Living in Your Power: Can We Change Others?

Photo by Rishabh Butola via Unsplash

Photo by Rishabh Butola via Unsplash

Can we change others?

We’ve all heard the tried and true saying, “You can’t change someone else. They can only change themselves.” We know this but do we believe it? And why is it so hard for us to accept this truth?

As much as we may “know” this truth may still find ourselves trying to change others, consciously or unconsciously. Our minds can create pretty crafty to ways to give us a false sense of control over a situation or another person. But we never have control over someone else. No matter how hard we try--love, beg, or plead.

It’s a painful scenario because it comes from a place of our own attachment. Whether the other person is a romantic partner, friend, family member, or co-worker we may so deeply want them to change because we’re afraid of the possibility of losing them. We’ll do whatever we can (overtly or covertly) to get them to see our side of things so they will finally change. This is also a common characteristic of codependency.

Why do we get ourselves into these types of situations where we are powerless and it only leaves us feeling defeated and depleted?

Because we’re too afraid of making a change within ourselves.

 Which is the only thing we do have control over—our own thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Maybe that change is setting a boundary. Maybe it’s taking some space. Maybe it’s ending a relationship.

 I personally learned this lesson the hard way through a few different romantic relationships. There was a time in life where I continually found myself in toxic romantic relationships. With guys who abused substances, were emotionally unavailable, or abusive. There were moments where I would see their “good” side—when they were semi-attentive, loving, and interested. And then a lot of moments where I would see the darker side much more often than the good. When they were abusive, using, or absent.

 I knew how capable they were of being what I needed but it wasn’t enough. And I attached to the good moments. And something deep down within me believed I could get them to change more into the good guy I needed if I just ________.

 The fill in the blank was usually a change in my own behavior—if I was less “needy”, if I did some grand romantic gesture, if I constantly kept tabs on what they were doing, etc. I believed if I did something THEN they would change. On an unconscious level I believed I had some type of control, through my own behaviors, over them.

 And I stayed attached to the belief that when they finally did change, things would be “perfect”. We would be happy. We wouldn’t fight. They would be what I needed.

 The problem with this is that we’re staying attached to (or even in love with) the idea of what someone could be. And that’s toxic too. Because we’re not loving the person for who they are right now in this present moment. Or we’re not accepting them for who they are and acknowledging they may not be right for us.

 The examples I give above are some of the more overt scenarios. Our wanting to change or control others often happens in subtle ways too.

 The desire to change someone can surface even in our healthiest relationships (romantic or otherwise). Maybe we see a good friend making a choice that we believe isn’t serving them. Maybe they feel stuck in a job that is wearing them down or holding them back. And we keep saying, “if you just did this, then everything would be better and would change.” And you feel super frustrated and annoyed because they aren’t listening or changing. And it starts to impact the friendship.

We can’t make anyone change. We don’t get to decide what’s right or wrong for someone. We have to choose to trust in that individual’s process—whether or not we agree with it or if we feel we “know better”. We all have the right to our process and how that unfolds.

Most importantly, if the person’s behaviors, decisions, or actions begin to impact us in a negative way then we have to evaluate what we can do within ourselves to honor our own needs and values.

This all stems from practicing non-attachment. We have to allow people to be who they are. For better or worse. We have to allow them to make the decisions they want to make. For better or worse. People need to learn the lessons they need to learn in their own. Even if that lesson may be painful for them. That’s just a part of their process.

 If we let go of trying to change others it only benefits ourselves—you let go of needing to control which often shows up as anxiety and fear. You gain emotional freedom. You also release the belief of feeling responsible for someone else. And it puts the responsibility back onto them. Which probably feels freeing to the other too.

 The most loving and healing thing we can do for ourselves and others is releasing the need to control and trusting that we all are allowed to our own process (whatever that may look like). We can empower ourselves by being clear on our own values and beliefs and take responsibility for our own actions and choices.

Living in alignment between our values and choices is where our power lives.