“If he wasn’t as he is, everything would be better.” “I sacrifice so much and that’s how he pays me.” “It makes me angry that he does that.” The list of complaints about the attitudes of the others can be endless. In fact, maybe you would like your parents to be more understanding, your partner more detailed, your friends more available, your colleagues more collaborative, your boss more friendly …
When people don’t behave according to your expectations, it is frustrating. Without a doubt, it is frustrating that they do not recognize what you do for them or that they do not reciprocate in the same way. However, regretting the attitudes of the others, for everything they should do but don’t do or for everything they do that they shouldn’t do, is the surest recipe for falling into the loop of permanent dissatisfaction.
The truth is that we all have aspects of our personality that we can improve. We could all be more sympathetic, understanding, available, friendly, collaborative or thoughtful. However, we can only change ourselves. We cannot change the others. And the sooner we understand it, the better.
“Evangelizers” with a self-centered bias
We tend to think that if the others behaved like us, everything would be fine. This is obviously a fallacy. The world needs diversity. Everything is in a balance of opposites. And that means there has to be room for everything and everyone. What we like and what we dislike. What makes us happy and what turns us sad.
In fact, thinking that the others should behave like us is based on the belief that only our decisions, attitudes and values are positive, praiseworthy and worthy of imitation. Therefore, the others are the ones who make mistakes and must change. Thus we run the risk of becoming “evangelizers” who preach good behavior but don’t act according to it. We do not realize that in this way we condemn ourselves to failure beforehand because we cannot change the others if they do not get involved in that change.
Parents, for example, can educate their children and transmit to them certain values and norms of behavior, but that does not mean that they can mold them to their image and likeness, much less pretend that they are as they wish. Each person is independent and must make their decisions independently.
That does not mean that we should suffer in toxic relationships or that we have to passively accept destructive criticism, humiliations, or rudeness from the others. Problems and conflicts arise in all relationships that must be addressed and corrected to facilitate coexistence.
We don’t have to hide what we think or ignore things that are important to us. It is not about accepting abuse, but about understanding that our vision and path are not the only possible ones. Therefore, we do not need to change the others, we only need to change the type of relationship we have.
The difference is not merely terminological, but implies a new distribution of responsibilities and “faults” because it means that the other person does not have something intrinsically bad or negative, but that certain behaviors and attitudes are not compatible with us and with the type relationship that we want to maintain.
If we can’t change the others, what can we do?
Trying to understand the behavior of the people around us, especially those who are part of our circles of trust, will be much more useful in the long run than regretting it. To do this, we must stop trying to change the others thinking that we have the truth in hand and that we know the right path. Instead, we can:
1. Discover their triggers. We all have emotional triggers. These are red buttons that, when touched, make us react viscerally. The people we associate with have those triggers too. Understanding what they are will help us improve the relationship. For example, maybe that person has sensitive topics that it would be better not to touch or reacts badly when he is under pressure. It is about identifying what are the things that they cannot bear to try to avoid them.
2. Delve into our reasons. A relationship is always a matter of two. Therefore, we cannot limit ourselves to looking outside, blaming the other, we must redirect our attention to ourselves. Why does a certain attitude or behavior irritate you? As long as it is not an abusive person, our expectations, desires and experiences also shape the image we have of that person. Therefore, it is worth asking ourselves: Why does he bother me? Was it really that serious or did I take it too seriously? We are likely to discover that we are exaggerating or that it is all about that they have not met our expectations.
3. Focus on what we want from the relationship. We cannot change the attitudes of the others, but we can change the relationship we establish with them. It means that we should stop focusing on everything that the other supposedly does wrong to focus on what is not working in the relationship. So instead of blaming that person for everything that goes wrong, we focus on what we find unsatisfactory in the relationship and wonder how we can both improve it.
Finally, we must bear in mind that many times people do not hurt us intentionally. Everyone carries their own burden of worries, anguish, fears, insecurities, and problems. We all make mistakes. We cannot change the attitudes of the others, their ideas or influence their behaviors to suit our needs or way of seeing the world. Tolerance and flexibility are keys to maintaining satisfying relationships and protecting our mental balance.