Do People Really Change?
“Too often we try to change from the outside in; end up defeated and begin to believe it is impossible for us to really change at all.”
-Karla Hardin, LPC
By Karla Hardin, LPC
I was catching up on the phone with a dear friend of mine when we mentioned a mutual friend who had recently gone through a divorce. We agreed how sad it was to see relationships fail. I jumped in with my counseling hat on and said, “People need to be committed to growth and change!” My friend, with a decade more of seeing “real life” than me, then asked me a sobering question. “Do you really believe people change?”
Of course I wanted to instantly jump in with a resounding YES, but I stopped myself because she obviously already knew what my professional opinion would be, and she also knew that I have deep spiritual convictions that would support my yes beyond my professional training. Instead, I paused. I realized her sincere question came as a result of what she had seen over many years and many relationships. She deserved more than a “pat” answer.
I also took into consideration that she wasn’t a bitter person who had become so jaded in later life that her question would be coming from a place of resentment or cynicism.
I realized she was simply “doing the math” of all that she had observed over a lifetime, and it pointed to a strong probable conclusion—that people don’t really change.
As I got off the phone, I began to wonder how many people out there feel so hopeless because they don’t believe their spouse or child or friend will ever really change. Or even worse—fearing they themselves will never change. Since this is a blog and not a book, I am going to take a slice of this issue now with the promise that I will address other dimensions of this very legitimate question in future blogs.
Before we can start to critically answer the question, “Do people really change?”—we need to make some important distinctions about change.
First, we have to address the issue of desire for change.
This is actually a really big variable in understanding change. Too often people think what they want is what they desire. Not necessarily. We usually have lots of wants. I want to lose twenty pounds; own a new car; travel the world; make a six-figure income; be a writer; be a good mother; the list goes on. We quickly begin to realize there aren’t enough hours in the day to even acquire all these wants. Thus, we start a bucket list.
But desire is further up on the continuum. Desire tends to be more of our unconscious longings. Longing for peace, belonging, joy, value, contentment and significance are all examples of deeper desires. We tend to have fewer of these, but they have a great deal of influence on our everyday thoughts and actions.
Where people get easily tripped up is thinking their list of wants will fulfill their deeper desires.
For example, one could say, “If I lose twenty pounds, I will be content and have value.” Or, “If I give millions of dollars away to great causes, I will feel significant.”
Herein lies the problem: wants can be satisfied by things outside of us; deep desires cannot.
And the same is true of change.
Too often we try to change from the outside in; end up defeated and begin to believe it is impossible for us to really change at all.
Behavior modification has its place for sure – but it alone cannot sustain lasting change.
So, where we get disillusioned about a person’s ability to change is from watching so many futile attempts to change unhealthy behaviors from the outside in.
True change has to come from our desire center.
Don’t you ever wonder why two people in the same weight loss program can have such different results? Or why some people fighting addiction get the monkey off their back and others don’t? My honest belief is those who find lasting change have tapped into their core desires and have abandoned the false hope of changing themselves from the outside in.
I believe our desire center is housed in the spiritual dimension of who we are. If you have read our website you know we have built our philosophical approach to helping individuals upon the model of the life of Christ as seen in Luke 2:52. “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom, stature, in favor with God and in favor with man.” In other words, He holistically grew in the four dimensions of who He was—emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially.
I believe most people don’t really change because they don’t access the spiritual dimension of who they are.
They may try to use all three of the other circles and really be determined to change; but without the spiritual dimension as the anchor of their effort, I believe they will never experience the lasting change they desire.
God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT) says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
We need a new heart to get new results in the way we live. A new heart can empower true change. In addition, the new heart we receive from the Spirit of God, satisfies our deepest desires!
Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB) says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
These two truths point to the key of a truly changed life. God alone can undergird change in us and satisfy us from the inside out!
Now, am I saying that the spiritual circle is a solo act? No. Again, we must always remember that we need to see all four dimensions of ourselves working together in order to secure lasting change! We must also understand change is not merely a decision—it is a process.
So . . . what did I tell my dear friend?
I told her this:
Change is truly possible.
It must be from the inside out to last.
Most people never see real change because they do not include the spiritual dimension in their attempt to change.
Change must be seen as a process that incorporates all dimensions of ourselves to be successful.
No pat answers here. But you can bank on the fact that there is hope for changed lives, changed marriages, changed families and changed societies.
So, can people really change?
Final Answer: YES—a resounding YES!