by Lori Deschene
“When you stop trying to change others and work on changing yourself, your world changes for the better.” ~Unknown
There are certain relationships that we don’t want to end; we just want them to improve.
Sometimes it might seem like that will only happen if someone else starts acting differently—with more kindness, respect, thoughtfulness, compassion, understanding, or consideration.
Years ago, a therapist told me we can’t ever change other people; we can only change how we respond to them.
At the time, I found this incredibly frustrating because I didn’t know what I could do differently. I only knew I wanted to be treated better because I was tired of feeling bad.
But what do we do when we respond more calmly, or try to see things differently, but we still find ourselves getting hurt?
Sometimes we don’t want to completely close a door, with a family member, for example; we just don’t know how to keep it open without opening ourselves up to pain.
I’ve learned that changing our response to people means changing how we engage with them.
It can mean seeing someone less frequently, or avoiding certain topics, or knowing when to change the subject.
It might mean refusing to feel guilty or defensive, taking things less personally, or modeling the type of behavior we’d like to see in them.
It might also mean accepting that not all relationships need to be close and intimate.
As much as we might want someone to fill a certain role in our lives, they have to want to do it. And if they aren’t, it’s our job to recognize that so we don’t continually cause ourselves stress by trying to smash a square peg into a round hole.
Little in this world is more painful than wanting to be close with someone but knowing it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s harder when we think it could be so simple if that person could just realize how much we care and try, even if a little, to reciprocate it like we deserve.
But we generally don’t change when other people force us to do it; we change when we realize what we might lose if we don’t, and recognize that the discomfort of doing things differently is better than the pain of that loss.
We can’t make someone else make an effort. But we can make smart decisions for our own well-being. This may inspire someone else to change; it might not.
Either way, we’ve honored the most important relationship in our lives: the one we have with ourselves.