Should You Help People Who Won’t Help Themselves?

When I was young, I was very, very close to a particular relative of mine. He was about ten years older than I was, yet he was always there for me in a very supporting way, almost exactly in the way you would hope a loving and caring older brother would be.

I have a very clear memory of when I was about seven and he was about seventeen. He was involved in all the typical things you would expect a high school senior to be involved with: work after school, hanging out with his friends, driving around in his old car, and dating girls. Yet I remember him clearly spending an afternoon with me in which we actually sat together in a sandbox making elaborate paths for my Matchbox cars to follow, and I also remember him showing me very specifically how to throw a baseball, including how to snap my wrist to make it go fast.

Over a period of years, though, he changed into a very different person. It was a mix of things, mostly attributable to drugs and a lack of self-confidence, but it’s resulted in a person who has very little initiative to do anything at all with his life, two children who receive only the most minimal of care and encouragement, and a gigantic chip on his shoulder.

I see him quite regularly at family events and talk to him about how things are going. He usually seems quite down about the state of things in his life, but even the most basic suggestions about how to improve things are met with extensive explanations about either how he can’t do it or else something else is holding him back from doing it.

I deeply wish to help him, but I am at a loss as to where to start. I’ve learned in the past that loaning money to family or friends is usually a mistake, and I would likely say “no” if he ever directly asked me for money (mostly because that’s a door that I don’t want to open).

I would somewhat prefer to simply give him money instead of lending it to him, but I know quite well that if I just handed him some cash with an admonition to use it well, two things would happen: first, he’d resent the gift and second, he’d spend the cash on drugs or something else entirely wasteful instead of using it for a foundation for life. Thus, I won’t be giving him any money to help any time soon.

What I would most like to give him is advice on his life, but he’s simply not interested in receiving it, especially from me. He simply doesn’t want to hear a word of it.

The question that really troubles me is whether I should just give up on the situation as a lost cause or not. His situation has really troubled me for a long time, because I know that deep down inside of him, there are a lot of good attributes, but they’re buried behind a wall of shame and self-destructive behavior.

My current belief is that I should wait until he hits bottom and finally finds some initiative to turn things around, then give him a helping hand so that he can recover from his state more quickly. On some level, it feels very cold to me, almost as though I’m sitting around watching an inevitable train wreck, but I’ve finally reached a point where I’m beginning to truly believe that you cannot help those who won’t help themselves.

The best thing I can do is keep talking to him, offering him very simple encouragement to do the right thing, and just waiting until he’s ready to start making the right steps himself, at which point I’ll be very happy to offer him a helping hand.