Social Question

auntydeb's avatar

Is it possible, (if so, how?) to stop self-destructive behavour in another?

Asked by auntydeb (3239points) May 12th, 2011

Someone close to, and loved by, you insists on behaving in ways that either damages them directly (note: this is not related to alcoholism, nor drug abuse), say, by constantly forgetting to take safety precautions or leaving a dangerous mess; or they know certain behaviours upset you and somehow they continue with them.

An example here is offering directly to do a favour, knowing the action is of great importance, then doing a bodged job (and the job itself cannot be corrected, without starting again), putting a whole project in jeopardy. You thought they had the skills and the will to do that job properly, and trusted them.

The feeling is of being goaded into anger, of being mistrusted by return, of constantly trying to help them to get something right (co-dependency understood in this situation) and of having one’s own actions, situation and intent undermined.

Do you have experience of this kind of relationship? It is utterly frustrating, how could one deal with it?

I appreciate the generosity of Fluther-spirit here guys, so your stories and suggestions will be read and responded to, thanks.

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22 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

You just have to let it go and not count on them for anything or put yourself in a postion where they can cause you harm.
My friend like that is addicted to pain meds.I love her very much,but I have given up trying to fix her a long time ago.
Good luck :)

jrpowell's avatar

Life is easier when you stop trying to fix people. Ask Sandra Bullock.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I can’t phrase it better than @lucillelucillelucille. Insulate yourself from the harm they can cause you and don’t count on them for anything. No expectations no disappointments.

Hibernate's avatar

Indeed stop counting on them.

There are ways of fixing hem but believe me till they don’t want to save themselves they won’t change.

But if you truly are a friend for them [ as you stated it ] then you’ll accept them as they are.

Cruiser's avatar

Only they can fix themselves when they are ready.

marinelife's avatar

You cannot change the behavior of others.
You cannot change the behavior of others.
You cannot change the behavior of others.

Keep saying that to yourself until it sinks in.

People can only change if they want to (and if their condition permits them to change). Someone with untreated Adult Attention Deficit Disorder has a chemical imbalance in the brain, With the best will in the world they cannot get through a job correctly. The only thing that could change them is taking Wellbutrin or another drug for their condition.

All you can do from the outside is encourage them to seek treatment and adjust your expectations.

Seelix's avatar

I think the only thing you can do in a situation like this is express your concern and offer whatever help you can. Whether they decide to act on it is completely up to them.

Coloma's avatar

The issues you present sound like the work of a passive aggressive personality. Procrastination, sabbotage, deliberate ineffectiveness.

All you can do is set a consequence to the behavior and follow through. Otherwise it is simply a matter of whether or not you want to MANAGE anothers bullshit behaviors.

I do not ‘manage’ and refuse to be on ‘guard’ with anyone.

If you are not able to get through to the person in a reasonable and rational manner I say distance yourself in any ways that you can.

emeraldisles's avatar

People can only change if they want to and choose to. If they don’t want it for themselves it won’t happen.

auntydeb's avatar

Thanks for these answers. I like @Coloma‘s determination and would like to follow the advice to be more distant (and from several of you, forgive me for not giving every answer an individual response), however it has never seemed much of a possibility. @marinelife may have a real point, this person has recently had an assessment for Asperger’s but could not be diagnosed due to a history that included a truly awful childhood. The person is deeply likeable, attractive and has a sweet nature. LIkes it black-and-white, but comes across as quite colourful. They also claim to want to change.

Coloma's avatar


OMG! There is NOTHING worse than a true PA personality!
I simply cannot be around these types, it is a physical thing, as in, I want to wrap my hands around their throats! lol

auntydeb's avatar

@Coloma – would you help me by defining a few behaviours from your understanding of PA please? The ‘Aggressive’ end of things hardly exists, only passivity, hence the Asperger’s considerations

Coloma's avatar


The ‘aggressive’ thing is the PA’s way of being aggressive in a ‘quiet’, underhanded way.
Chronic ‘forgetting’, not ‘remembering’, seems to cooperate but quietly displays poor performance, uses the innocent ’ who me?’ routine when called out. Loves to use guilt as a weapon of control, despises any sort of authority and will passively resist compliance.
Chronically late, works slowly and inefficiently, the list goes on.

There are lots of great books out there on this issue, just google Passive Aggressive personality…knowledge is power when dealing with the screwed up ones in life. lol

auntydeb's avatar

Thanks @Coloma – some of this rings very true. I have read… too much about various personality disorders over recent years so won’t be googling particularly, nor reading. There is an option to pursue further psychological help within the locale and that’s the first route that is likely to be taken. Some paradoxical things are ‘absolutely punctual’, hates guilt, is pretty ok with authority! Although chronic forgetting is an issue…

Recent psychological input did not rule Asperger’s out, only the clarity of diagnosis at this point. The person has always agreed to help and does not blame others for their situation. The passivity – honestly – rarely feels manipulative, it really does seem like helplessness. A complete gap in understanding.

Coloma's avatar


Of course, who really knows, short of a qualified professional. Good luck with the situation. :-)

gm_pansa1's avatar

Good luck with your efforts. Coming from a highly SD person, I don’t change unless I want to. Sorry for sounding harsh.

blueiiznh's avatar

Been there! Won’t go there ever again!

They have to help themselves. They have to change. You cannot do that for them.

You have to protect yourself and your feelings. You have to not loose yourself in an oppressive relationship. You will not be able to stop from getting sucked into their vortex.

Be supportive, but do not loose yourself. Try to not become part of a codependent relationship.

auntydeb's avatar

Thanks @Coloma.

Hi @gm_pansa1 – I don’t wish to appear thick, but what is ‘SD’?

And @blueiiznh – thanks also, I understand codependency (see my Q) and am not ‘lost’, I think you intended the word ‘lose’, rather than ‘loose’? by any means. My intent is not to attempt to change another’s behaviour, it is hard to word these kind of questions. More realistically, strategies for showing them how things are, or pointing out the problems, without upset might help more.

Actually, if anyone reading this has experience with Asperger’s that too might be helpful, thanks.

The answers here have already helped with some ‘calming down’, thanks again jellies. x

Kardamom's avatar

I really don’t think you can make a person stop doing these destructive behaviors. I have a friend who is constantly late and loses things (car keys, wallet, paperwork, important phone numbers, addresses) but she has a heart of gold and I love her. After a few times of getting “burned” I realized that I have to assume that she won’t be able to do the things she says she is going to do and I never rely on her for important stuff that needs to get done on a deadline or in a particular manner (safety wise or quality wise).

It used to really bug me, but I know she doesn’t do this stuff on purpose. She’s really a good and kind-hearted friend, but she’s a little bit scatter brained and she doesn’t place her priorities in the same place that I do. She’s also a lot calmer type of person than I am, I tend to be a worrier and hand-wringer. So even when things go wrong, she doesn’t even seem to be bothered by it at all (even when they turn off her water or electricy because she forgot to pay her bill on time, or she has to pay a penalty for not doing something in a timely manner).

So it all depends upon how close you want and need to be to this person. In my case, I consider my friend to be a “best friend” and I don’t want to live without her. We have lots of things in common, she’s extremely kind and good and helpful and she has an awesome sense of humor. But there came a time, for me, when I realized that I had to take control of certain situations (without embarassing her) and just accept the fact that there are things that she simply cannot do and it really doesn’t even matter as to the “whys” of why she can’t do certain things. As long as I know she can’t/won’t, then I do them instead.

If this person is someone that you don’t particularly care for in the first place, then your best bet is to try to distance yourself from them and never put them in a position where they need to do something for you.

If the person is someone like an elderly parent or a dependent child or sibling, that has a tendency to put themselves in danger, you may have to hire someone else (besides yourself) to do those things that the person cannot do (for whatever reason).

Another person I know as an aquaintence has an adult brother who did and still does smoke a lot of pot (since he was a young teenager). Even though he’s an adult, he seems kind of like a child. Because of the pot smoking, he really never learned to do things that regular adults do. Their parents both died in a car crash several years ago. The sister literally had to set her brother up in a house (with some of the inheritance money) with a room mate that was chosen specifically to kind of act as a guardian for her brother. The brother has a menial job, but the room mate makes sure that he eats dinner and that he gets up in time to go to his job. The brother is a sweet guy, but he just doesn’t know how to be in the world of adults, but because he is an adult, he can’t be forced into doing certain things. I think he may have a little bit of brain damage because of all the pot smoking, or it may just be that he’s developmentally slow. But since he’s not technically mentally ill or retarded, the sister just makes sure that her brother is taken care of in the best way she can. But it would be way too hard on her, if her brother moved in with her. So the “hired” roomate looks after him and so far it has worked out OK.

wundayatta's avatar

You can try to “help” people, but at a certain point you realize they can’t or won’t change. All you can do at that point is to disentangle yourself from their lives, or, if you are a saint, continue to try to protect them from being hurt. I don’t know what you get out of that. Maybe a relative might take that on. But you have to give up all hope that they will ever be able to take care of themselves as long as you help them. So don’t expect any change at all if you want to help them.

Once you realize that, then your work is a gift. You expect nothing in return.

I have a number of friends who have various different kinds of limitations. I have coworkers with other limitations. I had an employee with ADD. She was fantastic at doing the detailed shit that I hate. But she couldn’t plan her way out of a paper bag. So I had her do detailed shit and I did the planning and it was great. She was constantly coming to me with suggestions out of nowhere. They weren’t very useful, but I appreciated her effort and concern.

I had friends who couldn’t meet at a restaurant on time. They were almost always half an hour late. Or they came late to the parties. We learned not to expect them at the appointed time, and we just did stuff without them until they came.

I have a friend who is always losing his wallet or having his car stolen (he probably leaves his keys in the door). We just know this will happen every once in a while, and we joke that he cannot hold onto things. He leads an arts organization and is really good a art production, but sucks at managing the place. We work around it as best we can, but we don’t expect him to ever become organized.

It is my belief that the best thing to do is to work with a person and to identify their strengths, and design the work they do so they can succeed. You don’t ask them to do things they are no good at. I don’t know what your relationship is with this person, but to the extent you can, I’d try to do that.

Do you know what they do well? You obviously know how they fuck up. But the trick is to think about the positive and focus on that. Anyway can pick holes in anything. Critics are on sale: a nickel a dozen.

People who can identify other people’s strengths are hard to find. Most people aren’t looking to build someone else up. Most people want to change someone else into what they think the other person should be.

This person is clearly somewhat dear to you. What is he or she good at? How can you fix it so they do more of what they are good at and less of what they are bad at? This will require creativity, especially at work. Work places are not usually designed well to be flexible. They think all people are the same, far too often.

So what are this person’s strengths?

BarnacleBill's avatar

The only way you can help is to encourage them to go to counseling, stay in counseling, and to keep trying. Other than that, don’t count on them for anything.

auntydeb's avatar

@Coloma and @wundayatta – thank you so much for these generous and considered answers. I will message each of you, as this flies very close and with respect, there are vulnerabilities I would rather not share quite so generally. Thanks also @BarnacleBill actually, that succinct little answer is pretty much where things are going.

There are personal dependencies at stake in the relationship, also as mentioned, much love. Still much to think about, thanks again.

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