Helena Önneby

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The Art of Changing Other People

The eternal question. I get it often. How do I get my parent / partner / friend to change? How do I help my child / sibling understand what they need to do to feel better? Hmm. Not a very easy question. Or is it? The simple answer is of course, and unfortunately, you can’t change another human being.

Sorry. It’s true. We are all responsible for our own lives (as adults) and we always have the right to choose for ourselves in every second. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and reactions. Sure, with threats or violence we can get someone else to do what we want, but I think we all can agree that this is not the path we ever want to choose.

I often end up here myself. I see how someone close to me is struggling in life and I would like to express clearly: If you just do this or that, then everything will get better for you! Sometimes I even say it but it never works. Especially not if they themselves did not ask for my advice.

I know, you may have tried something that worked for you, and you just want the best for the one you love. And maybe you’re even right (though not always!). But neither raised voices, unsolicited advice or pleading work on a person who does not want to change. It needs to come from within themselves for it to work, for it to last, for it to have the desired effect.

So what do we do then? To help and support someone who is having a hard time? Who may have difficulty in a way that we ourselves recognize or that we think we have the solution to? We simply be with them. Without expectations. Loving. We trust their own ability to find their way. And we maintain our own boundaries and take responsibility for our own needs.

As some of you may know, a few years ago I was very ill, with six different chronic autoimmune diagnoses and was truly unwell (I have written about it here). I found a way to healing through functional medicine, by taking a holistic perspective on my health and through extensive dietary changes. Of course, I have talked a lot about this with friends and family and my diet often stands out when we get together. I’ve talked about how this has changed my life over and over again and why I think it is so important for many of us. I have been doing this for more than 8 years now. And then, few months ago I got a call from a close person in my life who had just had an inspiring conversation with a friend and they exclaimed: “Did you know this Helena, that what you eat can affect your health!?”.

I really do not want to point fingers here and this is not about this particular person but I could not help but smile to myself. And conclude that what I’d talked about for the last eight years seemed to have gone straight through them. But when a similar message came from the right person at the right time, it landed.

We can’t force anyone else to change and we do not always know what someone else needs. But it’s always a good idea to love. To just be there. To maybe be a role model, not for the purpose of changing someone else but because we simply live our own lives, in the way we have chosen. Just like others get to choose how they want to live their lives. Accepting someone else’s choice is love.

I heard such a good quote on the subject a few years ago, I think it was from Mastin Kipp: You must not deprive anyone of their rock bottom. It is not your right to take away from someone their darkest moment, because it can be important. When you’re constantly trying to save someone (who may not want to be saved) from falling, you don’t allow them to get to the bottom to find their own foothold again.

And it is my experience that when I back off, love, and live my own life, then I have the best chance to inspire a change. But that’s not why I do it. I do it because it feels right and important to me in that moment. I can love even those who do not agree. I can love those who choose to resist change. And I know, as always, that I too can be wrong.

What does this awaken in you? What are your experiences of wanting to have others understand what you think is best for them?

This is a guest post. Any opinions expressed are the writer’s own.



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