A former roommate always complained about her brother-in-law George, who, ironically, was a family counselor by profession, but consistently yelled and screamed at his own family. George frequently got fired from multiple jobs, and instead of looking inward, he blamed others for his unfortunate situation. And while everyone around George recognized that he had a serious personality issue and didn’t enjoy being around him, even his own parents, they tried to provide constructive advice, but no one felt their help ever “paid off” with George.
Have you ever had a family member, friend, or colleague who might have serious problems, like drug, alcohol or personality dysfunction, and even though you went above and beyond to help, you felt frustrated that your efforts were futile? As the Buddha says, ” When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Unfortunately, when someone is not internally ready for change, any help you provide will be rejected. Instead, they “cope” with their problems by living in a state of denial, which they use as their defense mechanism, because it is too painful to face that their problem is really within themselves. They also like to deflect their problems by blaming others for their situation, as it is easier to blame others than look in the mirror.
So, why do we waste so much time and energy in trying to change people? The obvious reason is that we genuinely care. But it also serves our own selfish need that we are in control by having it our way. A typical scenario is when women fall into the trap that they can “change” their men once they’re married. If the man is an alcoholic or drug addict before you got married, the likelihood is that he will be the same after you get married. But we have this idea in our heads that once we get the marriage license, it will all miraculously change because now we are in a more “powerful” situation to impose our will. Instead of changing your partner, the upshot is that the men become resentful of you and, in this case, the relationship will become increasingly unhealthy.
How do we become a productive agent to help others change for the better? We need to place our energy on people who are willing to make genuine change. There are three types of people: 1) those who listen and make a change, 2) those who need painful experiences and then change, and 3) those who will never change no matter what happens. It sounds ideal to be in category 1 because it would save us a lot of heart ache, but most of us fall into category 2, because it is through our first hand experiences that we can truly understand what is happening and learn from it. Furthermore, it is only through our painful experiences that we have a motivation to change. If everything was good and happy, why would we ever want to change? As we say, “If it ain’t broken, why fix it,” so something must be “broken” in order for the motivation for change to occur. We can only help those who want to be helped, so the first step to evaluating whom to help is that they must admit they have a problem, which is 50% of the path to recovery. And the other 50% is to take the appropriate action, which is where you can be the most helpful and see your efforts really “pay off.” If they are drug addicts and alcoholics, perhaps help them find the right recovery clinic.
How about a relationship where you want to marry but still have serious doubts? Instead of thinking you are going to change your partner after the honeymoon, you have to be honest with yourself about what you can and can not live with before you take that walk down the aisle. Make a list with two columns: A) what you are willing to compromise, and B) what you are not willing to compromise, and then place your partner’s personality traits and habits in one of these columns. If there are qualities and habits he/she possesses in the column where you are not willing to make compromises, then he/she is probably not the right person for you and you should look elsewhere. I was not willing to compromise on having a smoker husband, so I never dated any smoker seriously. I also was not willing to compromise on drug or alcohol addictions, so if there was even a small sign of this, I let the relationship go quickly. After some years of painful dating experiences, I made my list, so it was a lot easier to weed out my relationships, not to mention how much time and energy it saved me.
So, instead of spinning your wheels like a dog forever trying to catch its tail, you will see real positive results by helping those who really want to change. You can only bring the horse to the water, but you can’t make the horse drink it, so choose and bring the person who wants to make real change, and you will see them drink the water like they are in the dry desert. And not only will you have a huge impact on their lives, but you will also feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment inside, which is the ultimate reward for helping others.
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living