (we) know they (we) need it and want it.

On the other hand, there have been times when I have regretted sharing my problems, mostly because of all of the unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice is one thing, but how many people give you advice without knowing the whole situation? And are they actually experts? Have they done any better for themselves?

In light of this, if you are a doctor and someone you love has not been taking care of themselves and have been putting themselves in serious risk, do you advise them?

If you are a mechanic and you know that someone Has been ripped off by their regular mechanic, do you speak up?

If you are a drug counselor and  you recognize signs of drug use in your friend’s child, do you tell them? What about if you are a law enforcement officer?

If you are the expert, are you the right expert to help them or is it better to refer them to someone who doesn’t have as high a stake in their success coming out of this problem?

What if you are not the expert, but you know a really great expert? Does that make it easier to intervene?  And how do you go about confronting someone you love about a problem that you can clearly see, but they have not acknowledged to you yet? Do you try to engage other people in the confrontation? You risk that your loved one will feel judged and perhaps ambushed or betrayed.


These are touchy subjects, right?

I have grappled with these decisions so many times throughout my life. I have different decisions in different situations and have regretted almost all of them, so I do not claim to have the right answer here. I would like to share an approach that I have found to work recently, and one I wish I had tried in the past when other approaches backfired or left me with regrets, as in the case of my sister-in-law.

DISCLAIMER: this is not backfire-proof AND I would like to know how you have handled it with your loved one, good or bad, or how it was handled with you in a way that was effective and appreciated.


  1. Schedule one-on-one, face-to-face time.

– This is NOT always easy or possible, and sometimes a problem is urgent and cannot wait until these conditions are possible.

  1. Open up the conversation by leveling the playing field.

– Divulge something personal about yourself, not to compete with them and their issue, but that would be hard to admit and for which it was difficult to accept help.

  1. Come from a place of compassion, not judgement.

– It can be very hard to check yourself here; you may not be able to tell the difference, but they will!

  1. Describe what you want for this person, using all of the senses.

– Tell them why they deserve it and why it is possible.

  1. Point out some facts (not opinions) about their situation that indicate that the problem does indeed exist.

– Try not to involve other people; let them speak for themselves.

  1. Express the desire to help, without attachment to what that looks like.

– Find out what they have tried already, and offer ideas.

  1. Let them know that you are going to check back in, and how and when.

– If this backfires, you can expect avoidance. It may be necessary to consider what you will do if they avoid you and let them know what that is.


Now your turn. What has worked for you?

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