Have you ever been deeply annoyed by another person's behaviour and thought to yourself: if only that person behaved differently, I'd be so much happier? Well, you're not alone. Read on and I'll explain why changing other people isn't such a good idea.
We all come across not so nice people - be it co-workers, neighbours or just fellow travelers. Often we just shrug off people's negative behaviour; sometimes we're affected and it takes time to let it go. The closer the relationship we have with the person displaying 'unwanted' behaviour, the more we're emotionally affected. Things become much worse for us, when it's a pattern of unwanted behaviour displayed by our loved ones.
You might say that it's only natural that we're emotionally affected by people who are close to us, because we're emotionally invested in close relationships. And it's only natural that we want the person causing us distress to change their behaviour. What's wrong with this?
I see two fundamental things that are very wrong with this approach.
What does 'emotionally invested' actually mean? To me, 'emotionally invested' sounds very much like I've invested a certain amount of my time, feelings, thoughts, actions and resources into the relationship with this person, and now this person 'owes' me a particular behaviour to keep me happy.
It's like declaring that I'm no longer responsible for my emotional state, and that my emotional state depends on what my loved one says and does.
The greater my 'emotional investment', the less responsibility I take for my own mental and emotional state.
Yet, why do we get annoyed, scared, stressed, jealous and affected in various negative ways in the first instance? Other people work as 'mirrors' reflecting our own thoughts, attitudes and emotions back to us. We react negatively if we don't like the reflection in the mirror. The closer the person the greater the 'mirror' effect. This also explains why some people get easily annoyed with certain things, while others don't even notice these things. If I'm getting annoyed with my partner doing a particular thing, this doesn't necessarily mean that another woman would find that annoying, too.
Granted, these connections between our inner limiting beliefs and how they get reflected by other people aren't always easy to see, and we haven't been taught in school to make such connections either. So, instead, we tend to think 'if only that other person' changed, we'd be much happier, much more balanced and wouldn't be going through emotional extremes.
But avoiding personal responsibility for our own mental and emotional state isn't the only problem. Another - a greater problem perhaps - is the fact that we think we have the right to tell another person that they need to change, how to change and when to change.
Somehow, down the path of avoiding responsibility, we've also become convinced that we know better how 'that other person' should change, so that we can feel better about ourselves. Somehow, we seem to know what's best for the other person. Not only that, but we also 100% convinced that we actually know this better than the other person themselves!
It's not surprising that this arrogant attitude completely blocks any chances for open and honest conversations with people. It all becomes about complaint, blame and unsolicited advice.
It's all about forcing someone to change only to satisfy our own ego.
No surprise, that the other person goes into a defense mode to protect themselves and their life. And why wouldn't they? They may have lived their entire lives without others pointing out to their behaviour as problematic. Why would they change solely to please us?
Even if they changed, there's no guarantee that our self-limiting fear-based belief that causes our distress (that belief hasn't gone anywhere by the way!) won't be reflected - yet again - by the same person in a slightly different situation. And no doubt, our self-limiting belief will continue to be reflected by other people, in other relationships, too. Because we haven't addressed it.
That's how we end up feeling unhappy, victimized, playing the blame game, trying to control other people, with ruined relationships and burnt bridges.
A way out
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not defending the many people with toxic behaviours out there. I'm not saying that we should stay in toxic abusive relationships and hope for the better.
All I'm saying is that whenever we're angry, upset, stressed, annoyed, sad (the list goes on and on), we should be taking responsibility for what we believe, what we think, how we feel and how we act in life. It's our responsibility to pay attention and untangle the messy substance of our inner beliefs and thoughts and discover what's limiting us. It's our responsibility to take notice of the strong negative emotions that we feel and realise that these're all signals that something is limiting us - in our heads.
Sometimes it's safer and more productive to get out of the over emotional relationship that only causes distress. We can't really work on ourselves when we're too stressed and distracted.
Sometimes it's safer and easier to stay in the relationship so that we can work on our mindset and use our loved 'mirrors' as indicators of our personal development work. And be eternally grateful that our loved ones are here for us to mirror our limitations back to us. Because without these mirrors, how would we know what to work on?
It's about reaching a more balanced state of mind, where we don't need to suppress our own strong negative emotions, in order to come across as balanced and calm.
It's about reaching a truly balanced state of mind, so that we can negotiate with our loved ones and point out what's acceptable and what's not, but doing so in a calm and respectful way, not acting on emotional extremes.
Read my post Three Lessons Toxic People Can Teach Us