Confrontation isn’t the only answer

Depending on who you are reading this, you may be the helper or the person seeking help. Let’s look at this from the person who is helping. You decide to confront a friend or colleague about something shameful they have done. It may be about something dreadful- perhaps it’s a drink problem, perhaps it’s a fling, or your finger in the till. You may be wanting them to break down in tears and admit wholeheartedly that it’s their fault and what can they do.

The confronted person may not know how to respond. Typically, they will in one of three ways:


They freeze or become passive and do nothing. They may say nothing and look blankly


They may become angry, deny the issue, accuse the confronter, and demand an apology in return


They may storm out of the situation

For the confronter, don’t be disappointed when you don’t get the reaction you expect. From the person being helped, and you didn’t respond in the way that was expected, consider going back and apologising.

“There is no guarantee of a positive reaction to disclosure. On one hand, your friend could feel vulnerable, ashamed, or embarrassed at what might be a tightly guarded secret being exposed. Or they may react by denying the truth or blaming the injuries on accidents. Conversely it could be a great relief. If your friend denies or bends the truth, don’t take it personally. The shock of having one’s projective coat of armour pierced often leads to a defensive reaction or a need to shield oneself more strongly from the possibility of further pain.”  (Jan Sutton)

Example: With anorexics, effective treatment focuses on helping the individual take responsibility for their own eating habits, and so depends on the willingness of the person to access help. That is why forcing the issues and strong-arming a person into treatment, is unlikely to work.

If you want to help someone, you won’t be able to create the motivation to change by making them wrong, or pointing out that they’re inconsistent, but rather by asking them questions that cause them to realise for themselves their inconsistencies. This is much more powerful a lever than attacking someone. If you try to exert only external pressure, they’ll push against it, but internal pressure is next to impossible to resist.

“Professionals often apply ‘labels’ to explain self-harming behaviour, yet rarely address the underlying causes. In other words, they treat the symptoms but overlook the causes.” – (2001, Penumbra ‘No Harm in Listening’) (Sutton, 2005)

“The alcoholic striving for sobriety, the road to recovery is rarely smooth, and slips and relapses often happen on the way. Again, like the recovery from alcohol addiction, quitting rarely works if the individual is coerced into giving up self-injury by others. Hospital treatment often doesn’t address the coping mechanism. It limits access to dangerous objects, sets rules and boundaries but doesn’t make the patient feel supported.

The choice to stop must be a personal decision,
and alternative coping strategies must be in place.

We Cannot Change Others