Uncovering loving ways for doing an intervention
In my years of helping people develop their ability to thrive with bipolar disorder, I have heard horror stories about interventions that were done on them. As a therapist, I help teach people loving ways for doing interventions.
Out of love and desperation, people often do some very hurtful things to get someone to get help.
INTERVENTIONS GONE WRONG: Words that hurt someone you love when trying to get them help.
“Something is wrong with you.”
“You scare me.”
“I am ashamed of you.”
“You embarrass me.”
“You are crazy.”
“You are bad.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You are bipolar.”
It does not matter what words follow after these sentences. The damage has already been done.
It is highly unlikely that a person will want to seek help, when the person trying to help them is hurting them.
Loving ways to do an intervention:
- Use “I” Statements.
- Focus on specific behaviors that you are concerned about.
- Asking your loved one to receive help.
“I am concerned that…”
“It hurts me when…”
“I get scared when…”
“When this (behavior) happens, I feel…”
“I don’t know what to do when…”
These types of “I” statements are effective because:
- They do not blame or shame.
- They do not judge a person.
- They do not label a person.
- The person sharing these statements is expressing how something affects them…they are owning it.
Focusing on specific behaviors: (that are not normal for the person)
“When you don’t sleep at night, I fear that…”
“You’ve been speaking so fast lately that I can’t understand you.”
“The way you drove today, really scared me. I felt we were going to get into a bad car accident.”
“When you purchased _________ on a whim, I didn’t feel we could afford it and I don’t know what to do about that.”
“Your emotions have been so powerful lately. It scares me and I don’t know how to respond.”
“You haven’t stopped working on ___________ (goal) in four days. You haven’t eaten, showered, changed clothes, slept or left the house. This is not how you normally are. I am concerned.”
What makes it effective:
- You are separating the person from the problem = not shaming, blaming and judging your loved one.
- You are expressing your response to their behavior without labeling or diagnosing the behavior.
- Your concern is NOT that there is something wrong with your loved one, but that their behavior is significantly different from how they usually are.
- You bring awareness to the behavior.
Asking your loved one to receive help
The goal here is to:
- Not make yourself an expert or “know-it-all”. You do not want your loved one to have to defend their behavior. Therefore, you acknowledge that you don’t know what it’s like to experience what they are experiencing. (Unless you too are living with bipolar disorder…then it is different.)
- Acknowledge that you believe that their behavior could be beyond their control; therefore, it is worthy of receiving help and not a reflection of who they are.
- Ask them if they are willing to receive help. If their behaviors do not put them at harm to themselves and others, it is best to willingly choose to receive help.
“I don’t know what it is like for you to not be able to sleep and to have such powerful emotions (or whatever behaviors you are noticing), but it appears that what is happening may be beyond your control. Are you willing to receive help?”
When to have a professional intervention
If you are not able to communicate with your loved one in a structured and constructive way, it may be a good option to have a therapist or specialist participate in the intervention to structure and guide the communication process.
However the role of the interventionist is not to diagnose your loved one, their role is simply to contain and structure the communication so that your loved one can have an opportunity to choose to receive help.
Hi, my name is Derrick, I am 37 years old and I am scared most of the time of my wife. I was reading the examples of the way we should approach our loved one and I feel I’ve done that already. I struggle because I don’t want to loose my family but the verbal abuse is something that’s getting me sick. I’ve tried to talk to her in a way that she didn’t feel threatened, even to the point of blaming my self for stuff I know I had no control over. I began to read articles because my neighbors sat down and talked to me about them feeling there’s a lot of anger in my wife. I don’t know what to do next. My wife love our kids so much and they love her so much too. It makes me so depressed that sometimes I want to shut down. Is there something else I can do?
I can and do empathize with your situation. I have struggled with trying to find a way to help my partner for many years. I too have read many articles on various conditions that may be the cause of the rage and anger that erupts into abuse. What I have found most valuable was to realize the anger and abuse directed at me is (almost always) about something else happening to my partner. That realization and accepting I have no control over the cause and the highly charged emotional state has made a tremendous difference. I sought help (for myself) and have been seeing a therapist and began attending a support group, I wrongly believed the problem was only my partners and I was dealing with an irrational person. Through therapy I have learned to recognize when my partner is “cycling” into a manic or depressive mood and (not always) but often have been able to temper the severity by handling the situation with love, expressing sympathy and empathy for what he is going through. I do tell him I can’t feel what he is feeling but I do recognize how much pain he is in and I only want to help him through the painful period. It does work and the better I have become at recognizing the onset of a mania or depression and act with kindness and love the shorter the episode lasts. We have been unable to find a permanent solution, but learning to cope and support each other has made a tremendous difference in our lives.