...if you could just change that one itty-bitty thing.
Or maybe there's someone with a whole lot of flaws, but he has a sweet inner core, and if you could slough off all the ugly stuff on the inside, he'd be a shining star.
If only you could change that person!
So can you change other people?
My answer is a resounding NO!!!!!!! *oh, such ugliness and pessimism* No, no, no, no, no! You can't change other people and you shouldn't even try...
I have met young people over and over again--it tends to be girls, unfortunately--who feel like they can "change" other people--usually boys they like. The thing is that you can't change other people. So if that's true, then why did I write "kind of" above? It's because yes, you can influence them. You can mentor them. You can try to be a role model for other people But the thing is that you can't change them. The only way a person can change is if he or she wants to change. And if that inner desire isn't there, it just ain't going to happen.
Let me give you an example.
I grew up with this very interesting guy. He was good looking, smart, funny--everything you'd think a great guy should be. He came from an impoverished background, and he was raised by a single mom. Expectations for this guy were pretty low, and it reflected in the choices he made throughout his life. He joined the military, left it, got married, had a couple kids, got divorced, went to prison because he couldn't control his temper, became a pothead, and drifted from job to job, mostly returning to Burger King. I've tried over and over again throughout the years to convince this guy that he is worthwhile and intelligent, that he can make his life better, that he can go back to school and create a happy life for himself. And even though he wants to be happy, he wants a better job and a better life, he still refuses to change. He just keeps at the same dead-end lifestyle. And you know what? There's nothing I can do about it. He has to choose the life he wants to lead, and I can't do that for him.
There is a particularly sneaky kind of person out there that you should know about. I've noticed it in guys, but I have no doubt that girls do this too. Read this exchange and see if you can detect how this guy is manipulating the girl.
Boy: I'm not any good at anything.
Girl: That's not true. I'm sure there's a lot you're good at.
Boy: No, I'm not. I wish I were smart like you.
Girl: You're smart. You shouldn't put yourself down.
Boy: I'm just telling the truth. Nobody likes me. I'll never get a girlfriend. I'll just be alone my whole life.
Girl: You're a great guy. Any girl would be lucky to go out with you.
Boy: No girl would ever go out with me. I bet you'd never go out with a guy like me.
How do you respond to something like that? Have you ever met someone like this--someone who reels you in by making you feel sorry for them? This is the strangest tactic I've ever seen, and I have seen it before. I actually knew a guy like this briefly, and there for a second he had me trapped by his pathetic-ness. But then I figured out his game and got away.
These people make you feel like you should help them, like you could be the person who helps them get their life turned around. They hook you by evoking your sympathy and then reel you in by making you feel like you could be their hero. Don't fall for it! Believe me--they've done this over and over again, and it's a manipulation tactic.
Here's what happens when you fall into the black hole of trying to change someone who doesn't want to be changed but keeps stringing you along anyway. You are under constant stress because you know that the other person can change and that the person is worthwhile--if only you could find or say the right thing to help that person. The person becomes your cause, and you devote far too much time to "helping" him or her. You neglect the opportunities in your own life because you're so focused on this other person. Other people associate you with this deadbeat and conclude you must be a deadbeat also. Now, the level of doom and gloom corresponds directly to how much time and effort you devote to your change-up project. For example, the guy I mentioned above--well, I didn't devote too much time to helping him out since I didn't see him that often, so my own life wasn't overly affected by his loserdom.
One of the truly ugly sides of loser manipulation is the abusive relationship. I was just talking to a colleague about this, and we agreed that somehow, without consulting one another, abusers have figured out the magic manipulation formula: be sweet, turn mean, make the other person (usually a girl) believe that it's her fault, become verbally and/or physically abusive, apologize and promise it'll never happen again when she's had enough, and start the whole cycle all over again. The girl stays in the relationship because....*sigh* I'm not a psychologist; there must be tons of reasons the girl stays. One of them, I'm sure, is that she truly believes she can change the other person.
So what does all this mean? Well, here's my advice, and it's going to sound pretty harsh--dump the dead weight in your life. That's right. Don't hang out with people who are downers. You don't have to. And whatever you do, don't feel like you're responsible for their happiness. If someone is a jerk or if someone is a loser, that's their problem, not yours. And if you're with an abuser, get out as soon as it's safe to do so and never look back.
Now I'm not advocating being mean or cruel to people. If someone honestly wants help or wants to change, it's up to you whether or not you should be there for that person. The trick is figuring out when someone is really devoted to changing and when they're just going through the motions.
For other ideas--
Read this article from The Huffington Post. Their conclusion is that you can change other people (say, what?) but only kinda/sorta.
And in this blog post, Lauren Suval says that we should adjust our perspective when we think other people need to change.
If you are in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship, the Hotline has signs to look for.
Have you ever changed another person for the better? How did you do it! (No, really, please share. I would honestly like to know.)