Only We Can Change Ourselves

Thought for the week: Only We can Change Ourselves

Ever witness a friend, partner, or family member struggle with an issue over and over again? You listen to them vent, try to offer suggestions and solutions only to see them ignore your ideas and continue in the same routine, over and over again. You care about them deeply, making it all the more difficult to watch them repeat the cycle of getting themselves into these emotional or situational quagmires. It can be exhausting, concerning and frustrating. “Experts” say that the most difficult emotion to experience is not being hurt ourselves, but to experience someone close to us being upset or harmed. This remains true even if it is self -harm.

Several examples:

~ For whatever reasons (over responsible, worried about judgements, perfectionistic or OCD), your loved one is unable to manage stress and anxiety in a healthy way, falling to pieces when something goes awry. Your ideas of stress reduction, balance of work & play, or limit setting seem to be heard and even appreciated. The person swears to try harder but nothing changes.

~ This friend, family member or partner blows their top in anger at the big stuff AND the little stuff at unpredictable times. Any of us lose our cool now and then, but you may grow weary of repeated overreactions, embarrassments and/or plans coming to a screeching halt because of what another “said” or “did” to your loved one and now they are too upset to do anything.

~ The people pleaser (the martyr), always making sure everyone else is taken care of, but rarely making the time or having energy left to care for themselves. They complain to you about not having time to exercise, read or relax. You hear this, support them, offer suggestions, yet they jump when the needs of others come calling, repeating the cycle.

~ Trying to help a loved one suffering from an addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, and eating issues is another example. Many get caught in the trap of trying to help them to the point of enabling without even realizing it.

~ The person close to you may be repeatedly down about certain situations in life. You buy books, offer ideas, suggestions of therapy, exercise, nutrition, yoga, volunteering or walks. The complaining stops for a bit until then the cycle starts over.


You scratch your head wondering what it is going to take for things to change. You have run out of ideas, energy or perhaps patience. The bottom line is this: No matter what we do or how hard we work, we can’t fix those we love or their problems for them. Only they can change themselves. We can help them when they are ready to help themselves, and when they open to the support we are offering.

In other words, sometimes the best help is to stop trying to fix things for them. Sometimes the best help is to set a limit, draw a line in the sand or move away from the situation.

Examples of what we might say:

~ “I love you. I am concerned for you. Here are examples of how this is affecting me and I need for things to change.”

~ “I need to distance myself from the harm you are doing to yourself. “

~ “This needs to be addressed or things between us will change.”

~ “I’m not asking you to keep things bottled up and only talk to me about the good stuff. I’m asking you to address this issue on a deeper level, to get to the bottom of it and make a change for the long run.”

Remember: Addressing the issues directly with your loved one may be emotional and difficult, but your willingness to do so is a sign of love and hope for continued connection. Sometimes people benefit from the limits those around them set. Often they unable to facilitate a change until they are forced to see the bigger picture of how their behavior is affecting those closest to them.