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Why you should stop trying to fix people

An extract from a new book on psychology states that anyone can cultivate the awareness and skills needed to deal with different people, even difficult ones

Trying to change people can lead to loads of resentment, bitterness, lost time and lost opportunities
Trying to change people can lead to loads of resentment, bitterness, lost time and lost opportunities (Pexels)

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One afternoon, sitting at my favourite café, with a cup of steaming coffee in my hand, I was having a conversation with this love struck to-be-married friend of mine. The dreamy look in her eyes, the goofy grin plastered on her face, eyes alight, skin glowing, she looked completely in love. ‘He is everything I have always dreamt of’ she gushed. Intrigued, I asked her what did she mean by that. 

‘’He makes me feel so complete. He is everything that I am not.” she said with a faraway look in her eyes. “In what way?” I asked a little skeptically. She replied, “He is strong, ambitious, confident and speaks his mind so clearly. He is so assured and at ease with people. I love that about him. It’s almost as if my life has expanded after I have met him. He is so full of energy, and there not a dull moment with him’’

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I reflected on what she said and realised it was true. My otherwise soft, docile, sensitive friend, who had always been extremely selective about whom she befriended or went out with, did seem vibrant and full of life. 

Three years later, back in the same café with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand, this very friend of mine cannot stand the sight of the man, she once fell so head over heels in love with. “What happened”, I asked her gently.

“He is so stubborn & aggressive. He has to get his bloody way at everything. He is an insensitive and selfish a**hole. I just can’t stand being with him anymore” she answered with tears in her eyes. What a volatile switch of a fairy-tale romance into a nightmare! While he has not really changed as a person, she now sees a different side of him. Rather the same side, but differently. I have seen many versions of this in my career, and it amazes me every single time how extroverts find themselves drawn to the quiet introverts, or how high achievers can be attracted to the relaxed and laid-back ones, or how the party goers find themselves with solitude-seekers, or the impulsive spenders to the practical & thrifty savers. 

What seems like the perfect example of two halves, creating a whole, it doesn’t always remain that harmonious. The very things that seemed attractive, intriguing and different in the beginning, now start to become a thorn in the side, pricking, irritating and offensive. 

Let’s get to the root of it. Human relationships are governed by the law of complementarity; which states that we get attracted to those people whose personality complements or fits with us in a way that creates a more complete or whole system. The objective of this to provide a counterbalance to each other. Why? Because, this prevents the relationship from becoming unstable and moving towards one extreme or another. Makes sense, isn’t it? 

This happens to be true not only in intimate relationships, but also with friends, family, colleagues or siblings. These differences in personality, allow us to build a different perspective, to share strengths, to balance weaknesses, to solve issues that you can’t do alone, and to grow as a person. That’s exactly what my ambitious, extroverted, well networked, ‘life of the party’ sister does. She offers the perfect contrast to my sensitive, overly thoughtful, introverted perspective to life. 

Often when I get caught up with the smaller issues, she reminds me to stop being a victim and take charge of my life! Sometimes that is exactly the whack I need on my head. Whether personal, professional or social, these personality differences can be wonderfully complimenting and hugely rewarding. Yet they are not always easy to handle. Have you thought of the fact that 75% of the people we meet in this lifetime are going to be completely different from us? 

However, when faced with the differences, it surprises us. We are quick to ask the question “Why are you like that?”, “Why can’t you be more like…?” and more. The fact is that while we enjoy differences in the short term, in the long term we start trying to ‘change’, ‘sort’ or ‘fix’ people to suit our own idea of how they should be. 

Often there have been times in my life, where I have been guilty of trying to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ others too. One of those people, happens to be my husband, who is also my partner at work. Our relationship has constantly walked the tightrope of work demands and personal needs, having to maintain the precarious balance between the two.

When he wanted to drive new challenges at work, I needed us to slow down and spend more quality time together. When he wanted to play a hippie and travel the world to explore his life, I needed the security of work and home. 

While he thrived on new experiences, I craved for the familiar. My sensitivity provided the contrast to his ambition. While I knew that we were meant to be different as people and consciously celebrated our differences, at a subconscious level I had a long list of how he ‘should’ be as a partner. Every time my expectations were met, I loved our relationship, and patted my back for the right choice I had made. However, when my list of ‘shoulds’ were not met, it led to anger, irritation and resentment. 

Those were the times when I would try to change him, to suit my needs. For the longest time I believed that I was only trying to ‘motivate’, ‘inspire’, and ‘help’ him to grow, till he gently pointed out that I was trying to change him and I was fooling myself to think otherwise. 

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Think about all the energy you put into trying to change someone else. Is it fun? Is it working out well for you? Probably not. All you are probably doing is focusing on the things you want changed and putting a lot of negative energy and thoughts toward it. But ultimately nothing changes, isn’t it? 

This eventually leads to loads of resentment, bitterness, lost time and lost opportunities, all of which could be avoided with an understanding of how to adapt to different personalities.

Is it possible to do make this change in perspective? The answer is yes. It is possible to build the awareness and skills to deal with different people, even the seemingly difficult ones, without trying to ‘change’ or ‘fix’ them. 

This is one of the most powerful lessons that we need to learn, in order to make our relationships easy and meaningful.

Extracted with permission from 'What Shape Are You?’ penned by Sneha Shah and Dr Susan Dellinger, published by Westland Books. 

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