How Do I Change Somebody?

How do I change somebody?  I often ask this question in my therapy groups at a psychiatric hospital.  Quite insightfully, I actually hear most people respond with, “You can’t.”  That’s right.Image 

Often, it hurts us deeply to see someone struggling, suffering, anguishing- especially if we think we have an answer or solution.  But here is a difficult principle to swallow, but a necessary one: If a functioning adult chooses to be unhealthy or ill, we cannot stop them.  Not accepting this will lead us to get “sick” ourselves and join in the “crazy-making.” 

We can change ourselves, though.  And an effective way to motivate change in others is to influence them.  Think of a difficult relationship you are in or have had.  Then think of it like two gear cogs.  As long as you are engaged with the “craziness,” it continues in both people like gears spinning out of control.  But if one person steps back and changes, it automatically alters the dynamic.  The other person HAS to change if they want to stay engaged with you.  In other words, if you approach something differently than normal, the other person has to do something different- it cannot stay the same- even if the change means that they refuse to be different and you don’t allow yourself to be controlled. 


Acceptance and Change

“Self-Made.”  Or so the famous watchmaker advertises their product through a famous celebrity.  The advertising was catchy, but there was a message that stuck with me: “YOU are the master of your destiny.  Your success deserves and even requires such fine intricacies as we offer.”

There are no “self-made” men, only those arrogant enough to believe that they are wholly responsible for where they are in life.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all about promoting personal responsibility and hard work; it’s a foundation of my focus in counseling- and for a person to truly change, they need a good dose of both.  But when we say that, “I accomplished this with my hands and my hands alone,” something is missing.

I don’t know why I was born into the family I was.  We always had food on the table, fashionable clothes (except for Dad, but that was by choice), shelter, family and friends, and no major worries about the basic necessities of life.  Why I wasn’t born in Tanzania, as an orphan left behind by a violent father and an addicted mother, I don’t know.  Or to parents who weren’t patient with my shortcomings and abused me.  Or…you get the picture.

In fact, if it weren’t for my socio-economic status, family, friends, geographic location, and so forth, I would very likely have not made the friends I did, found the jobs I worked and went to the schools I attended.  I have 100% personal responsibility today and this very moment to make the choices that are mine.  But that’s just it- make the choices that are mine.

A lot of culture and people and pressures around us give all sorts of confusing messages, and part of my job is to walk with folks while they determine what they will live by and for- regardless of the messages and demands and stresses surrounding them.  Figuring out what is my responsibility and what is not is one of the most important tasks I know.

Remember that when you take on credit for what is not yours, besides being arrogant and haughty, you take on credit for what is not yours.  Meaning: that when things that aren’t your fault fall apart, you are more likely to blame yourself.  My point in all this is the importance of considering: “What is my responsibility and what is not?”  It manages stress, decreases anxiety, and gives direction like few other tools.  I will end with the best expression of this topic I have ever heard:

The Serenity Prayer as said in 12-step groups (only a partial expression of the full prayer of Niebuhr) says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”