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Something’s not right

Casual Contributor

Step back or intervene?

When things don't seem right, I can't be certain every time I'm doing the right thing. When is it best to step back and let things take their own course? Stepping in too soon can escalate a situation that might resolve itself, it's so often hard to tell!


Re: Step back or intervene?

I guess it depends on what you're dealing with.


I've had a situation going on for many years where my partner has had a lot of anxiety and worry.


For years I tried to intervene or help by dealing with whatever the issue of the day or time might have been. Over a longer period I started to suspect that my partner's worry was out of proportion to the challenges she was facing, moving from vehicle to vehicle, as it were, to provide a reason or a focus to worry. But by that time I had become so used to her anxious behaviour that I think I had in some sense become an enabler of that anxiety by trying to work around it rather than confront it.


Further years down the track and my partner is in therapy, seeing some great results, and now accepting a diagnosis of general anxiety disorder. It seems to align with her sleeplessness and constant worry. I'm not entirely sure how the diagnosis helps her beyond her therapy, but it kind of helps me oddly enough. It helps me feel like I don't have to take it all on.


So for me the question was not so much when to intervene by itself, but when and how. The first thing in so many respects was trying to get a handle on what we were dealing with. I would wish for others in a situation like ours that a person could somehow know what was "normal" and what not in terms of worry. Seems a big ask?

Re: Step back or intervene?

Knowing the boundaries between stepping back and intervening are so hard aren't they Graham? I'm still learning...from my son's point of view and mine. Recently my 23 year old son has started letting me know when he would rather I would not intervene (aka interfering from mum!). But for the last few years I have had to gauge the boundaries on my own. Currently my son is not doing so well, and I am once again losing sleep over whether to intervene, but as the years go on I take stock of past experiences and the learning tools I have gained much more and just hope that I'm making a more informed decision each time. I think that as a carer I have been 'guilty' of taking charge too often and I'm now trying desperately hard to allow my son to make more of the decisions he needs to, and I do welcome the fact that he is beginning to want to do this.

Re: Step back or intervene?

Thanks Swift for sharing experiences and thoughtful ideas.


A confounding factor for me has been dealing with my own issues, which at times have been overwhelming, so it's possible for a 'pot calling the kettle black' situation to arise.

Re: Step back or intervene?

As Swift said, it can be hard to tell! I tend to base my decision to intervene on the other persons personal safety levels...if they're dissociated, engaging in self injury, thinking about suicide, crying constantly or actively in a flashback I step in and calm them down and then call whichever doctor is appropriate.

Apart from that, I think the right step is to just make sure the person knows I am there for them, if they ever need to talk to please feel safe to come to me, make offers to provide a particular type of support (assisting with meals or remembering when it's time to take meds for example). Just basically make sure they know there is at least one person they can reach out to.

Re: Step back or intervene?

It can be incredibly hard. At some point the person I'm dealing with has to take responsibility for themselves, I can't be there always and forever so I want to know that what I'm doing now is putting that person in the best place they can be to handle things without me. There's letting go, but being responsible knowing that things can go (and have gone) horribly wrong at times, being torn between extremes and needing validation that doing something (or sometimes nothing!) is right and OK.

Re: Step back or intervene?

Wow, this is such a hard one to answer. Even after caring for several years, its still hard to know! We tend to be guided by how well, or unwell, our daughter is. When she is unwell, we need to intervene more just to help her through her day.

But, we also need to let her learn things through experience so that she learns to think for herself, and gain confidence! It is hard to stand back and watch things go wrong for any loved one, but with a mental illness, its so much harder.

Something we do find useful is to discuss things with her when she is well so that when she does become unwell, we all have a "plan" and some agreement as to when and how we intervene.

One thing I can say for sure, its a tough one and I've got it wrong plenty of times!

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