Can We Change Others?

Something that many of us often deal with is our want to change others. Is it possible? To what extent? This article is based on my own experiences and can’t be a catch-all solution for all situations. If you want to share an experience or advice, please to leave a comment.


The person must want to change

Perhaps you have a friend addicted to drugs, gambling, or something else. Or maybe you know somebody who’s abusive and you think they can change. You think they can be better and you want to help them change.

There have been many people in my life who I’ve tried to help in different ways. But one thing that’s certain is this: people will only change if they want to. If somebody is addicted to drugs but doesn’t want to quit, it’s difficult to get him or her to stop. Perhaps you’re partner is violent at times. It’s only sometimes, right? He or she isn’t all that bad. You start thinking of justifications to stay with them and justify their actions so you can still be around him or her.

When people are caught up in their own struggles and problems, it’s difficult for an outsider to “change” them. You might want that person to stop right this instant – you want to control the other person. In fact, you may become attached to the outcome in your mind of helping that person.


Words of caution on one hand: don’t wait around for somebody to change.
Words of compassion on the other: don’t give up on somebody either.

Wow, that’s a contradiction, right? It can be and this is where many people struggle in the middle. What people need to do is establish boundaries. You need to have boundaries and stick with them. The most important thing is always safety.

For example, if you have a drug addict friend, you could still be willing to meet with him or her, talk with that person about their problems, and offer words of advice. But you need boundaries, too. Perhaps your boundaries are to never give the person money, and to never visit him or her when the person is inebriated. You can have compassion and try to help somebody, but also need to have caution and boundaries.

Or perhaps somebody is abusive. Safety always comes first: get out, especially if children are involved. Once there’s some space established, you could try to have compassion for the person. However, you cannot be attached to the idea that he or she will become better. Don’t live in your fantasy world. Live in reality. You need boundaries: for example, if it involves alcohol, another sip of beer could be your breaking point.

Boundaries help keep you safe, emotionally and physically. Compassion ensures you can help the person change if he or she eventually wants to. But the point is this – you can’t change people. They can only change themselves. Don’t get attached to certain ideas or unrealities. See the truth for what it is and establish necessary boundaries.

Our perspective

It could be that they’re little things you want to change. When it comes to these, perhaps we need to change the way we view the situation. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. Remember not to attach to an outcome and try to love the person regardless. We all need love and compassion.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences below. The thoughts are based on my own experiences and how I learn to cope with the difficult balancing act.

This entry was posted in buddhism, choice, happiness, spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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