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Faces on Faith: Helping difficult people change

By Staff | Aug 30, 2017

Like most of us, you probably have difficult people in your life who consume your thoughts and leave you feeling frustrated and defeated. You can “lose your religion” over these people! They may be family, friends, co-workers, or even church attenders. You have tried to help these folks, but your advice has fallen on deaf ears. Worse yet, they may resent your efforts to intervene.

Difficult people are trapped in a self-centered, self-defeating cycle, which they are unwilling to address. How do we help them? Is it even possible to help them? Truthfully, it’s complicated because the answer hinges on three key players playing their parts: the difficult person, the helper, and God.

As a pastor and licensed counselor, I know there is both a biblical and a psychological perspective on this, but both sides tell me that the only person I can control is me, so here is what I can actually do for the difficult person:

  • Stop trying to “get them” to do anything. When a difficult person realizes you have an agenda to change them, they often dig in their heels.
  • Remind myself that I’m not God. It’s not my job to provide motivation for change.
  • Provide reality checks for bad behavior, i.e., “When you do ____, it causes ____ which is hurtful. Is that what you intended?”
  • Be used by God to provide consequences, i.e., “You cannot borrow my car anymore since you have never put gas in it.”
  • Stop fixing, rescuing, and controlling the person, i.e., “I will no longer bail you out, give you money, cover for you, or deny the truth.”
  • Follow God’s example: love well, be patient, and continue to believe in the person in spite of their difficulties.
  • Accept them where they are as they struggle, praise their efforts, and forgive them “70 times seven.”
  • Ask probing questions: “What do you want? What would make life better? What will it take to get there? What’s your first step? What support do you need?”

But, there is another important question: “What can I do for me?” The answer: find someone safe to talk to and pray with, and learn how to take better care of yourself regardless of what the difficult person chooses to do. God is there for you, and others are as well, if you will but ask.

Based on the book “Helping Difficult People Change,” by Russ Rainey, PhD

-Russ Rainey, Pastor for Caring Ministries, Sanibel Community Church