• Nicole Arzt

What To Do When You Love Someone With Behavioral Health Problems

Do you find yourself feeling angry, confused, or downright defeated by someone in your life? Do you feel like you’re always the one giving while receiving nothing in return? Are you all but ready to give up entirely?


All relationships can be challenging, but when you love someone with behavioral health issues, small mishaps can quickly evolve into interpersonal tornadoes. You don’t know how to navigate their tumultuous emotions, and you often feel like you’re stepping on delicate eggshells. One day might make you optimistic, but it just takes the next incident for all the frustration to crash back into your life.


Can these relationships be salvaged? Better yet, are they worth salvaging?


Understanding Behavioral Health Issues


Most “bad behavior” stems from either diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health problems. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or another psychiatric condition, unfavorable symptoms can include:

  • Withdrawal and isolation

  • Anger, irritability, and aggression

  • Irrational worry and paranoia

  • Self-harm (cutting, burning, suicidal thoughts)

  • Compulsive issues (substance use, eating disorders, sex/porn compulsions)

  • Overly weak or overly rigid boundaries

  • Psychotic behavior (hallucinations, delusions, bizarre speech patterns)

  • Hygiene and grooming issues

  • Neglecting essential responsibilities (childcare, chores, work duties)

  • Impulsive and erratic behaviors

  • Legal issues

Sometimes, the individual is aware of how their mental health is affecting both themselves and others. This insight is undoubtedly helpful; insight is the first step towards making a proactive choice towards change. However, it should be noted that even small changes can feel extraordinarily difficult- especially if the individual lacks resources, motivation, or even a healthy concept of self-esteem.


Moreover, not everyone has awareness about their mental health. When unwanted behavior is “normal” or even enabled by others, it’s challenging to discern whether there’s an actual problem. Loved ones may be suffering in silence, while the individual lives oblivious to the climate around them.

Helping Someone Who Is Hurting


You may not know how to intervene with your loved one. Know that your confusion and fear are both reasonable reactions. After all, you don’t want to hurt someone, and you certainly don’t want to make things worse!


Starting With Objectivity

When you first consider discussing your concerns, it’s crucial to aim to remain objective and unbiased. That means avoiding blame or speculation. Instead, report the facts.

  • “I noticed that you missed work yesterday and today.”

  • “I heard you yelling at our daughter in her room last night.”

  • “I know you haven’t taken medication in a week.”

The goal is to remain calm and poised. Save your discussion for a neutral time (not in the middle of an argument or when you’re feeling resentful).


Identifying Your Feelings and Boundaries

As mentioned, your loved one may not be truly aware of how their actions impact you. By (gently) letting them know, you may be able to facilitate this much-needed insight.


When sharing your feelings, it’s important that you avoid critical or attacking language. I-statements can work well for this dialogue, as they remove blame and may reduce the chance for an overly defensive reaction. I-statements typically follow a format of, I feel ____ when you _____.


You also must be willing to identify and express your boundaries with this person. There’s no doubt that boundaries can be difficult. However, they are essential for preserving your self-care; you have the right to expect inherent respect in your relationships!


Boundaries may vary depending on your unique circumstances, but common boundaries may include:

  • Refusing to provide more money or financial bailouts

  • Forbidding specific language or topics in your home

  • Refusing to allow certain people or items in your home

  • Creating specific limits for spending time or resources on that person

If the other person is completely unwilling to consider your needs, you will likely need to reevaluate the context of your relationship. In extreme cases, boundary work may include taking a “no-contact” approach.


Promoting Professional Support


You cannot be a doctor, coach, or therapist for your loved one. Your job isn’t to “fix” the other person. The more you try to solve the problem, the more likely you are to be left with intense feelings of resentment and helplessness.


It’s much better to focus your efforts on encouraging mental health treatment. This may mean helping your loved one locate a therapist or psychiatrist. It may include driving them to a support group meeting or helping them fill a medication prescription.


Remember: you can’t do the work for them, but you can show them what work is available. Being able to provide financial, emotional, or physical assistance during this time may be the most valuable gift you offer.


Taking Care Of Yourself


It’s easy to lose ourselves in our efforts to rescue other people. But we are better partners, friends, and parents when we focus on our self-care and well-being. The healthier you are emotionally, the more resilient and productive you will be in helping others.


Regardless of your loved one’s circumstances, carve time for yourself. Exercise regularly. Meditate or pray. Spend time with other family and friends. Build laughter into your day.


Final Thoughts


Behavioral health issues can be emotionally taxing for everyone involved. As a loved one, you are not responsible for changing someone’s personality. However, you can be a significant ally in their road to recovery.


At The Resurface Group, we specialize in all types of behavioral health issues. No matter the context, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic program.

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