Getting Others to Change

Shereeza Ibrahim. B.A.Psych, M.S.W, R.S.W.
Clinical Counsellor and Author

We all have people in our lives that that we believe need to change for the better. We believe that our relationships would be so much more harmonious if they just had a better attitude or better habits. What is worse is when we make a consistent effort to change because we passionately believe in improving the way we relate to others, yet others are still not willing to make the slightest change in their attitude and behaviour. So what do we do?

The challenge with self-improvement is that you attain knowledge and skills, but the people around you
who are not on the same journey don’t have the same advantage because of their lack of knowledge
and abilities that you gained. Perhaps you have developed patience, insight, compassion and foresight.
But because they have not, you cannot expect them to respond and act the way you would. To expect
that they would match your actions and energy is an unreasonable expectation on your part.
This brings me back to the question, “what do we do?”. In cognitive behavioural therapy, there is a
concept called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions, which are unrealistic perceptions and
interpretations, can come in the form of unhelpful thinking styles, for example ‘Should and Musts’. This
means, we believe others “should change” or “must act better”.

Maybe your expectations are fair. Maybe based on principles and values, they should change or act
better, but will they? And if not, how does it make you feel to have your expectations unmet?
There is a quote that I want you to remember. “When you continue to be irritated by someone who
refuses to change, you also refuse to change”. In a way, we are also stubborn. We are better off
learning that we shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations of others. Instead we have to find ways to live
a lifestyle where we can navigate around people’s toxic personalities and habits.

In some cases, without cutting ties off kinship, it may be good to create some distance. This may mean
you might stop discussing issues of contention. You may decide that you need to speak to that person
less often if doing so will create less tension in your life and less opportunity for conflict between you. If
there is an issue that must be addressed, and directly resolving the issue between you and the other
only escalates conflict, perhaps you might seek the support of a skilled and neutral mediator who can
help you come to a resolution.

Sometimes the most you can do in these situations is role model healthy behaviour: Have integrity.
Carry yourself with dignity. Stick to your noble values and principles. Do the right thing. Sometimes it’s
hard to constantly take the high road, but believe it or not, it gets easier with time once you have
conviction. Preaching to people won’t work. Sometimes it takes months and years, but by changing
your behaviour, the pattern of interaction may change. They might become less defensive and start to
soften up and change their ways.

At the end of the day when we truly believe in something or believe we are right, we can change others
nor more than others can change us. As a result, the way to have inner-peace is to find ways to cope
with, or keep ourselves safe from the disagreeable attitudes and habits of others while always working
on our personal development.

Author Bio: Shereeza is a clinical counsellor and award-winning author, whom offers low- cost telephone counselling through GTA Wellness Consultation. She has been with the Islamic Institute of Toronto community for over 10 years and is now a regular contributor to the IIT Newsletter.