By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Why do some people refuse to change and how do I make them?
Many of the questions to this blog are about getting others to change. This person or that is driving you crazy and you want them to change but they are just refusing.
The reason you may be getting nowhere on resolving the situation just may be that you are trying to solve the wrong problem.
One method for resolving problem behavior that is taught in parenting classes is to look for the ownership of the problem. Here is a simple “child” problem and afterwards we will apply this to more adult issues.
Mother goes into the child’s room and it is a mess. Mom yells “you are such a lazy slob, clean this room up.” This is a bad approach for two reasons. Calling the child a slob may establish a core identity that they are a slob. If that is what you are, why try to change? Being called names repeatedly encourages people to give up.
Who owns this problem? Why mom does of course. The child’s room is messy, mom does not like it and it is upsetting mom. More precisely, mom is “choosing to upset herself” over this issue. She could just give up as many mothers do and accept that kid’s rooms are often messy.
Now, what if grandma is coming and it is important to mom that the room be cleaned up? You all know how grandma is.
The solution – make the problem the child’s. Mom now says “if you do not get this room cleaned up by the time grandma arrives you will not be going to the store with her,” or some other suitable negative consequence.
Now, who owns the problem? Why the child does of course. They need to get this job done in time to get grandma to take them shopping and buy them stuff. Now the child is motivated.
An aside here, make very sure that the phrase “room is a mess and needs to be cleaned up” is operationalized. The child needs to know exactly what you want done. They would be glad to throw all those dirty clothes in the closet and call the room clean. A specific list of things to be done before grandma arrives would be helpful here.
Now the more adult version of this issue.
Lots of commenters to this blog ask about getting others to change. I see this in the search engine terms also. Everyone wants someone else to change. How do you do that?
There are techniques to help others change or encourage that change and I have described those methods in a post on “Getting others to change.” There is also a series of posts about “How people change.”
Before you launch into that changing effort you need to ask yourself one question.
Who owns this problem?
If the person is isolating in their room, depressed and thinking of suicide by all means intervene. Professional help is called for here.
But what if your partner does not like to go out and you do?
In that case, you own this problem.
Most of the times we want others to change it is because their behavior bothers us. We own those problems. We can talk with the person, make changes in our behavior that encourage the change we want, but the other person still may decide they do not want to change.
If a behavior is not interfering with a person’s ability to work, have relationships with family or friends and is not making them unhappy, why then we professionals don’t see this as a problem for them.
So if the other person is choosing to not change and it is driving you nuts, you need to work on you.
Options here? Acceptance – radical acceptance is a good place to start. Consider changing yourself so you do not “upset yourself” so much. A good place to begin this practice might be with some “Mindfulness,” get centered in the present.
Enjoy the person and the situation for what they are instead of insisting that they change to suit you.
It is next to impossible to change problems that are not yours and most of the time when we try to change others we are trying to get them to solve our problem.
Suggestion – Take another look at the problems in your life and see who really owns them. If you own the problem then begin by changing you.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.