How to deal with people who do change, for the better.
You may be forgiven for thinking I’ve got the wrong end of the stick or that maybe I’ve made a typo. Surely this should read “How to deal with people who don’t change for the better”.
There is a lot of information out there regarding how to accept, move on and be independent from those that don’t change. With advice including setting boundaries, loving and not judging and staying true to yourself.
But what about advice on how to cope when someone does change?
Most long-term relationships develop habits, ingrained rituals and behaviours that can feel permanent.
If suddenly that changes, especially for the better, it can be quite unnerving. If we are not aware and open, we can actually work against the positive changes without realising it.
While it may seem like a silly idea to work against someone changing to be the person you want them to be, there is safety in consistency. When someone is predictable, how you deal with them becomes predictable too.
Us humans love predictable consistency and we also like to be the good guy.
All of us on some primitive level want to be the hero. The struggle between good and evil is as old as time itself. When it comes to dealing with someone who won’t change, you are the hero.
You are the one extending forgiveness and peace. You are the one being the bigger person by accepting them as they are. Everything that is peaceful and loving and mature comes from you. You are the hero.
By accepting those that do change, you are not the hero ‘fighting evil’ anymore. While you may still claim hero status for accepting it, but it’s a quieter, less egotistical type of hero.
That can be very challenging to our pride. All of us, no matter how humble we may be, have an ego. If you have been the bigger person for a length of time, your ego will cling to that status. Our ego tells us we are entitled to feel like the martyr.
When it comes to people not changing, we have to control ourselves. Because they won’t change, we are the ones that have to grant acceptance and take responsibility for our feelings and actions towards them.
When it comes to somebody changing, we now have to take responsibility for our feelings and actions towards that person, because they have changed.
On the surface it might look like the exact same thing, but it’s totally different.
Accepting the actions of someone who won’t change is one-sided.
All you have to do, is choose how YOU to react towards their actions.
When somebody is actively changing for the better, this acceptance is a joint venture.
You need to decide whether you are going to be stuck thinking of them in the same way or if you are going to evolve and change along with them.
It’s now not YOU accepting them that won’t change, it’s US changing together.
My 4 tips for dealing with people who change, for the better.
You’ve nagged for so long about a specific issue, then all of a sudden, what you’ve asked them to do, they start doing.
How do you deal with that?
With suspicion, doubt, caution or even begrudged gratitude? Are you actually ready to get what you asked for?
I’d like to offer four tips that helped me accept that people can change, for the better and that I don’t have to be bitter about it.
1. Allow yourself to feel all your emotions.
Don’t berate yourself for feeling any negative emotions and don’t deny yourself of the positive ones. Feel them all, resentment, suspicion, fear, doubt, anger, happiness, apprehension, joy, gratitude.
A helpful way to feel them is by asking yourself these questions:
Why am I feeling (emotion)?
Do I need to express this emotion to the person who is changing?
If no, can I let it go?
If yes, can I do so in a constructive way?
Instead of suppressing them, by allowing yourself to work through the emotions this change stirs up, you can work on allowing the feelings from the past to remain in the past.
Feel them, resolve what needs to be said and then let them go.
2. Spend some time alone.
Spending time alone gives you space to feel your emotions. Getting out and away from distractions can help you practice a bit more self-awareness.
Often, when carrying the burden of someone who won’t change, we focus solely on what they are not doing and how we are trying to accept it. We become so accustom to the burden that it can become part of our identity.
Once that burden has lifted, there is a tendency to want to hold on to that identity, if I am not the victim, then who am I? Let go of being the victim, you are more than that.
Journal or find other safe ways of self-expression. Give yourself some time to get to know yourself.
Forgive and fall in love with yourself again.
3. Accept that people do change.
Make the decision to accept that people do change. You have, haven’t you? Surely you have had flashes of insight that have brought about change in you. Something someone has said suddenly makes sense and you take their advice and change.
But a leopard doesn’t change his spots, right? Have you not changed your spots or at the very least, have you not tried to eat as many antelope as you normally do.
It may be useful, mentally or on paper, to list several ways in which you have changed over the years. From the mundane to the monumental.
If you can, then so can others. A refusal to accept that others can change says more about your stubbornness than it does about their character traits.
Why are you so stubborn about it? Feel your emotions, resolve what needs to be said and then let them go.
4. Remember change is not in a straight line.
Change is not linear. It goes on detours and tangents, doubles back on itself and follows no real set course.
There will be times where the old behaviour and habits creep back in. Spend time mentally and emotionally preparing for regression. Make peace with it, be prepared and patient.
If you feel you are standing on the side-lines waiting to shout, “See I told you so, I knew it wouldn’t last!” it means that you have not accepted the change in the first place. Spend more time on tips 1 and 2.
Part of this acceptance process is setting a president for what happens in the future. Be aware of not sending mixed messages. If one minute you are relishing in the new changed person, then the next sending ‘I knew you wouldn’t change’ vibes, you discouraging change, for both of you.
Mostly remember it is a marathon not a sprint. Some people go through miraculous overnight changes, but most of us humans take a few goes to get there.
Be kind and help the other person feel comfortable about changing, they are testing the waters, possibly scared or apprehensive themselves. Don’t be afraid to praise them. You won’t lose anything by doing so. Let go of the ego and genuinely be on their side.
A great rule of thumb is the age-old advice, treat others as you would like to be treated. Think of yourself trying to change and having a slip up. Are you reacting in a way that you would like to be treated?
If not, why? Feel your emotions, resolve what needs to be said and then let them go. Do you see a pattern here?