One day, I looked across 30 years of my adult life and asked myself, what do people really want? The answer popped into my head almost instantly. “They want other people to change.”
A woman told me how hurt she felt by the way her mother treated her when she made a mistake as a child. One time, she folded the towels wrong. Her mother grabbed the pile of towels, threw them in her face and called her ‘good for nothing.” That was more than thirty years ago.
Her mother wanted her to change – to be a better, perhaps even perfect, towel folder. Today, she is an expert at keeping her house meticulously clean but she doesn’t thank her mother for it. Instead, the wound of how her mother “changed” her remains vivid and raw.
Every time you get annoyed or frustrated, you want someone to change. When the traffic backs up, you want the drivers to drive smarter or get off the road. When your child whines and complains, they want you to change. When your spouse criticizes the way you dress, the thoughtless remark you made or how you never listen, he/she wants you to change.
We slough these off as minor irritants. And they are. Like Chinese water torture. Drip. Drip. Underneath these irritants lays an unconscious belief that triggers our unhappiness. “If you really cared about me, you would be nicer, kinder and more supportive.” Their desire to change us triggers a fear in each of us: “Perhaps I am not lovable as I am now.”
We use others to affirm ourselves as worthy of love. Their desire to change us says we are not worthy. Until we get over this, we will always want to change other people because their non-acceptance scares us at a deep, existential level.
We protect ourselves from this by judging them – as “good-for-nothings” or in a thousand other ways, pressuring them to change. The real change we want is for them to accept us. Of course, pressuring them to accept us communicates that we don’t accept them either! Thus a judgmental cycle is sparked and grows destructively, just as Jesus forewarned.
The key is to be self-empowered. You can choose to change for another person’s benefit. You can choose to remain who you are. Both are valid options. Neither defines whether you are lovable or not. Knowing you get to choose frees you from getting sucked into the judgmental cycle so you can enjoy inner peace, even if they still want you to change.