Can a Person Ever Really Change?

There’s been a recurring theme in my life as of late. It’s been the idea of change. Changing beliefs, attitudes, values, perspectives. In my own personal and professional life, circumstances have led to me to ask – is it worth being around people who are no longer conducive to your own happiness? Should you stick around until they change? There is no definitive answer to this. It is not a question that can be easily answered. Different people, different circumstances, different options – make this answer so very complex.

In my work with young people

I’m halfway through a Youth Work diploma at the moment. I have worked with young people who have suffered through childhood trauma, are/were homeless, live with mental illness, live with some form of disability, have alcohol and drug issues… for the most part, young people at risk. I have seen gains in the lives of these young people – hope in situations where hopelessness seemed to be the only thing in sight.

Given my own personal experiences of healing from trauma, I believe that people are very capable of change. People are capable of enduring horrible circumstances, not growing up with positive role models and learning appropriate behaviours – but not only surviving but thriving! I believe that people can live with debilitating mental illness and still learn to find bits of positive in their life. I believe that you can live your whole life believing that you are worthless, unlovable and struggle with your relationships, with your attitude towards life – but turn all that around.

I believe this because I believe in people. I believe in people’s amazing ability to overcome adversity. I always read about the inspiring stories of every day people who may not have chosen this specific path – but are choosing the rest of their lives.

The other side of coin

But like with many things in life, there’s a catch 22 to this. Humans are incredibly strong beings who can endure a hell of a lot but at the same time, at what expense?

I have seen and heard stories about incredible changes in people, in how they feel about themselves, in their relationships, in their careers – but this path to change is never easy.

As these people are trying to ‘turn their life around’, people may be getting hurt in the process. Hurtful words are being said without much remorse, if any. Inappropriate actions are being repeatedly done. The lives of those they claim to love are being impacted.

I am someone who is always the first to see the best in people. I don’t jump to conclusions. I’ll try my best to understand before I assume. But what I’ve realised is, there is a fine line between giving someone the benefit of the doubt and letting them hurt you beyond what you can handle and also, deserve.

So, how do you know where to draw that line?

That’s a question only you yourself can truly answer.

I’m no expert at this. I’ve had situations where that line was incredibly blurry to me. And I honestly don’t believe that any mental health specialist can answer this question easily. Each individual, each situation – is different. It’s easy to say “your partner isn’t a good person – let him go!” or “your cousin is just a drug addict – let him ruin his own life!” – but life just isn’t that easy.

Do I believe a person can change?

Yes, I believe that a person can grow up with certain morals and values (or lack thereof) and make massive changes to these as they grow older. I believe that with the right support, a person can lead a much happier and healthier life.

But I believe the more important question is – should you stick around as they make those changes?

To me, this question is much more valuable and life-changing because it gives you the opportunity to remember that YOU’RE important. That YOUR pain matters. That you do NOT have to stand by while someone hurts you. That removing yourself from a toxic person and/or situation is POSSIBLE. Even if you only plan to walk away for a temporary time, it’s time that you need and deserve.

Ultimately, I believe the decision lies in the hands of the people being hurt. Professionals can open their eyes to certain paths. Family and friends can try to point them in the right direction. The people doing the hurting can try to encourage them to stay.

But in order to empower a person, in order to reinforce to them that they’re important – we need to give people the chance to make their own decisions.

We can only put in our 2 cents, guide them, let them know that we care and love them – but leave everything else up to them.

I believe that you can never judge the decisions that a person makes with their own life. You can’t tell them to do this or not to do that. You can’t tell them, “If I were in your situation, I wouldn’t do that.”

Because the reality is, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their pain. It’s about their journey.

Be the loved one who listens. Who is the shoulder to cry on. Who is honest and open when asked what they think. But in the same token, be the person who understands that someone else’s pain is not your own pain. It’s theirs.

Be the person who cares, loves and encourages – but understands that their own happiness is just as important.

About The Author

Thuy Yau is a freelance writer in Perth, Australia. She writes to make a positive difference in the world, and to inspire others to lead happier lives. She juggles her life as a Youth Work student and mother of 3, with her strong passion for writing. Her work has been discussed on radio, won writing contests, appeared on The Huffington Post UK and major Australian sites such as news.com.au, SMH, Kidspot and Essential Kids.

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