When I was still with my ex, I wanted her to show me love in a quite unrealistic way. I’m talking about +5 “I love you” messages a day unrealistic. I also wanted her to have the same interests and hobbies as me, so I kinda forced her to participate in activities that only I found captivating. Not surprisingly, things didn’t end well; I mean, she is an ex, right?
In retrospect, I always tried to change my ex-lovers. 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 upon me like a torrent of moistened, and gluey turds.
But, to my surprise, I wasn’t the only person trying to change other people to match my ideals and lofty (usually delusional) expectations. Many others have done the same.
I remember a friend who hated that her boyfriend kept getting wasted every day of the week. He was already dead-drunk midday and still managed to drive (yes, 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 at her, and screamed so hard that his echoes could be heard all over the barren hallways of their house. In fact, every time his girlfriend begged him to change, he just pushed her further and further away until she found herself in an empty bed, cloaked in a thick, pitch-black curtain of tears and loneliness and oblivion.
Likewise, I had another friend who had severe emotional issues and insecurities that led her to find the worst kind of company you can be in, that is, a virulent mishmash of reckless drunks, drug addicts, and nihilists.
I always hoped that this friend would somehow realize how she’s harming herself by staying in such bad company. I even tried to help her get out, yet 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 hysteria my high school buddy felt running up his spine 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 deluged him into hopelessness, yet he still wanted this devil ex back. I naturally wanted to talk him out of his stupidity, but I had no success. He kept chasing after his ex for months after the breakup.
“If only they would change,” we all 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 girlfriend took better care of her eating and exercising habits. Then I would be so much more attracted to her.”
“If only my boyfriend weren’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 an ex who betrayed and dumped him. Then I would be so proud and happy for him.”
And the list goes on and on and on.
“If only” “If only” “If only”
“If only” are infamous words that fasten to most thoughts when we’re considering changing someone. The immediate next step we ordinarily take after encountering them is – surprise, surprise – to actually try to change someone. It’s also worth noting that our desire to change a person is often masked with the excuse of how we would just like to “help them reach the next level” or other similar phrases.
Now the way we go about changing someone is most frequently with “the talk.”
You know the classic: (deep exhale) “Fam, you know I love you, but watching tv for 5 hours every day is killing your mental health. Hell, it’s terrible for your eyesight, it’s making you fatter and lazier, and it’s saturating your brain with barren information. I mean, who cares who Chloe Kardashian is dating right now.
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?”
Generally, people say these things to motivate another person to change, yet they just come off as assholes most of the time.
Some rare individuals even go so far as to book private consultations with psychologists or psychotherapists for someone because they want to “help” them recognize their issues. They then wonder why the person they wanted to change feels betrayed and hates their guts.
Ultimately, here’s the uncomfortable truth when it comes to changing people. You can’t fucking change them if they don’t want to change.
No, I’m super serial. You can’t.
One could argue that we can change someone through manipulation, deceit, or mockery. And while that might be a solution for you, just think about the ethics you’re breaching by doing it. You’re deliberately violating a person’s boundaries. This deed makes you an A-grade ass-potato in virtually anyone’s book.
And here’s the kicker. Even if you succeed in changing someone through manipulation and lies, that change will never be permanent because the person who changed did not do it for themselves.
For example, you can make someone consume healthier meals, but if eating them is against their will, they will resort to having unhealthy ones again, as soon as you are out of sight. Therefore they won’t ever really change.
In any case, the more you try to change someone who doesn’t want to change, the more they will retaliate.
For instance, many of my friends, dates, and lovers confronted me on my potty mouth. Some directly told me to stop speaking profanities. Even my mother asked me countless times to stop cursing. And like most kids, my parents shunned and grounded me whenever I’ve participated in my transgression. Now, did all of these influences turn me into a soap drooling saint?
They only made me spit out more profanity. And that’s frequently the same reaction you get when you try to change anyone.
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. I can tell you that you’re not going to get far in all three of these instances, so let go of your need to change someone.
Most often, people will have significant value differences and priorities in life compared to yours, so you won’t be able to force them to change in any way. But there are three things you can do to facilitate change in them:
- You can educate them on making better decisions.
- You can inspire them to do better in life.
- You help them see that they need to change without ever trying to change them.
These three methods are all you can do, so let’s explore each in turn.
1. Inspiring someone to change
To inspire someone to do better in a specific area of their life translates to you becoming skilled in that same area. Your proficiency can act as inspiration for the person who you’re trying to influence. However, that shouldn’t be your core intention; it should be more of a sideproduct of your effort and your willingness to become better in the area of your choosing. Here are three examples of what I mean:
If you want your lover 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 your friend 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 a friend 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.
All three examples and the whole concept of inspiring someone to change can also be summed up in one sentence: Learn to lead with example.
2. Educating SOMEONE TO CHANGE
I often don’t like being a smart ass, but sometimes it’s worth educating people about the harmful consequences of their actions. Now, this doesn’t mean you shove textbooks up their ass and pray that they pull them back out and start reading. Educating people can be as simple as saying, “Hey, you know smoking could kill you because of XYZ,” or it can mean stating how you feel about a particular decision someone made or their behavior.
For example, when it comes to a partner’s lack of tidiness, you could say, “Hey, 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.”
And when it comes to your family members’ 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 deeply. I can see that. Can we please see someone to help us deal with this problem? In short, you’re educating a person about your internal experiences in regards to their behavior.
3. ‘lIFE COACHING’ SOMEONE TO CHANGE
When I was a ripe kid of 15 or 16 years, my dream was to become a life coach. I wanted to help people attain their goals and reach their dreams, whatever the fuck that means. But years later, I surprisingly betrayed this industry.
In fact, I began fostering a grave dislike for it. I even wrote a few critiques of some of its core ideas, like staying overly optimistic, chasing lofty goals and self-esteem, believing in the infamous law of attraction, etc.Nevertheless, my life coaching practices armed me with some killer techniques. One of which helped my clients recognize their problems or challenges without me directly addressing them. This same technique can aid you when you’re trying to help someone see how a change in their actions or thinking could benefit them.
It goes like this: Instead of telling the other person that they have a harmful problem that requires their attention, ask them about it, and let them notice it themselves.
Here’s how this looks like in practice:
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 lessen your lethargy, right? You can even add, “I can also join you if you want” (leading by example)
Instead of saying to your heartbroken friend, “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, sorrow, and despair? 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 the coworkers’ actions seem fair to you? Do you genuinely believe that they deserve all this credit for something you’ve spent days working on?”
Ultimately, whatever method of helping someone change you use, the fundamental principle still holds: you can’t force them to change. So let it go. Let it all go, and instead, work on cultivating a radical sense of acceptance.
In other words, learn to accept the good and the bad sides of your friends, family, and lovers. Embrace their strengths as well as their imperfections, because as every soul on this floating oceanic ball of individually constructed meanings, they are a combination of good and bad, of light and dark, order and chaos.
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