Why You Cannot Change the People You Love

We all have loved ones in our lives that cause us distress. It might be an alcoholic parent, a partner with depression, a tearaway sibling, or someone you care for who’s a pain in the ass.

You want them to change, and maybe they want to change — people who are suffering usually do — but it seems unlikely.

Can you make them change? Hell no!

You can plant a seed, but that’s as far as it goes.


“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” — Jim Rohn

Are you responsible for other people making changes in their life? That’s another ‘hell no’. You are only ever responsible for yourself.

Of course, I’m not talking about your responsibilities as a parent, business owner, or employee. These are your responsibilities.

So what’s the difference?

The difference is your ability to respond. In Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes this in terms of response-ability — the ability to choose your response. In this sense, responsible means response-able — you are able to respond. You can take action to be a good parent, good partner, or a good employee, but you cannot take action for other people. That is their response-ability.

Selfish change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl

First and foremost, you need to look after yourself. This you can act on. This is something you are response-able for.

Does this sound selfish? Possibly — by societal norms anyway. But if you examine this carefully, it makes perfect sense.

Can you meaningfully help others if you don’t look after yourself? No. It’s like a parent on a plane that loses cabin pressure. They can only help their child if they put their own oxygen mask on first. It’s the same in life. If you want to help others, you have to put your own mask on first.

The point is, it’s OK to look after you. You can’t change other people anyway, not if they don’t want to change, so why feel guilty about it.

Planting a seed

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” — Anonymous

It’s easier when someone wants to change. But when people are unaware, lost, or simply don’t care, all you can do is plant a seed.

In my experience, the ‘talking seed’ is useless. I spent fifteen years chronically addicted to heroin. I’m now thriving, and with six years clean under my belt, you might think other addicts would listen to me, but they don’t, including my brothers.

I’ve talked my ass off about the tools I’ve used to transform my life, but it barely makes a dent on people who don’t want to know.

The ‘listening seed’ is a better option. Most people want to be understood. So if someone wants to talk, and I mean really talk, listening with your full attention can provide a space for change.

The ‘action seed’ is the juiciest seed. You are literally showing people the way. When your actions match your words, it is difficult for people to ignore. Change is still hard, but now they know its possible.

All you need to know

No matter how painful it is, for you or the people that you love, you cannot make them change.

It’s best to focus on what you can do — what you are response-able for — and this means taking care of yourself. This isn’t selfish — it’s the only thing that makes sense. And if a loved one eventually seeks your council, you’ll be in a much better position to help.

Does this mean leaving those you love to struggle on their own? Of course not. You can always plant seeds of change — I plant seeds every day — but you must always put on your own mask first.

What would you do if you had a second chance at life?

As a chronic heroin addict turned doctor, I designed a program to help people to transform their lives. For FREE access to one of the most powerful tools from this programme – which includes an online course on morning routines – CLICK HERE.



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