Marshall Shelley in his book Helping Those Who Don’t Want Help provides two reasons people often resist help or refuse to reach out for help.

1. They don’t know what they want out of life. Shelley’s book is meant for counseling situations, especially pastoral counseling. However, I have run into a number of individuals who are resistant to financial planning and financial counseling because they refuse to be open to suggestions on a different way. This puzzles me. Often the individual asks for help because things “aren’t going to plan,” or “we should be further along financially by now.” But as I try to lead them toward the way which will give them what they want, resistance is encountered, and sometimes the resistance is fierce enough to derail a professional-client engagement.

Over-spending is a big reason why resistance arises. People struggle to let go of things because they fear the unknown. They’re afraid that there will be this huge void if they let go of what has come to assuage their emotional needs. In this way, the resistance which comes is little different from the resistance put up by an addict. They want the euphoria or the high that comes with indulgence, but they also want something that satisfies more deeply and lasts for a lifetime. The two desires are incompatible, and letting go is hard.

Our job as influencers is to bring people to a point where they can clearly express what they want out of life, identify that they are not currently enjoying that place, and be willing to consider another way. But let’s be clear on what it is we’re battling. People are often protecting a self-destructive behavior, and they are the last to see it. Our task is to free them of the destruction and lead them toward becoming the person that deep down they want to be.

2. Even if they knew what they wanted out of life, it could never be achieved anyway. Another way of defining this point is hopelessness. These are people who have lost hope and along with it have lost the desire to try.

Let’s deal with two types of people. One is the person who has nothing and relies on government assistance. The other is a person who has tried to make ends meet without a credit card or debt but failed and is now buried under tens of thousands of dollars of debt. There are no doubt many others between these two spectrums, however, dealing with extremes will set the framework to help them too.

I asked one individual if he used a budget. His quick reply was that he was on welfare and couldn’t use a budget because he never has anything left over. Obviously, if you don’t plan to have anything left over, you won’t! And if you do plan to have something left over, you might! One pastor suggested that he deals with that situation by asking the individual to withdraw a hundred dollar bill from the bank and keep it in his wallet. It creates an atmosphere where the notion that “I’m rich” can sink in. From there, the individual can be led toward becoming a giver and a saver. Many people on government assistance don’t use or need all the assistance they receive, but it gets spent anyway. With this mindset, it is hard to break the cycle, and this mindset is often deeply ingrained.

Note here that it is not impossible to save money while on government assistance. There are special programs available for buying a home, funding an education or starting a business, and I would encourage you to contact me to inquire about more information on what might be available.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who sees no way out. They see the mountain, they may have tried to climb it in the past, and now they believe the mountain is insurmountable. From their vantage point, the mountain probably is insurmountable.

Across the road from my parents’ home is a ridge. One day I suggested to my father that I wanted to hike it. He let me know it was possible, but cautioned me that it was steeper and higher than it appeared. We settled on a tractor ride up a logging road to the top of the ridge instead. He was right. From my vantage point, I didn’t see the near vertical climb that would have been necessary, unless I had gone up the logging road, which I didn’t know about.

Often, we get to climbing the mountain but lose steam. We think we’ve made good progress, until we look back and realize we’ve barely begun the ascent. In front of us is never-ending thick forest or rocky cliff faces that make it seem impossible to finish the climb.

The job of an influencer is to evaluate other possible routes up the mountain or even assist the individual in making the climb through encouragement and coaching.

If you enjoyed this mini-series on helping the unhelpable, let me know. I would especially welcome an opportunity to discuss your tough cases of financial difficulty and give you an idea of what my approach would be.

R. Joseph Ritter Jr. CFP®
Zacchaeus Financial Counseling Inc.
866-862-2220 | |


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    Climbing the Money Tree


    R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) and founder of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling, Inc., a non-profit organization providing financial planning services to low-income households and households experiencing financial strain.

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