People become defensive at the thought of someone telling them or implying that they must change. “I am who I am; take it or leave it” is often the response. “I’m not changing for anyone. Except me for who I am or don’t be in my life.” While many view these comments as signs of self-confidence – that one does not rely on the approval of others to determine their worth or that they are perfectly content with themselves exactly as they are – in truth this attitude is typically a cover-up for fear. “If I change then I am admitting there is something wrong with me. If I change, then others are controlling who I am and/or dictating who I become.” Neither option is appealing but rather quite disturbing. To admit one’s flaws can further damage one’s compromised sense of self. Giving in to the demands of others relinquishes one’s free will (freedom of choice) to another. Yet if we examine the need to change who we are in greater detail, we’ll see that neither need be the case.
First, let me state that we all need to change. Just as we periodically change our clothing when it no longer fits or becomes frayed or soiled, we also need to occasionally amend such things as our belief systems, methods of performing certain tasks, our ways of thinking or how we experience the world. Yet change without confidence in self is extremely difficult. One would not embark on a new career if they did not feel secure that they were qualified to do their new job well and/or that the switch would ultimately be beneficial to them. One must believe undeniably in their own abilities and fortitude before comfortably engaging in any life adjustments.
Secondly, it is important to note that before making any alterations in one’s self, one must fully know who they are. You are God’s sacred child, an expression of His Love manifest in physical form. The very nature of who you are is love: kindness, compassion, courage, forgiveness, justice, generosity, and so on. This is the you that you need to know intimately. Understand, too, that one is unable to change their intrinsic self. Like the color of your eyes, who you are is preordained by the Almighty and will remain intact for the duration of your existence. And it need not change for it is perfection in (human) form.
Thirdly, like your clothing or hairstyle, what needs to change from time to time are your attitudes and actions – the way you think and behave. Keep in mind that both of these are learned and serve a purpose in the moment. Keep in mind, too, that negative attitudes and like actions lead to difficulties in life. When we entertain positive thoughts they are followed by positive behaves as well and we reap the rewards of our choices.
Those attitudes and actions that need modification (or elimination) are those that do not support one’s authentic self. When we don’t outwardly express our true nature we create internal conflict for ourselves (“I’m a nice guy but I sometimes treat others poorly.”) We deceive ourselves by not acknowledging that our actions do not accurately reflect the goodness of who we are. There are times, too, when we recognize the contradiction but feel powerless over it. “Why am I hesitant to speak up? I’m not afraid of what others may think of me.” This leads to internal discontent and stress.
Our incongruent actions also cause confusion for those we are interacting with. They cannot fully know who we are if in fact we are acting out in a contradictory manner (being hurtful, sarcastic, lazy, mean-spirited, etc.) when they have already witnessed the goodness within us. This makes them question our trustworthiness, not knowing when we will contradict our nature with opposite behaviors. Lack of trust weakens the very foundation of any relationship and impedes its ability to grow and survive. If I am an intelligent person but I make ignorant choices, or give little regard to the decisions I make, then others begin to doubt my judgment, and my reputation as well as my relationship with them suffers.
Fourthly, the willingness to change means one is accepting enough of themselves to realize they need improvement in certain aspects of their life; that they are not fully comfortable of the way they are living; that they are a proverbial work in progress and are continually seeking to grow and improve. Like a worker who takes continuing education classes to always be up on the latest changes in their field so that they can be the best employee on the job, so is this same approach necessary to succeed in life. Someone once said, “Be content with what you have but never be content with who you are.”
In truth, we are continually modifying our behaviors in many different circumstances. A casual dresser wears formal attire to the wedding of a best friend as requested by the bride and groom; one who is shy takes command of the stage when performing; one who readily speaks their mind remains silent in order to protect someone’s feelings. We do this subconsciously without hesitation. Therefore the real issue is not so much a resistance to change but rather when it appears at the request or demand of another.
Fifthly, changing for others can be an indication of concern for their well-being. We speak to adults in one particular way yet if we encounter someone with a hearing impairment or a learning disability, we adjust how we interact with them by making certain that we speak in a way they can relate to. If my husband requests that I take my shoes off before entering the house so that I don’t track pollen in on my shoes that could cause him respiratory distress, as a loving wife I would gladly accommodate him. He is not asking that I change who I am but rather that I modify my actions in order to make life more comfortable for him. And if I asked him to be a little more quiet around the house from time to time rather than always expressing the boisterous person he is, I would hope that his love for me is great enough to do so. Call it love or concern or consideration or respect: life is a series of interactions with others and the more thoughtfulness we extend to others the easier our relationships, and ultimately our lives, will be. Of course, all of these requests and adjustments must be fair and reasonable.
Resistance to change causes the same rigidity that can make a stiff tree snap in a strong wind. Those that are willing to bend to accommodate the wind remain intact. Humans who adopt an attitude that they will not change for anyone are fearful of relinquishing who they are for the satisfaction of another. Resistance to change in general can be an indication of one who lives in denial of their unhealthy attitudes, actions, lifestyles, relationships and so on. Low self esteem prevents them from recognizing their imperfections and lack of courage or self-love prevents them from making the necessary improvements.
Even though we deny it, we all expect others to change for us in some way, shape or form. Spouses must be willing to accommodate their partner’s needs; family members must take into consideration what matters to other members and make the necessary adjustments (such as in meal preparations); coworkers need to modify the way they speak with and interact with others on the job to be more professional, and so on. The willingness to put another’s preferences above our own when necessary is thoughtful, courageous, respectful, and unselfish. Those are the very characteristics that we all seek in friendships, intimate relationships, and those we work with and interact with socially. Therefore we must be willing to extend those courteousies to others first.
Again, I am not suggesting one changes who they are intrinsically for in that regard we are all perfect. I am recommending that changing one’s attitudes and actions are not only necessary but vital to one’s success in life. Remember, too, that authentic change must be voluntary. Forced change is coercion or compliance and will never be lasting nor create a healthy, happy life.
Never settle for being the way you act; always seeking to learn, to grow, and to improve so that you may have the life God created you to have. When your outward attitudes and actions align with your intrinsic nature you will find inner peace and contentment.
“A bad attitude is like a flat tire: if you don’t change it you won’t get very far in life.”
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