Often, people are forced to come to terms with the fact that someone they love is unwilling to change and, thus, is no longer a good fit in their life. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that. As time passes, people grow apart and become incompatible. And you can’t change someone who is not ready to change. Growth can only happen naturally, but you will never be able to force someone to go through that process.
Unfortunately, that sometimes means you’ll have to let that person go. Or you’ll have to accept them just the way they are without forcing them to act differently. Maybe they could benefit from a bit of change, but that’s not up to you. The only thing you can do is accept them and help them on their journey. Plus, some people act in toxic ways and don’t want to change. In that case, there’s nothing you can do but look out for yourself.
This all seems pretty straightforward. But when you are in a situation where someone you care for needs to change, it’ll be hard to watch and do nothing. Sometimes people even want to change others for selfish reasons. And that’s potentially one of the worst things you can do to someone.
Just because you want the perfect partner doesn’t mean you should ever try to mold someone until they become what you want. Not only is that abusive behavior, but it won’t make either of you happy. To combat the urge to change people, you need to understand why, from a psychological point of view, you can’t make someone change.
5 Reasons You Can’t Make Someone Change
1. The Change Has to Come from Within
People can fake some behaviors and be quite convincing while doing it. But if they don’t understand why that should be something they adopt as a genuine part of their personality, they won’t ever go beyond faking. Plus, people must want to put in the work necessary for that change. Imagine someone telling you that you should change some aspect of your personality.
Maybe even a part that makes you who you are. For example, say you like to be loud and outgoing and meet someone who suggests you should be quieter. Not only will you not take their advice, but you’ll probably be very offended. Someone essentially just told you that who you are is not suitable and you should completely change your personality. Sure, this is maybe a more extreme example. But even if you gently suggest some changes, that still won’t work. You’ll either be ignored, or that person will not understand your suggestion.
If you’ve gone through any changes, you need to take time to introspect and understand what’s wrong. And that’s something you can only do alone. No one can tell you what’s going on in your brain and what’s best for you. And no one knows why you might be acting in certain ways. Because the individual knows themself best, only they can make those changes stick. Without there being a want to be better, people won’t manage to make serious changes. So, all you can do is be there to support them. But you can never push them to change.
2. Some People Can’t Change
No matter how much you want to believe that all people are good and capable of change, that’s not how the world works. Some people can’t change and will be forever stuck in their bad ways. And some people don’t want to change, even though they possess the ability to do so.
For most people, this truth is hard to swallow. Especially if you have to come to terms with the fact that someone you care about won’t change. Say you have a family member who is struggling with addiction. You will waste your energy no matter how hard you try to get through to them. An addict needs help; that’s not up for discussion.
But besides forcefully admitting them to a rehabilitation center, there’s not much else you can do unless they cooperate. And even forcing them to go to rehab usually backfires. Even if they got clean and weren’t dedicated to the process, they’ll start using it once they get out. So, if they don’t want to change, they won’t. Of course, this is more of an extreme example, but unfortunately, it happens more often than it should.
But this is still a situation in which there is still a sliver of hope. Some people are born with certain toxic tendencies they can never let go of. When you are dealing with people who can’t or don’t want to change, that’s your sign that you should probably get out of that situation. Even with an addicted family member, sometimes you have nothing to do but look after yourself.
You can’t spend your whole life pushing someone towards a change they don’t want. Plus, if you have someone abusive or toxic in your life, that’s an even clearer sign that you need to get out of there. No matter how much of a savior’s complex you have, you won’t be able to change a narcissist or any inherently toxic person. And if you try, you’ll only get hurt.
3. It Will Affect Your Relationships
Imagine that you’ve been friends with someone for a long time. You’re hanging out one day, having loads of fun, when out of the blue, they tell you that you should make some changes. Of course, your instinct will be to get defensive, not to listen to what your friend has to say. Even if they have the most pertinent explanation for why they think you should change something, it’ll still come across as wrong.
And this is only when someone suggests a change. But if that friend were to force a change, things would be much worse and would go south much quicker. Even worse, that person could be giving you an ultimatum and threatening to stop being friends with you if you don’t start acting a certain way. Sure, that doesn’t happen often, but that relationship is as good as doomed when it does.
Now, if you would likely get mad if someone tried to push you into changing, doesn’t that mean you’ll also hurt people if you do that? Even if you have the best intentions, forcing someone to change can make them feel inadequate, and it can even affect the trust you have. Eventually, you’ll push people away if you keep pressuring them. So, you manage to lose people and don’t even get to help them. It’s a lose-lose situation, so you’re better off minding your business.
4. It Crosses All Kinds of Boundaries
If you want to suggest a change someone should make, you are essentially making assumptions about them. No way to decide whether someone is doing something wrong unless you psychoanalyze them. And this is a clear violation of boundaries because you are essentially digging through someone’s mind without them allowing you to.
Sure, your assessment might even be accurate and valuable. But that doesn’t mean that you should ever share your thoughts unless you are asked to do so. When you hang out with someone, you shouldn’t spend that time analyzing and interpreting their every move. You aren’t a psychologist, and your job is to be a good friend, not to psychoanalyze everything and make a list of inadequacies.
Unfortunately, many people do this because they think they are genuinely helping. But an unwanted opinion is harmful, whether your intentions are good or bad. It can be annoying to have someone explain why they think you are struggling and lay out everything they think you are doing wrong.
And, if you happen to be one of the people who believe that their opinion is godsent, maybe you should think about minding your business. Even if you think you are helping, you have no right to cross people’s boundaries. So, only share your advice if you are asked to do so.
5. It’s Manipulative
Whether you believe your intentions are pure doesn’t mean you don’t have an ulterior motive. No one is entirely altruistic, no matter how much we’d like to think so. Some people help others because they have a savior’s complex or just out of a sense of responsibility. Others do it to shape someone into the perfect friend or partner.
But even if you don’t necessarily have this ulterior motive (although you probably have it but haven’t consciously acknowledged it), it’s still manipulative. You are essentially just expressing your opinion and making someone feel they need to conform. Plus, telling someone that they need to change and you are trying to help them that’s usually used as an abuse tactic.
If you genuinely want to help someone, let them come to you with their concerns. And even then, you must be very careful when phrasing your suggestions. It’s much better if you listen and guide them toward finding their answers. When someone wants to make positive changes, they should do it for themselves, not for you or anyone else.
Final Thoughts on Reasons You Can’t Make Someone Change
Wanting to help people is nice and all until you try to change someone forcefully. No matter how much you want to improve the other person, it’s not up to you to decide what changes they need. And it’s not up to you to determine if they even need to change in the first place.
Trying to change someone never works because it’s a selfish attempt to shape someone to your liking. Or it’s done just out of a sense of desperation or responsibility. If you genuinely want to help someone, you’ll try to guide them, not force them to be different.
Plus, you must come to terms with the fact that some people can’t or don’t want to change. Even though that might be hurtful, you can do nothing about it. However, you can genuinely help people when they ask for your help. Otherwise, you need to mind your own business.