To change or not to change

My supervisor shared an intriguing thought in our last session. He believes an individual either has an intuitive reflex to change or does not. I like the term ‘intuitive reflex’, and I understand that some people have an inherent gut feeling that is presented as a reflex or a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to change themselves at any given opportunity. At the same time, others are blocked in their defensive structures with very little desire to alter or work on themselves intentionally.
There is an argument for saying that everyone changes with time, and that’s true. Still, that change is a passive process that gradually evolves, and the difference holds very little significance. As people grow older, they slow-down in life, their temperaments mellow, or they become more receptive to listening to others’ opinions on how they impact them.
For example, it’s common to hear that an individual with anger issues all his youth becomes less ill-tempered in old age. Or that he starts paying more attention to what his loved ones were trying to communicate to him. As we get older and are physically less energetic or become more vulnerable to the realisation that we are reaching the end of our time, we start to let go of our rigid defences and allow space for others.
Sometimes excruciating life circumstances can force change onto people. Losing a loved one, losing financial status, or having conflicts in relationships causes people to look within themselves. But in most cases, behavioural change lasts only until the next time. Very few people have a deep desire to change and explore and try to understand themselves. They are less resistant to feedback and have the humility to question their blind spots and how they affect the people in their life. They are up for the challenge and the hard work that goes in trying to work through their traumas and their habitual ways of creating ruptures in their relationships. There is a will to change and accept their growing edges, and it’s a reflex in them when others point out their personality issues to look within rather than point fingers at others.
So, there are people who want to change, and they do change, and then those who refuse to, and their best attempt is to work on their behaviours which is a short-term change and can only last for a little while. How does the former lot co-exist with the latter?
In my two cents, if we are the group of people who have the in-built psychological sophistication to understand the complexity of human beings and can appreciate that all the work is within us, and our intimate relationships are narcissistically stuck in their defensive castles and don’t want to budge, letting go and accepting them as that’s who they are is the best we can do.
It’s frustrating as a person who believes in change will project that reflex onto the other and imagine the other has the same will. But the sooner they realise that it’s a projection and not the other person’s reality, the faster they will feel at peace by accepting others as they are will come. We are sometimes stuck in an impossible relationship, and there is no way to escape them. There may be a way, but it’s complicated, so the next best thing is to continue to change, work on yourself, and stop expecting others to do the same. Create your space in the world and work through that and let go of the rest. Most people will have some shift over the years, and maybe for the better, but only some of you will take ownership of that process and become who you truly are.

The writer is a BACP (British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at or her official website.

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