The dynamics of what can happen when you try to change somebody is like a three-ring circus. The dynamics involve shifting between three roles- the rescuer role, the victim role and the persecutor role. When you read this you may see yourself in the story.
Scene1: The rescuer in this case is Sally. She looks at the guy in her life and thinks to herself, “Wow what a great guy George is. He has so much going for him. I see his potential and I think with just a few changes we could have a great relationship.” George really appreciates Sally because she has really been there for him through the tough times. In George’s case life has been difficult and some times he drinks to much and Sally worries for him. Because she cares about him she decides she is going to help, so she calls him on his cell phone and asks him how he is doing. At first George’s response to her help is appreciative. He knows she genuinely cares about him, and Sally feel satisfaction and a sense of worth in being able to be there for him.
Scene 2: As she continues in helping him the situation begins to digress. George begins to feel a little frustrated with Sally calling him when she is worried. “It’s okay”, he says, “I can take care of myself, I really don’t need you to check up on me.” But as the conversation continues George’s frustration escalates, and he loses it, “I’m sick and tired of your blankety blank calling me all the time, stop trying to fix me, just get off my back!” After the tongue lashing has stopped she feels very hurt and thinks to herself, “After all I have done for him he treats me like dirt.” Then her hurt erupts into anger, “If that’s how you feel you can go fly a kite. I am so done with this”.
If you are following the role shift you will notice George has been in the vicim role, but then loses it and moves into the role of the persecutor. Sally who has been in the role of the rescuer begins to feel like the victim, asking “How could he treat me like this”. Then she gets angry and shifts into the persecutor role and blasts him back.
Scene 3: The dust settles and George apologizes for being so difficult. He also tells her that he appreciates her for hanging in there with him. She thinks to herself, “I know George isn’t the perfect guy, but he has great potential, and with just a few changes he’d be perfect”. This takes us back to the beginning of scene 1, and around and around we go.
So what is the answer to this self propagating cycle?
Sally has to stop trying to fix and rescue George. When she is tempted to intervene she needs to stop herself. Trying to change him is back firing in a big way. In order for George to change he needs to be allowed to experience the natural consequences of his behavior and to take responsibility for making his own changes. When that happens the cycle is broken. When we learn to accept others as they are we free them to to grow and make change. For some reason this is one of the most difficult lessons in life to learn.