If You’ve Ever Tried To Change Someone…

You know that it’s exhausting. Often times, your efforts, as patient and well intentioned as the might be…don’t even help. Sometimes they just make it worse. This is excruciatingly painful for you, as the desire to “change someone” often stems from the very noblest parts of the human soul…the desire to ease suffering, to provide joy, to share goodness, to protect…but…


….MAN does it fail to come off that way!!


You have, I will bet, had that feeling before at some point in your life…the little feeling that someone else doesn’t like this or that about you. Their subtle attempts to help you change wound your heart just a little bit more every time. Bit by bit, you get more defensive. Eventually, you become so sensitive to these little suggestions that you react very, very strongly whenever ANYONE says ANYTHING that sounds like they are critical or disapproving of what you do, don’t do, or who you are. Pride, of course, never helped anyone, but we are talking from the perspective of the person trying to help someone change here, not the person doing the changing, so we will leave that be. Suffice it to say, the way most people go about trying to “help” you be better usually…well, usually just hurt.


We’ve all tried to change before, and we’ve all failed a lot. We make promises and break them, we set big, beautiful goals for ourselves that eventually dwindle down to “eh, why even.” Making lasting change is VERY HARD. But do you know what? The idea that you can’t change is THE BIGGEST LIE ANYONE HAS EVER TOLD YOU. And if you are a religious person like me, you would agree that such thoughts go against the very nature of mankind and the whole reason we are even on this little, frantic earth to begin with. That we can never change is Satan’s greatest lie.


People change all the time!!! They do! They really do!


The question is, then, how can we help people change? How can we make it easier on them?


Our natural instinct is often to be very blunt and point out what’s going on and what they need to do. The solutions to that person’s problems looks SO SIMPLE to you on the outside. If they would just do this differently, or try, or care, or just remember that! But getting someone else to change, we have always been told, is impossible. They tell us that they only way someone is going to change is after they have decided that they want to.


This is true.


We cannot force change more than we can force a plant to grow faster. As Oliver says, you can’t shout at the apple tree. And for any good, lasting change to happen, it does have to come from internal motivation.


The trick, then, is figuring out how we can help people change their desires. I would argue that people are good by nature, that they know VERY well their faults and shortcomings without anyone having to tell them, thank you very much. They are painfully aware of the reasons they feel down, broken, or less-than. We don’t need to mention that stuff.


The only thing we can do, and need to do, is help them change the way they see themselves. 


Key to this process is honestly and truly changing the way WE see them, and in turn, changing the way we treat them. Telling a child they are lazy, while insisting they become more productive or successful, all the while imposing your awful, biting, bitter opinion on them is like telling a drowning person just to swim up to the surface already, and then locking a ball and chain around their ankle.


Don’t let your framing of the person’s history and poor choices build a box around their current situation from which they can never escape. Break down all walls, all judgement, and set your opinion of them free. People have an uncanny ability to perceive others’ opinions about them. Even if you don’t say anything…they will know. They already know.


So, call a child lazy all his life, and he will believe he is lazy, and he will very likely be that way for as long as that is how he sees himself.


Call a child curious and bright, and suddenly he has the space to be that way.


If you want to change someone, treat them as though they already have.  Make it as clear as day that they already ARE the person you want them to be and and already POSSESS already those attributes or tenancies you so desperately wish they would adopt. We cannot squash their potential with the limitations of our own, inaccurate, unkind, incomplete opinions. We must give them the space to build themselves back up again. People are cautious. Once bitten, twice shy, and hasn’t life bitten us all more than once?


The truth is, we already are the way others hope we will become. That glorious, good way. Our very truest selves are already kind, generous, patient, diligent, and loving.  Life can beat that out of people someones, and if they don’t believe it anymore, than it’s our job to remind them. Who are we to keep them trapped down in the bottom pit of you-can’t-ever-change?  That was never our call to make, anyway. And I know, we don’t mean to do harm. Ironically, TELLING someone to change effectively does just that. It makes them feel like they are broken, that they have failed, it makes them weary and drains their conviction. Instead, we must set them free.


So in thinking of the people I have wanted to change over the years, even for the best of reasons, I am reflecting this week on what my role in those situations were. Did I give them space to climb, fresh air to breathe? Did I help them see themselves as the people they wanted to be? Or did the way I treat them do more harm than good?


Of course, allowing this freedom to change to others in our lives must be predicated on the freedom to allow ourselves to change, too.


For when you are down, I will remind you of your glories, and when I fall too, perhaps you can help me rediscover mine. That’s the silent understanding we agreed to and the hope we cling to.

Luckily, we don’t ever have to go it alone. And with this understanding, bit by bit, we can all change back into the people
we already were to begin with.

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  • I agree that it is hard to change and even harder to “get” someone else to change and as much as I agree that we should look for and point out the good in people, there are times when negative behavior has to be addressed by a parent or spouse. Coming from the “I” feel blah blah when I am “criticized in front of other people”, vs. You make me feel bad when you blah, blah, blah is more effective. I have also found that when we are both on our knees after prayer is a good time to address an issue lovingly. When both are feeling the spirit, it is less likely to become a major disagreement. Words definitely do mean things and we need to be careful how we use them. BTW, when I leave a comment like this, does it become public or are you the only person who sees it? I love you, beautiful young woman! You are amazing.

    • Absolutely! With closer relationships, like parents/kids or between spouses, the whole change thing is much easier because communication is easier. With relationships that are further away, like extended family, coworkers, inlaws, etc, it can be trickier!

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