When You Love Someone Who Is Self-Destructive and Continually Refuses Help

leaf, alone, let go


People delve into self-destructive behaviors sometimes, it’s part of being human.

I’m in hot mess mode this week.

It was amateur night last night, don’t even ask me what I was thinking.

(and the ever-popular)

Don’t judge me.

We all hit rough patches and go through periods where we’re just not ourselves.

We feel kind of ‘off,’ make bad choices, make things more difficult on ourselves than they need to be–

it happens.  We bounce back.

But what happens when people don’t bounce back?  How far down the rabbit hole can you chase someone before getting lost inside yourself?  

For anyone who has ever loved someone who  is addicted to something destructive (another person, drugs, food, alcohol, chaos) and continually refuses help, at some point you either  have to–as the zen saying goes– let go or be dragged.

Letting go can feel like complete treachery, but allowing someone to encounter the natural consequences of their destructive choices can be one of the  most loving gestures of all.  If you’re repeatedly preventing the natural, negative consequences from arising,  you’re not only not helping, but you’re actually making it easier for that person to engage in their destructive behaviors (i.e. enabling).

The moment you decide it’s time to let go isn’t usually a moment at all, it’s a process.

The process of letting go looks like you stepping away from martyrdom and stepping towards consistent choices to take good care of yourself and attend wholeheartedly to your own life.  In doing this, you position yourself so that if/when the person you care for is ready to accept help and change, you will be there– fully present, fully able, fully ready to help.

Below is an excerpt about what it means and doesn’t mean to let go.  



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To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring,

it means I can’t do it for someone else.

To let go is not to cut myself off,

It’s the realization that I can’t control another.

To let go is to admit powerlessness,

which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To let go is not to care for,

but to care about.

To let go is not to fix,

but to be supportive.

To let go is not to judge,

but to allow another to be a human being.

To let go is not to be in the middle, arranging all the outcomes,

but to allow others to affect their own future.

To let go is not to deny,

but to accept.

To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,

but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

To let go is not to regret the past,

but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is to fear less and love more.


If you are struggling with how to deal with implementing boundaries for a self-destructive person, please check out my resources page or connect with me directly.  

7 Responses to “When You Love Someone Who Is Self-Destructive and Continually Refuses Help”

  1. Sarah Mechelle

    Thank you so much I loved this… I am studying to be a psychotherapist also. thank you I needed this very much.

  2. I really needed this as I’m currently dealing with a close friend (of 30 yrs) who is spiraling out of control in self destruction. It’s killing me. I can’t turn my back, but I’m trying to step back and be here for her without trying to save her which I know I can’t. This article was great, and so helpful, thank you so much.

  3. Katherine Schafler

    That’s so incredibly tough Karen, I do wish you and your friend all the very best — truly.

  4. This was a good read. I am currently in a relationship with a great woman. We have been together on and off for a little over 2 years. She has a self-destructive behavior and there was very little I could do about it. She spiraled out of control and last November, hit absolute bottom. I retrieved as could not do anymore. We were not together for about a month and a half and in that time she got considerably worse. We both missed each other and eventually got back together, after she admitted to have been wrong about lots of things, but unfortunately, the aftermath is there. DUI’s, court battles with the fathers of both her kids, financial irresponsibility, unpaid bills and lots of other things. The results of these things sometimes are not immediate, but having been back together for almost a year, a lot of those things have surfaced. She is depressed and does not know how to cope with things. She has started to blame me for all these things and I don’t know how to react. It gets very difficult. I have tried to help her as much as I could but don’t have a magic wand to make all of these things go away. It is very frustrating, sad and depressing to me as well.

  5. Thank you for that poem, it is so what I need right now. I’ve spent the last 4 years of my life with a person who is an alcoholic and has self destructive behaviour. We lived together for 2 years and during that time he managed to clean up his life and stay sober. Six months ago he decided he no longer wanted the relationship even though it brought so much positivity to his life. It all went downhill from there. I feel broken as I put so much effort into this person that I feel mentally drained and betrayed. He is back to self destructive behaviours and drinking. While on a conscious and rational level, I know not being part of his life is best in the long run for me, on an emotional level it is so difficult to let go. Recovery for me has been painfully slow. It is the saddest thing in the world to watch a person destroy themselves because of fear and low self esteem.


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