When I was still with my ex, I wanted her to love me very unrealistically. I’m talking +5 “I love you” messages a day unrealistic. I also wanted her to develop the same interests as me, so I forced her to participate in activities that I only found captivating. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t end well between us.
I’ve always tried to change my exes. Sometimes slowly and politely, and other times hurriedly and carelessly. In both cases, my approach was steeped in desperation and neediness. No shit, rejections quickly came hurtling down on me like a torrent of moistened and gluey turds.
However, I wasn’t the only person trying to change other people. In retrospect, I can see that many other have attempted the same sin.
A friend of mine hated that her boyfriend kept getting wasted every day of the week. He was already dead drunk midday and still managed to drive to parties at night. My friend kept telling his boyfriend how dangerous his actions were, but instead of quitting his toxic lifestyle, he only shed tears, threw some bottles, and screamed so loud his echoes can still be heard in the hallways of his house. Every time my friend begged him to change, he just pushed her further away from him until she found herself in an empty bed, cloaked in a thick, pitch-black curtain of tears and loneliness and oblivion.
Another friend of mine found herself in the worst kind of company — a mishmash of reckless drunks, drug addicts, and borderline nihilists. I always hoped that this friend would somehow realize how her toxic company is harming her mental and physical health. I even tried to help her get out, but she didn’t want to. These deranged, damaged people were like family to her, even if she was far from family to them.
The last notable example I can recall is my high school classmate’s hysteria the day after his first long-term girlfriend cheated on him, then dumped him. Like every infidelity-related breakup, it tore his self-esteem in half and flung him into hopelessness. Yet he still wanted this ex back. I obviously wanted to talk him out of his stupidity but had no success. He kept chasing after his ex for months after the breakup, each day making himself more miserable.
The “If Only” Conundrum
If only they would change, we say.
If only my ex wanted me back and worked on reaching my delusional expectations. Then we could have a great relationship. If only my boyfriend wasn’t a drunk party hound. Then I would finally stop worrying about him, and we could have a pleasant time together. If only my friend wouldn’t hang out with uninspiring toxic wrecks. Then I could finally feel at peace. If only my high school bud realized his worth and stop chasing after his ex. Then I would be so proud and happy for him.
If only. If only. If only
“If only” are infamous words that append thoughts when you’re about to change someone. Whether we disguise the deed as “I’d like to help them reach the next level” or “I’m doing this for their own good,” the core is always the same: you’re trying to change someone.
The most frequent way people do this is by having the “the talk.”
Fam, you know I love you, but watching TV for 5 hours every day is killing your mental health. It’s also terrible for your eyesight, it’s making you fatter and lazier, and it’s saturating your brain with shallow and fruitless information. I mean, who cares who Chloe Kardashian is dating!
Along with “the talk,” many people also resort to criticizing the other person with jabs like, “I don’t like how you always watch TV, it’s so unproductive” or “Come on, quit watching TV, don’t you have anything better to do?”
While people do say these things to motivate another person to change, they usually just overstep their boundaries and come off as insults. Some people even go so far as to manipulate those they want to change. But here’s the catch with manipulation: even if you succeed in changing someone through it, that change will never be permanent because the person who changed didn’t do it for themselves.
In any case, the more you try to change someone who doesn’t want to change, the more they will retaliate.
Try removing the drinks from your rave-obsessed alcoholic buddy. Try swapping your friends’ favorite “vegan” meals with a meat-based variant. Try taking your date to a Karate class each day when you know they hate all forms of fighting. You’re not going to get far in all three of these instances, so let go of the need to change people. The only thing you can really do to facilitate change is educate, inspire or challenge them.
Inspiring Someone To Change
To inspire someone to do better in a specific area of their life translates to becoming skilled in that area yourself. Your proficiency may act as inspiration for the person you’re trying to influence. However, that shouldn’t be your core intention; inspiring someone to change should be a side product of your effort and willingness to become better in the area of your choosing.
If you want your partner to start cleaning the dishes after their meals. Instead of criticizing them or nagging about it, grab the dishes yourself, begin scrubbing the fuckers, and ask them to join you. If you want them to get in shape, get in shape first, then let them gaze upon your gains and chiseled abs or tight ass and hope that it motivates them to start exercising. If you want them to do better at their job, get better and more serious about your career, and let your exceptional results or hard work be a potential motivator for your friend.
The whole concept of inspiring someone to change can be summed up in one sentence: Lead with example.
Educating Someone To Change
I don’t like being a smart ass, but sometimes it’s worth educating people about the consequences of their actions. This doesn’t mean you shove textbooks up their ass and pray that they pull them out and start reading. It means saying things like, “Hey, you know smoking could kill you because of XYZ,” or it means stating how you feel about a particular decision someone made.
For example, when it comes to a partner’s lack of tidiness, you could say, “You know I love you, but my back hurts from picking up your clothes from the floor this morning. Can you be so kind as to pick them up next time? I feel bad about them laying around the house.” Or when it comes to your partner’s emotional issues, you could say, “You know I love you, but your neurotic behavior makes me feel hurt and tense, and they are hurting you. I can see that. Can we please see someone to help us deal with this problem?”
In all cases, you’re educating a person about your internal experiences in regards to their behavior.
Challenging Someone To Change
Instead of telling someone that they have a harmful problem that requires their attention, ask them about it and let them notice it themselves.
Instead of saying, “Come on, you have to get out more and get active to make yourself feel better,” you could say, “Why don’t you take a walk around town to loosen up? Maybe that will help you feel less lethargic? You can even add, “I can also join you if you want.” (leading by example)
Instead of saying, “Stop feeling so depressed because your girlfriend/boyfriend of 3 months left you, jeez! You’re only making your life worse.” you could say, “Is your ex really worth all of your suffering? Is your fussing going to bring them back, or are you just keeping yourself stuck?”
Instead of saying, “Grow a damn spine and tell your boss that your coworker is taking all the credit for the projects you’ve singlehandedly done,” you could say, “Don’t you think your boss deserves to know that you’re the one to thank for all those projects?” Do your coworkers’ actions seem fair to you? Do you genuinely believe that they deserve all this credit for something you’ve spent days/weeks/months working on?”
Whatever method of facilitating change in someone you use, the fundamental truth still stands: you can’t force someone to change. Instead, try to accept the person fully — the good and the bad, light and the dark, order and the chaos. Or end the relationship and let them go. There’s no shame in that.
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