You Can’t Make Anyone Change, Here Are 5 Reasons Why
We all know someone in our life that could stand to make some changes. We have been there for them through the rough parts of their lives. Maybe they are going through a rough divorce, dealing with major health issues, or have simply just thrown in the towel.
We choose to love them through their downfalls and help lift them up. We give them advice and try to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, there comes a point when we have to accept that they do not intend to change. We can’t do it for them either. They have to make a conscious decision to change.
I grew up with a struggling single mother and an absent father. Our father was an alcoholic and my mother removed him from our house at a young age. My mother worked over 40 hours every week as a nursing assistant in nursing homes just to take care of us. She eventually married my stepfather who turned out to be a terrible man.
She ended up working even more hours as my stepfather was taking advantage of her financially. Eventually, the grueling job caught up to her and she ended up in the hospital many times due to heart issues and a massive stroke. Today, she has severe memory loss due to the stroke and is very depressed.
A lot of these health issues were due to unmanaged diabetes and just general unhealthy habits. She refused to stop smoking after a 75% blockage to her heart. She still refuses to quit and talks about dying a lot.
We have been trying to get her to see that she is still alive. She could quit smoking and it could extend her life by years. Sometimes, people just refuse to hear it. They refuse to quit smoking or make changes to better their lives. You can push and scream until you go blue in the face. They can only make those changes once they admit they want to.
If you too are struggling with trying to change someone, keep in mind the following reasons why you will never change them and why they must do it themselves:
- Change is hard and scary
Think of it this way. People like what is comfortable. My mother has been smoking since she was 15. She does not see another way. Asking her to stop doing something that has helped ease her stress for over 40 years is impossible for her to consider.
Instead of forcing your loved one to change altogether, try to help them find healthy ways to relax. Walk with them, take them out for lunch, get them books or puzzles, or anything they enjoy. Help them see that there are other routes to pursue stress relief.
2. They don’t want you to decide what is right for them
Think about a time when you decided to eat healthier. Your partner comes home and asks what you want for dinner. You suggest ordering out. They remind you of your diet. Suddenly, you are angry that they have decided what you can and can’t eat. They were only thinking of helping you. You have perceived it as someone telling you what to do.
A term exists for this called reactance. Our brain is reacting to someone telling us what to do. We take is as a direct attack on our freedom. When you suggest to someone that you know what is good for them, they will often take it as an attack on their freedom.
This may even lead to the person wanting to rebel and do the activity even more. When I tell my mother that she needs to stop smoking for her own health, she just scoffs at me and says that smoking makes her happy. She would happily die tomorrow with a cigarette in her hand.
We can’t decide what is right for someone else because they will always perceive it as us undermining them. They will always do what they want anyway. We may even end up pushing them away because they refuse to listen. They may push away themselves because someone is telling them what to do and it makes them angry and hostile.
3. They have to accept that there is a problem first and want to change
Denial is the first step to recovery. Often times, we never realize when we are self-sabotaging. My mother does not see her smoking problem as a problem. It is just something she does to relax. Who am I to take that away?
When people are young, they see themselves as invincible. When people pick up cigarettes at 15, health is the last thing on their minds because they are going to live forever, or so they think. Smokers convince themselves that they won’t take damage because it would happen in their later life.
Once the health effects start occurring, the damage has been done. Smokers often feel that it is too late at this point so why bother. Eventually, they admit it is a problem. However, they suggest that they will never be able to stop because they have been doing it too long. They are now addicted.
Denial is the hardest hurdle to get over. You can’t make someone see past their own denial. At this point, they are just doing something they enjoy. The future does not matter because in the present they are invincible. Once they get over the denial, then they can choose to make a change on their own or not. You will not be able to push them towards acceptance.
4. As soon as you step back, they will revert to old habits
You can push your loved one to change all you want. You can even force them. However, when left to their own devices, they will revert back to their old habits.
They don’t see a problem. You’re the one with the problem. You’re the one causing them grief. Once you stop bothering them, they can live their life how they want.
They depend on you to make their decisions. If I take my mother’s cigarettes away, sure it can help her scale back. However, if I leave her to make her own decisions, she will go back to multiple packs per day. Why?
They have not accepted that there is a problem. They do not want to change. You are simply forcing them to change who they are. In order for someone to stick with a new change, they have to want it for themselves.
The best way to change someone’s destructive behavior is to encourage them. When they start to feel happy and encouraged, then they will have the strength to make a change.
My mother will never change on her own. She does not want to. What I can do is be there for her. I can spend time with her and try to make her see how much her life matters.
Eventually, she may start feeling like she wants to be around to see her future grandchildren. She will think to herself that she does not want to die. She wants to get better. She has to come to that realization on her own terms.
When we are struggling, we can’t see an end in sight. We just want to give up. As a supporter, it is your job to encourage and help them see the light. You have to help them come to the realization on their own that they need to make some changes for the better.
5. We only have control over our own lives
Don’t beat yourself up over things that you can’t change. Change can’t be forced. If your loved one lets themselves down and refuses to change, it is not your fault. You loved them and supported them. You can’t let someone else’s decisions control you.
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy” — C. JoyBell C.
The only things we can control are our own actions and reactions. We can encourage and be there for people. However, their decisions are their own. At a certain point, we have to take a step back and let go.
We can beat ourselves up, scream, and cry over the actions of someone else. We can get upset because someone won’t take care of themselves. We can cry because we might lose our own mother due to her selfish unhealthy habits. However, we can’t control their actions or outcomes.
Every day, I have to make peace with the fact that my mother does not care about her life or her health. She probably won’t make it to see my sisters give birth one day to her grandchildren. Holding onto the pain, regret, anger, and stress is only poisoning myself. Clinging to these feelings does no one any good.
We don’t have control over anyone else or their actions. Let yourself let go. Focus on the things you CAN change. Be healthy and just breathe. Spend time with your loved one. Make sure they know you’re there for them. Gently push if you must but accept that they won’t ever change until they want to if they ever do.