Can People Really Change?
Throughout the years, I’ve seen countless couples on the brink of divorce. Often, one partner’s behaviors have been really toxic to live with, while the other partner has tried to manage them in a way that won’t escalate things. The managing partner often does so because s/he doesn’t believe it’s possible for their partner to change. They believe that their partner’s behavior is a result of hard wiring that can’t be altered.
So what is the truth about change? Is it possible for someone to truly change? If change were possible, wouldn’t it take years to happen? The short answer is: absolutely -- change is possible… and I mean BIG, life-altering (and relationship-altering) change. And…no, this kind of change does not need to take a lifetime to happen. In some cases it can happen in an instant.
I can already hear the doubters: “If change can happen in an instant, how come I’ve never seen it?” “Change that happens that quickly isn’t true change and never lasts.” There are endless beliefs out there when it comes to change and several of them are true. It’s true, for example, that some people may never change. It’s also true that some people will take several years to change. And, yes, there are those who will change, only to later return to their old ways. However, the answer to the fundamental question about change is: yes, it’s possible and yes, it’s sustainable over a lifetime.
So if some people never change, others change only for a period of time and still others change painstakingly slowly, what’s the difference among these people? The bottom line is that change is a choice. On any given day, one person will make the choice while another will not. Key factors that differentiate them include:
1. There is an internal shift or ‘aha’ moment. Most of my clients who have made life-altering changes did so when they understood on a soul level what their behavior was costing not only themselves, but their partners and children as well. They felt the pain of their actions in an entirely different way than ever before and this clarity gave them the motivation to stop the damage. They simply didn’t want to be that person anymore. This wake up call or aha moment can take many forms. Examples include: realizing that their rage was damaging their children, receiving a cancer diagnosis and realizing their constant over-accommodating put their life at risk or having a partner leave them because of their behavior.
2. A determined, deliberate and unequivocal choice is made to change. Too many people would like to change, want to change or hope to change, however, few decide to change at all costs. When the ‘aha’ moment hits, there is a deliberate shift in attitude, motivation and determination. The change becomes a “must” not a “should.” The person is willing to do whatever it takes to make the shift happen and stick.
3. They seek the help they need. Some people have been struggling with mental health issues for years that have stood in the way of real change happening. Those who decide to change will get the help they need, even if it means going to AA meetings, seeing a psychiatrist to discuss possible medication options or getting individual therapy. In essence, they stop making up excuses for why they don’t get help and they step up and do whatever it takes to make the change happen.
4. They take full responsibility for their behavior. Those who change know that they do what they do because they choose to. They don’t put the blame for their behavior on their partner or children, etc. Taking 100% responsibility for their own actions allows them to have 100% control of their behaviors. They set limits with their partners—they don’t blame them.
Change is possible when we choose to be humble enough to see the places we are off and are committed enough to change them. When we refuse to see our own fault lines, blame those around us for how we act or don’t listen to critical feedback, we keep ourselves stuck. Don’t wait until the world starts crashing down on you before you change. Listen to the world’s feedback and perhaps you, too, will have your “aha’ moment.
Challenge: Know that change is possible for you and others. Make your decisions based on this knowledge, rather than throwing in the towel without any effort to create the change you’re looking for.