Everyone has been a culprit of trying to change others around them. I myself am guilty of this. Whether attempting to evoke a minuscule or sizable change, we all have done it at some point.
Why do we do this? Why do we step in and tell people, oftentimes people we care the most about, that they need to change something about their persona? This instinct is complicated. But in general, I think it’s derived from two distinct planes of thinking. To better imagine it, picture a large tree that diverges in two branches: one is labeled “other” and the second branch has “self” carved into it.
On one hand, the desire to change our close family and friends can come from a good place, or with good intentions I should say. These motives can be labeled as love, protectiveness, or even worry. For example, we see a loved one in a rough place in life. We examine the big picture and empathize with that person, understanding the external factors contributing to current circumstances. Then, we analyze it and dissect the situation. In an effort to help, we think about what changes our loved ones could make to better their place in life, and in turn themselves. This route of thinking is very much centered on the other person. Whether or not it works out, the intentions are, for the most part, pure.
But this desire to change others around us can also be rooted in deeply personal needs and wants, sometimes having little to do with the person. We want someone to make a transformation in thought, action, or feeling because it would benefit us. We want them to love us again, to care more about us, or even to focus their efforts more on us. We want someone to stop a bad habit because it’s affecting our mental or physical health. Whatever the reason may be, it comes from within us, and doesn’t focus much on the person we hope to transform. Selfish is the most direct adjective to describe this path.
It’s not to say that we don’t take some ideas from both schools of thinking. Simply put, our reasoning is usually more solidified in one over the other. Does the change we seek to see in the person have a greater effect on us, or on the person itself?
I’ve never thought so critically about this concept before. It sort of hurts my brain to be honest. Perhaps it’s because I recently came home from being away for six months. Returning to a familiar place after traveling always provides an interesting contrast. We see ourselves, as different beings, set against a relatively unaltered place. Whether it’s six months, as in my case, or longer, time away provides perspective on personal changes and growth. In my opinion, it’s impossible to come back from living in a new culture without any soul modifications.
This can clash with those around us. Some people in our lives, in the time gone, underwent radical changes themselves, but maybe not in the way we anticipated or desired. When we realize this, it can be our natural instinct to try and make them change with us, grow with us in the way we want them to.
We could climb the tree and hang onto the “self” branch, seeking to change our loved ones because we are saddened or hurt or simply feel a disconnect with them. But no matter how valiant our efforts are, the person in question has to want it. Trying to push them to a transformation for our own self-motivated interests is just that…. self-motivated and lacks any energy from the person in question.
So where does this leave us? Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. But I take the time to reflect on this concept because I find that returning from traveling tempts me to try and change people, usually for my own personal reasons. It’s an urge that feels natural and seems okay in the moment, but with greater investigation I realize it’s not only not okay, but also unhealthy. Instead of focusing on how to change others for our personal wants, we should look inward to see what’s missing from ourselves. At the end of the day, we have much more control over our own being.