Last week, I was playing pickleball in an outdoor enclosure. Somehow a cat managed to work its way between a gate and the fence. Once inside, it ran as fast as it could and smashed headfirst into the fence. It then became discombobulated, turning to run as quickly as possible, ran smack into a pickleball net. The cat, again, ran towards and into the fence.
It was at this point, people tried to calm the cat down and offer assistance. Becoming scared by approaching strangers, it ran the entire length of the enclosure lickety-split and hit a fence head-on. Visibly shaken, the cat ran erratically into another pickleball net.
By now, people had opened another gate and attempted to guide it towards the door. The poor animal was so frightened that, instead of going the extra three feet to the open gate, it decided to climb the twelve-foot fence and leap onto a hill to freedom.
I don’t believe I ever have seen anything like that in person. The cat was so scared that it didn’t know which way to go, and when offered assistance, the cat seemed to become even more afraid and determined to be in charge of its fate.
The event reminded me of people I know who, much like the scaredy-cat, become so engrossed with fear that they won’t even accept help. Perhaps you know someone like that. How do we help someone who is so wrapped up in their mess that they can’t seem to think straight without scaring them into running from us and attempting to fix things on their own?
First of all, we must realize they may not be thinking clearly. We need to allow them space and time to calm down. If we charge in like the cavalry and try to fix things for them, they may balk and turn away. A simple, “Are you okay?” allows a person to pause and decide whether they are, or not, and how they want to proceed from that discovery.
If they do not want your assistance, remember, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. They must be willing to accept the help and take the steps necessary to make a change.
If you notice things are not improving for them after a few days or so, you can ask them again if they are okay. Maybe you’ll get a different answer, as they realize their situation hasn’t changed or improved.
If the person accepts your assistance, take it slow. Assist, suggest, and guide. Please do not do things for them unless they are literally unable to do something for themselves. People tend to respond better when they have ownership over the decisions being made. Remember, if you feed a person, they eat for a day; if you teach them to fish (so to speak), they can eat for a lifetime. This should be their success, not yours. Let them bask in the glory of what they did, not what you did for them.
Even with the best intentions (like the pickleball players), we can incorrectly approach a stressed person. Remember to:
- Assess the situation first
- Then ask if you can assist.
- Let the person choose to accept the help or not.
- Obviously, if it is an emergency, call 911, regardless.