Why you can’t change another person

In many cases in counselling, the hope or even intention is to get another person to change. Why? Because they are not meeting your needs, but their own. And this may clash with your needs in life, and therefore from them (and others around you).


We develop our ‘tribe’ so that we get our needs met – from safety and sustenance to purpose and service, to fulfilment. The idea of counselling is that you find ways that are not working for you so that you can make informed choices and make changes, if necessary, to meet your own needs.

The other people around you, in your life, are also on that same journey and intention for themselves. It seems that if other people change what isn't working for us, then life will be OK and comfortable for us. But what about them?

Our responsibility for our self

Every one of us is responsible for our self, our life and our outlook that is informed by values often picked up as we grew up from the environment we lived in; also the beliefs of our culture, whatever that might have been, and we continue to develop these beliefs and our expectations as we move through life and meet different people from different backgrounds.

This is especially true of travelling, for example, where new countries present different expectations and behaviours, new outlooks we might never have come across before, and different options and opportunities (sometimes due to regimes and governments, laws and etiquette, terrain and connections with other places to name a few).

We can’t expect those people to live as we do and they cannot expect us to live or think like them due our different life experiences. However, in foreign countries they can expect us to respect and adhere to their laws and etiquette, it’s only polite and also necessary!

Similarly, in families, friendships, communities or teams, this also applies.

The team, for example, has its own rules and expectations imposed by the company/organisation. Their aims and objectives, their values and needs, may be very different to your personal values and needs, and your expectations even of them!

So when people go for counselling it is to explore who they are and often why, and what may need to change within them or for them (environment, options, opportunities) to make them feel and be happier and more fulfilled.

Others are also going through this same exploration and necessary change process. This happens with each life stage we experience too – birth, childhood, teens, early and late adulthood, education and work, relationships and activities.

Why would we expect someone else to change their life or themselves to meet our needs rather than their own?

Another relationship expectation is that if someone chooses you (partner, friend, family member) then they must like you and be like you. And this is often a surprise, even a shock, when you realise that just isn't the case!

Why is this? Because all we have to offer and know is ourself, our experiences, and we project them onto other people believing ‘we are all the same’. Yet, realistically, especially today, we recognise we are all unique – no two people are the same in every way or even most ways.

How can counselling help?

So counselling can help you explore this for yourself and come to terms with what you may need or want to change about your self in order to make your relationships work, or find your true ‘tribe’ and not the one you ‘thought’ you wanted, believed you were part of or wanted, expected to find works for you.

Couples counselling, similarly, is often less about changing the other person or the other person changing than changing ourselves, your Self, to meet your needs and work together in a parallel path of living life together but separate people with unique outlooks and needs and expectations.

And it can work, in fact, most likely to work when this happens.

A family help and support each other, get to know each others needs and hopes, and wants to help each person meet their needs (whether this manifests that way or not). We aim to help each other in the main but there are always exceptions, with many and varied reasons why this might be.

We each need to be in control of our own environment – our circumstances, situations, beliefs, needs, hopes and dreams, place of home and work, location, options and opportunities, comfort and safety, fun and fulfilment.

That isn't to say we self sacrifice our needs for them, for family or friends, or work. We need to continue to meet our own needs and help others to meet theirs - if we can, where we can.

Reflecting on ourself and our needs in counselling helps us to see what is going on for real, not how we want it or expected it to be. It doesn’t always match! And this is the problem for people. Once upon a time, our elders explained some of this, the head of the tribe, village, town helped us to better understand these natural truths and to live together harmoniously for the mutual benefit of the community (family, town, team, social group, company).

This is less so now with so much intermixing with travel, jobs, IT, acceptance and diversity we are more accustomed to in the world.

Yet the underlying drive to meet our own needs remains and we have to learn ourselves how to do this, and counselling is one way to help with this.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Relationship problems

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals