Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Like Old Dogs, People Can Learn New Tricks

Recently I was in a session with a client of mine who has done her best to convince me that people can't really change who they are. This issue routinely rears its ugly head when it comes to the unhappy relationship she's in with her husband. When she recites examples of things he does that she dislikes, I simply suggest that she ask him to stop doing those things. Trust me when I say that she's as a convincing as an Academy Award-winning actress when she says "he's never going to change."

Such statements are reflections of what mental health specialists call the core beliefs one has about the world, relationships, and himself or herself. These beliefs can, in fact, change over time.

I work hard to show my clients that you must teach people how to treat you. At first, the reaction I get is the usually the same, something defensive about how people can't really change that much. After this reaction often comes the declaration that it's too much work to be so vigilant and that they shouldn't have to tell their loved ones how to treat them - they should already know! In a nutshell, this statement reflects the wish to avoid the whole situation rather to confront it.

The reality is that people don't already automatically know how to treat you. They have their own histories, issues, and agendas. While the world is full of amazingly good people, it also bears its fair share of inappropriate individuals. In the end, it's your job to keep your relationships in healthy, working order. This doesn't mean that you must transform yourself into the behavior police but you must be mindful of your interactions with others. Your goal isn't to change anyone's personality but rather to ask the people in your life to change the behaviors they engage in with you. When someone crosses a boundary or disrespects you, handle it so that it doesn't happen again. Teach your loved ones what your needs are so that they can help meet them and you can experience fulfillment and peace.

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