Monday, November 24, 2014

Post Estrangement: Reflection on the Expectations of Change

To change or not to change!   That is the question.

When is it beneficial to make changes in our lives and when do we need to say NO to change?

Often we find ourselves either in a situation where others are trying to coerce us into changing to please them or the opposite, we try to manipulate others into changing to please us.  Neither state is conducive to happiness.  When the impetus for change comes from the outside there is resistance and there is conflict and neither party ends up satisfied.

If we reflect for a moment, how it feels when we are pushed to make changes to accommodate someone else's needs we realize that it is an uncomfortable place to be.  

We may even want to please them because they are a loved one, however, when we are asked to sacrifice our essential belief in who we are, to please them, then we are faced with the difficult choice: 

"do I remain true to myself and risk upsetting 
them, or do I please them and betray myself?"   

What happens when we find ourselves put in a positions of being expected to change to make someone else happy?
This is something that parents that have been estranged by their adult offspring are familiar with.  Most of us have  been given some form of the ultimatum:

"you are faulty the way you are, 
you are not good enough as you are and you will be punished until you figure out what it is that is faulty and change yourself to suit my needs" 

Some estranged parents have even managed to hang onto a tentative relationship by "walking on eggshells" to preserve the peace of the family.  In the process of sublimating their own needs they become the willing doormat for those offspring who are now "in control".   They live in anguish that one wrong word or wrong action will be punished with more silent treatment. They betray their own needs for respect and love and acceptance just for a few moments of time with their offspring or their grandchild.

The end result is never good for anyone.  The "door mat" parent loses self-esteem and self-confidence and the "controlling" offspring never has to face their own inner daemons, to change to grow and learn because their wants and demands are always being met.

At some point in time we have to learn that as much as we dislike and are harmed by being put in the position of changing ourselves to oblige another, we must also appreciate that we must be aware of not putting that dilemma upon others.  This is the life lesson that many young adults have not yet learned.

What happens when we decide to put expectations of change on others?

  • Firstly you are letting the person you are trying to change know that you think that they are unacceptable or unlovable the way they are. You are in essence saying that they must change before you will accept them.
  • Secondly, you are placing your needs above theirs, in essence saying that you feel your needs for them to change are more worthy than their needs for them to be true to their own integrity.  You are creating a power struggle where none should exist.  

To expect the other person to change means you are really seeking the easy answer.  What you are thinking is that if they can be forced to see the light, my way of thinking, then harmony will result.  

'If they change, then their changing will make me happy' is the premise.   And 'if they change then I won’t have to do anything' because now I have been given happiness, / justice / acceptance or whatever it is I am seeking to gain from their change.

However, even should you get your way, you have not earned anything through your own actions, you have just demanded actions of others. In essence you have coerced another to change to please you.  You may have won the struggle but gained nothing of intrinsic value for your own change or growth.

Expecting or demanding others to change, is faulty thinking.  Their changing is only an illusion that you will now be content.   There will always be something else you want to change in others, another someone else to change to bring you contentment / happiness / peace etc.

You cannot get to a place of peace or contentment if you always rely on others to change to make you happy.  In fact you are setting yourself up for failure because almost no one is willing to change just to make you happy. 

The reason people change is because it makes them happy to do so.  They change because the reward is for themselves not because the reward is for you.

If your happiness is always dependent on getting other people to change, to be more accommodating to your needs and your feelings then you are not contributing toward your own happiness.  You are giving up your responsibility toward yourself and you will continue to feel justified in asking others to change for you, while at the same time doing nothing to change yourself to be more compassionate, more accepting, more forgiving, more tolerant etc.

Also you are setting yourself up for failure, because almost inevitably, most people will say, 

“NO, I will not change to please you.”  

When you are ask others to change and they refuse you are the one that suffers the disappointment and thus you remain in a state of unhappiness.  In essence you created your own unhappiness by creating circumstances where you are bound to be disappointed.

Only you changing your expectations and expanding your own personal growth challenges you and changes how you perceive your life and this in turn generates your control over your own happiness.

I challenge young adults everywhere to empower yourself by seeking to change the one person you have control over, yourself.

To change or not to change?

I believe the only changes you are entitled to make with a clear conscience are to yourself.

And now to bring this reflection full circle.

I was estranged when I stopped being the "door mat".   The day I said "NO" is the day the estrangement began.  I was being punished for saying "no you cannot treat me this way and yes I too have rights to be respected and appreciated for who I am and not for who you want me to be"

As much as being estranged has hurt me on many levels, it has also been a new beginning for me.  In the aftermath of being estranged I was forced down this path of getting to know my "true" self.  This time of self-discovery and learning that "I have value" has been an enlightening process.   Before the concept of "self"  and my intrinsic value as a person was a foreign concept to me.  I always felt that I had to "earn value" by being pleasing to others.

With this backward perception I was doomed to failure
because I was never "good enough" to meet some of the ridiculous standards expected of me. I also have learned that this negative self-belief is a red flag for people with narcissistic tendencies.  They see the "doormat" as offering an invitation to be exploited. 

Once I realized I had to change, the first thing I changed was my thoughts.  I started with self-talk that stated; "I have value because I am human and I do things for others because I am kind and compassionate and considerate and not to earn that which I already have by right of being human."

This turn around in thought allowed me to free myself from the destructive thought of "what did I do wrong?" to the much more accurate "what is wrong with them that they do not appreciate my worth?"

So now I am prepared for those times when someone asks me to change to make life easier for them. I now know I have every right to remain true to who I am and say;"NO".

This does not mean I won't change and grow (for I expect to continue this healing and learning journey for the rest of days), rather, it simply means I won't change myself to facilitate another person being able to escape making the changes they need to make within themselves.  

When they are acting controlling and manipulative that is not my problem!  Rather it is their character flaw!  It is not my role to accommodate their character flaw, rather they need to learn that they have no right to bully me.  In saying "no" to being manipulated and coerced I am actually giving them a valuable opportunity for self-awareness and growth. Whether or not they see that as an opportunity is not my responsibility. Only they can make the choice to learn and grow from a stalemate, where they do not get "their way" at my expense.

Learning this has freed me from the no win situation of my wistfully thinking my estranging daughter will change before she is ready to change.

My letters of begging to be forgiven were in effect me asking her to change when she was not ready, willing or able to change.

I release that expectation.  I let go of the need for her to change to be happy within my own life.  If and when she should change, I will be here, a healthier happier stronger me because I have grown in awareness of my own needs, desires and wants.  I will be an equal and not a door mat. And that is a good thing. 

Renate Dundys Marrello  
2014 - 11 - 24 
updated and revised 2015 - 08 - 24 

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