Face It—You Cannot Change Other People
The holiday season is upon us. In normal times—which these are not—people around the world will gather with family and close friends to celebrate and have conversations around the dinner table or on video calls.
Some of your conversations may include disagreements on issues of the day, long simmering family dynamics, or other forms of relational drama.
After many years of teaching and sharing this work, the number one question we receive when people learn about the shift from drama to empowerment is, “These ideas are so helpful. How do I get other people to change?”
Anticipating that question, we have added to one of our handouts for our TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® workshops a statement that highlights this point: “You cannot force others to make ‘shifts happen’ in their own lives!”
It still surprises us to hear the collective groan from participants when they read that sentence and realize they cannot make other people change. Of course, we know we can’t change other people… so why do we keep trying?
There are several reasons. You may:
- Genuinely feel and think you know what is best for the other person.
- Not want to face the fact that the relationship may be broken and needs to end or new boundaries need to be set. You tell yourself: “I will try just one more time to change my husband, or girlfriend, or boss, or (fill in the blank).”
- Not want to face your own powerlessness in the situation. You would rather fool yourself that you are in control than face that you have no power over another person.
All this boils down to the fact that, in many situations, it may be easier to wish and hope that you can change others rather than take responsibility for your own actions—and the “shifts” that are called for in your own life.
You cannot change other people! This is a hard fact to swallow for most people. You can only change your response to other people. What you can do is be a model of your highest and best self; to be an example to others of the TED* ways of relating.
The Victim mentality, which is the central role in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT), is rooted in seeing life as a series of complaints about what you don’t like. You want to change others so that you can get your own needs and desires met.
Even though you may see yourself as trying to help others (the Rescuer role in the DDT), underneath there may be a story you are telling yourself that other people aren’t okay, you know better and, therefore, they should listen to you. This is a form of pride that you may be disguising as a helpful attitude and behavior.
The paradox is that we all want to be accepted and appreciated by others. When others try to change us, we become defensive and dig in even more. So why would we not treat others as we would want to be treated?
Another paradox is that, as you model acceptance of others (even if you do not agree or like how they are being) and take responsibility for your own behaviors and choices, they may choose to change too.
By accepting others and taking responsibility for your response to a situation (even if it is a harsh situation that calls for tough choices), you are acting as a Creator, the foundational role in TED*.