As a psychologist, I see a lot of people suffer because they keep trying to change a loved one. They try to force an abusive parent to not manipulate and to apologize, or they try to change a partner or a child. There are parents who try to arrange a child’s whole life, and cannot tolerate any mistakes they may make.
Many years ago in Chicago, I saw a Reiki healer, Deanne Lozano. She is a wonderful Reiki practitioner and I took a few of her classes as well. One day we were talking and she said, “People need to be on the level they need to be on.” We might not mean exactly the same thing, but this has been with me, this piece of wisdom, and has become a part of me. Deanne came from the place that people need to love people as they are, regardless of level. As a psychologist, that is not quite my emphasis. Mine is that we need to ACCEPT that people are where they are, whether we love them or not. Granted, this usually comes up with loved ones, but it seems to me acceptance is more the psychological issue.
I have seen so many people suffer by trying to get an apology for years, one that is not forthcoming. They try everything, to no avail. Nowadays, it is probably true that everyone has some disturbed relatives or at least ones with some degree of dysfunction. Adult children are often paralyzed by guilt and cannot get free of being dominated by a mentally ill parent. Adult children are often filled with shame and anxiety trying to disprove how they really feel about themselves deep down. I have also seen parents push their children to be popular and to have the best grades, and it really is a soul-numbing way to have to grow up.
Often, these are love relationships. An adult child wants to share things with the parents that are not possible. While I think who we love is an individual decision. I do think we have to accept. People are the way they are and, truthfully, we only have the power to change ourselves. When people do want to change, a therapist can be a guide and companion, but the walk will be walked by the client.
When people share with me that they are fighting a hurt or disappointment year after year and getting more and more frustrated trying to change someone, I share with them what Deanne said long ago. They hear the words and look shocked, and they get it. People need to be on the level where they need to be. Deanne said many others have said this better, but I like how she said it. Maybe she meant love and I mean acceptance, but I have seen that this has set a lot of people free, this ability to accept the way things are, and this provides a foundation of emotional strength and growth. This does not mean we do not fight to make the world better, or permit or accept clearly wrong or hurtful behavior. Rather, this idea allows us to accept how another human being is in the world, and not set ourselves up for frustration and further pain but to align our expectations and make decisions that are rooted in reality. It also enables us to remember that we are not responsible for the behaviors of another. We know what we give and what we do, and what others do with that must be owned by them.
As a therapist, when people tell me that someone who has hurt them HAS to change, I share Deanne’s statement with them. There is always a surprised silenced, a pause, followed by an “Oh.” It is a powerful truth. It actually empowers people and gives them the tool to let go of a significant part of what hurts emotionally.
Aleta Edwards, Psy.D.
I am a psychotherapist in private practice, with a strong interest in shame and perfectionism. I will periodically post my thoughts about these topics and other observations relating to emotional health.