September 18, 2006
Making Change
I can't make up my mind.

(You don't sound shocked.)

I won't waste your time with lots of Carrie Bradshaw set-up, where the reader must withstand six minutes of bad fashion/boobs/latte intros before getting to the meaty question of the episode (e.g., So his constant clinginess had me and the girls wondering, are our hours really ours?)


I'm struggling with the concept of change. I know that things change. I have a patch of grey hair that five years ago didn't peek out from underneath my combover. The leaves collecting along street curbs tell me another season is walking in the door.

But do people change? Not can they, as in babies can be born with two heads, one can change her eating habits and actually keep obesity at bay until after the ten-year reunion. But do they? Does long-term change actually happen in the real people of the real world?

I used to be a student of the affirmative response. My very training is in the science of behavior change. You don't have to suffer from depression forever. You can replace these unhealthy behaviors with more adaptive ones. I have known people who have freed themselves from dependence on a multitude of substances, and after dozens of years they haven't gone back. I've heard rumors of high school mean girls who seem to have softened considerably when ten years out they marry the nice boys of your graduating class. We all have known an octogenarian who no longer uses racial slurs at the Thanksgiving dinner table, a mother who makes efforts to listen to a child's explanation before handing down a punishment, or a spouse who finally recognizes that the constant ribbing isn't quite as funny when you're on the receiving end.

But you know what? In my limited experience, behavior change doesn't follow the plotline of a Nanny 911 episode and eventually, you can almost bet on people sliding. That is, more often than not, we just are who we are. By adulthood we are conditioned and wired to do things in a certain way, to see our world accordingly, and to treat others in a relatively predictable pattern. I have witnessed relationships on the verge of collapse move into safe territory for months under the promise and even the achievement of change, only to disintegrate when it became obvious that the walls were just too heavy for two people to prop up. Try changing a social bias in a friend that they've clearly assumed since childhood. Or taking the thing you wish you could change most about yourself, not your hair color or your dress size, but that catty but extremely fulfilling way in which you gossip with hate, you just knowing that anything he says is bound to be dumb, or better yet, your unforgiving relationship with your mother.

Think you could successfully take on more than one? Even one?

And in my mind, this doesn't just apply to positive movement. Binges and phases are exactly that: a close girlfriend who showers time and investment on a new friendship eventually comes back to tend to yours. I swung into months of neglecting myself and others, but this extreme state did not last for long; my pendulum eventually swung back toward normalcy and the core person I know myself to be. I have a friend who recently plunged into the darkside of insensitivity and living inside a complete bubble of his own selfishness. My belief is that in time he too will regress to his own mean and will return to being a friend who considered the feelings of others often before his own. Then again, maybe this latter state is who this man really is.

Whichever your take on it, what saddens and strikes me is just how pessimistic my viewpoint on change actually is. How it assumes in many cases that we are ultimately powerless.

And just how unlike the true me I know that to be.


What if changing my dress size or my hair color are what I'd really really really like to change right now?

God, I wish I were kidding.

Blogger themikestand said...

Couldn't there be just a little boob-talk?

I apologise if I've evaded the main question of your entry. Remember, though, that setting your expectations low is a good way of exceeding your expectations.

Hmm. On the one hand, I believe that changes sometimes DO work, and take permanent root, but only if they are rooted somewhere in the person's personality to begin with. Since that's rather vague, I'll give an example -- I was shamed into long solitude and social awkwardness thanks to years of bad experiences in childhood. As an adult, it took a lot of effort, but I eventually shook off those experiences and embraced the social butterfly that I truly am. I don't think anyone in the world could describe me as shy or standoffish now, whereas 8 or 9 years ago, they almost certainly could.

That being said, however, I'm a strong believer in accepting other people for who they are, moment by moment, without ever expecting change. I have seen far too many relationships fail due to one partner seeing the other as a project or work-in-progress. Acknowledge reality, and at the very least, you won't be disappointed when things remain the same.

Apologies for longest. comment. ever.

Anonymous Bill said...

If it's unlike the true you, what's causing you to believe that we're fundamentally powerless? Do you feel yourself sliding back from a change you've made?

I agree that it's hard for a person to change a meaningful behavior. Perhaps it can't change if it's externally-driven, but if the motive is internal and ongoing it can work. Do people stop smoking? Yes, though that's partly just ending the physical addiction. Now I'm struggling for a better example. Parenthood? Hmm.

Anonymous Bill said...

If it's unlike the true you, what's causing you to believe that we're fundamentally powerless? Do you feel yourself sliding back from a change you've made?

I agree that it's hard for a person to change a meaningful behavior. Perhaps it can't change if it's externally-driven, but if the motive is internal and ongoing it can work. Do people stop smoking? Yes, though that's partly just ending the physical addiction. Now I'm struggling for a better example. Parenthood? Hmm.

Blogger JoJo said...

Aw Kris...this post makes me want to send you a hug.

I've long accepted that I can't change other people nor can I change who I am. All I can do is change my reactions to those around me and even that doesn't work a lot of the time!

Life's just frustrating.

Blogger Paige Jennifer said...

Okay. Enough.

Yes, you can change! Aren't we all works in progress? As long as you WANT to change, you can. It just takes some serious conviction, focus and sometimes a script.

As for changing someone else? Never gonna happen. My most recent Ex dresses better because of me (ladies of DC, you're welcome) but he is still a selfish prick.

Blogger Evil Genius said...

I'm afraid I am as pessimistic as you are about people changing in a meaningful way. But maybe that's only past experience talking, and all that experience has been bad. Perhaps if I really met someone who'd made that kind of a change (or if I'd done so myself) I'd be less cynical.

JoJo's right. Life IS just frustrating.

Blogger Kris said...

love it love it. keep the great comments coming. amazing how differently we all see these issues. and yes, you, lurker - you have an opinion!!! ;)


Blogger Margaret said...

People grow their entire lives. Life and experience and psychotherapy can move all kinds of mountains.... but to quote Scott Peck, (my self-help hero) "Life is difficult."

Blogger Kris said...

in all seriousness, is growing different than changing?

Hmm. I see "growing" as something that a person initiates on his/her own, and "change" as something requested by someone else. Regardless, expecting change or growth from another person is a useless enterprise, because your hopes and expectations are always based on a person being something other than they are right now.

I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who assume that I have asked AUA to quit smoking, quit drinking, start eating right, etc. I've never attempted to change any of that, not only because it's just not in my DNA to do it, but because I think it's unfair.

Blogger d. said...

i do not believe we are powerless at all but i do believe we are conditioned to do things a certain way. not saying that our parents or role model adults have heaped a bunch of crap on us just that i think it takes alot of something (i don't know what, because i haven't found it step out of that comfort zone or rut that we believe is the right thing to do or the right way of doing it or something that doesn't rock the boat.

PS (and really, I should just do my own damn post about this) -- The only thing I have requested from AUA is certain accommodations when his behavior directly impacts me. For example, I might ask him to smoke outside (becauseI have asthma), but I wouldn't ask him to quit. He's a big boy and he can make his own decisions about how he treats his body.

Blogger missbhavens said...

I can't help but wonder whether or not some specific incident set you to thinking about this stuff. It's been on my mind, too, but I've been dealt some icky blows lately, so it makes sense.

Oh, we're powerless alright...and it is a little upsetting; even a bit negative. Not pessimistic, though. Remember all those sudden swings and the underlying hope?? The attempt to change? Those are generally quite positive...they don't always stick, it's true.

But I think the attempt it always worth something.

Blogger Gwen said...

Lucy Grealy said this in her book, "Autobiography of a Face," which might have something to say about your own thoughts on change: "I used to think truth was eternal, that once I knew, once I saw, it would be with me forever, a constant by which everything else could be measured. I know now that this isn't so, that most truths are inherently unretainable, that we have to work hard all our lives to remember the most basic things."

Maybe the problem isn't that people CAN'T change but simply that they DON'T, very often, because it's really really hard work to do so. Being vigilant against even the smallest slippage can be exhausting.

I don't think we're powerless, idealist that I may be, I just think that too many of us don't KNOW we're not powerless.

Blogger Gwen said...

I wanted to add, because I'm anal that way, that I'm not advocating for Lucy Grealy as a sage, since she had a long list of her own problems (not the least being the heroine habit that caused her to OD), but I still think her words have merit.

Blogger mysterygirl! said...

I just left you a comment and it disappeared! One more try:

I like Gwen's sentence, "Being vigilant against even the smallest slippage can be exhausting." That seems to sum it up, in my opinion. People have a great capacity to change, but it's almost impossible to maintain those changes because it takes so much work. (This was WAY more eloquent the first time) And this mama gots her some Laguna to watch, so how can I be bothered?

Blogger mysterygirl! said...

I like Gwen's sentence, "Being vigilant against even the smallest slippage can be exhausting." That seems pretty accurate to me. People have a great capacity to change-- it's just too damn exhausting to keep those changes up. And this mama gots her some Laguna to watch-- how can I be bothered to try to reform?

Blogger Kim said...

I don't think people "change" but they "evolve". The difference is in evolution there's still something at the core that is the same.

Why they evolve into a better person (i.e. you) or an asshole who wouldn't know his head from his ass (i.e. you know who I'm talking about) is another subject altogether. What's really important is you know who you are, and this you know.

You're an amazing, strong woman who I adore.

Blogger sassyassy said...

I think the average man tends to be "himself" and the average woman looks at said man with rose colored glasses. Basically, WYSIWYG...your male friend has shown his true colors.

Great post!

Anonymous Anonymous said... you think maybe your thoughts on change are colored by recent events? Because yeah, it does seem unduly pessimistic.

People change (evolve, grow, adapt, mutate, whatever) constantly. Some things we can't alter about ourselves (for example, I'll never be a laid-back Type B personality), and some we can (but I *can* tell myself to relax and stop to smell the roses more often).

As for your friend--we all have our dark sides that emerge during times of stress. Does this friend have a solid track record? Is he normally selfish? Is he going through a difficult time in his life?

If you knew this guy for a while, and in any depth, it's much more likely that his current state of mind is temporary. It's hard to maintain an act of being considerate for very long, when that's really not who you are.

Blogger Danielle said...

i agree with kim, and she said it so well, that i will not even attempt to re-say it! xx, d

Anonymous Jorge said...

Your words definitely have merit.

I highly doubt that the devil will be walking down the street in a white robe handing out non-poisonous candies anytime soon.

However, Kim is correct. You can evolve. Suppose that recent events happened to you 5 years ago.

How would you have dealt with it then?

At the core you are a strong person.
I adore who you are, and would never change you.

However, as time goes on, you are getting stronger.

Trust me on this.

And bring lots of Jag.


Anonymous Neil said...

Of course people can change. What kind of boring life would it be if we didn't? Of course, we may not change the way someone ELSE might want us to change -- which is the cause of 90% of breakups and divorces.

Blogger Sizzle said...

if people can't change, aren't therapists just con artists?

Blogger t2ed said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger t2ed said...

I think the Poet Laureate of Space Oddity said:

Pretty soon now you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

And because I still have no idea what the hell time tracing is, I can only turn to the wisdom contained within the Man's Prayer.

I'm a man. I can change. If I have to. I guess.

Anonymous mrs. jorge said...

I think people have the power to create change/growth/evolution within themselves. I agree that there will always be a core personality (or whatever you want to call it) that won't ever change. I like the example of the "personality Types". But the desire and the effort have to be there for somebody to improve/change. It’s hard work.

I think that most humans like to take the path of least resistance. This may be a path of not changing for the better, OR allowing bitterness and anger to bring them down. Bitterness and anger can really change somebody, and often ends up in a cyclic pattern of hating who you've become and then becoming more hateful. But it's still easier to feel these things than changing for the better.

This is negative energy that will drain those around them. And you can’t “fix” it. You can only “fix”/change/evolve/grow yourself. And you my dear, have been doing a fantastic job. My inspiration!


Blogger Irish Red said...

I don't believe people really change who they ARE. Behavior modifications can be made of course with the help of nicotine patches and mood altering drugs. But By the time you're's pretty much set in stone who you ARE.

Blogger Lena said...

We're only talking behavior here, not the person's personality makeup.

It completely depends on the motivation to change. If the change is to help SOMEONE ELSE be more comfortable, but YOU never achieve satisfaction from it, its as good as undone.

If the behavioral change is motivated by negative feelings, its as good as undone.

If the change is motivated by positive then there's a chance you can ACT DIFFERENTLY permanently. By actively working at it. But, your immediate impulses NEVER change.

That's my story and its sticking.

Blogger Nancy Drew said...

Kris, here's something to chew/think on: like you, originally I would have pounced on this in the affirmative without a second's thought up until June, when I ran into GI again after (gasp) 35 years.

Although a lot has happened to and about each of us, and not superficial stuff, each of us is more of what we were originally. "Superconcentrated", sorta.

So here's the chew/think on stuff (sorry for the set up) theory is that people are layered like onions. Change can happen at different levels of the onion. Don't know whether or not it can affect the core or not--probably not--but whether or not you see the changes depends on where in the layers the change happens and how big the change is.

I know I've changed a lot and people have noticed it. Have worked very hard for 20 years on it. But the core--someone told me that at the very core, people come from either a place of love or fear, and that nothing can change that. Is that true? Beats me. From what I've seen and analysed, it rings true but...

Who knows?

Blogger Jonathan America said...

I think you might need some help with your drinking. Alcoholism is not a joke.

Blogger Gwen said...

Please tell me JA is your best friend just having funny moment with you (although his blog makes me think maybe not).

Otherwise, I might have to add: having your head up your ass isn't a joke either.

Just sayin.'

Blogger Momcani said...

This is tricky. I think everyone is right. We are who we are from our childhood. I am different depending on the situation, mature, trashy, selfish, accomidating. But how I really am at my core, my values, does not change. I think that your pendulum analogy is dead on. But, remember, it's not you, it's him.

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