The key word here is “work”.
In the movies, here is how personal transformation happens. Some spoiled rotten young man spends a week-end with a blind dude, watches him waltz with a beautiful woman, and suddenly he matures from a boy to a man. Or an abusive boyfriend has to take his dog to the vet, has a conversation with some old soul, and tearfully realizes the error of his ways. After crying his heart out and apologizing to his long-suffering family, he emerges a changed man.
Yeah that’s all bullshit.
Here is a bitter truth life has taught me. The people who have the most insightful, emotionally powerful awakenings are precisely the people who, six months to a year later, are right back to the same old trash behavior. Why? They did not want to do the actual day-to-day work. They just wanted the emotional ecstasy, the triumphant story they could tell their friends. You know, like in the movies.
I also have learned to never trust people who are always the victim of circumstances beyond their control. I get nervous when people say things like, “…I have a lot of trouble with boundaries.” Any time someone says that, I know that they don’t respect other peoples’ boundaries. Why? The comment is passive. Like it just sort of fell on them. “Oh, I have trouble with boundaries.” As if it just happened to them and they can’t do anything about it.
On the other hand, I believe anyone who says any version of “I’m trying”. If someone says, “I’m trying to set better boundaries”, or, even better, “I’m working on better boundaries”, they are usually telling the truth, and they are usually getting better, no matter how slowly.
Because it is work.
And it is slow.
It’s work to set boundaries if you aren’t good at it. It’s work to live out even basic consent if you aren’t used to it. It’s work to not be abusive if you come from an abusive family. It’s work to overcome depression, especially if (like many people), your depression stems from narcissistic behavior. (Now, now, don’t shoot the messenger!) It’s work to overcome anxiety, especially if your anxiety comes primarily from a desire to control others. A desire, by the way, that can never soothe your anxiety, since your anxiety is in your own head, not in your social circle.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you know your behavior is abusive. Or let’s say you realize that you are depressed because you are isolated, and you are isolated because your behavior is narcissistic. Or let’s say you know why you are so anxious. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are determined to work on your need to control others, your difficulty seeing past your own ego, your deeply ingrained abusive behaviors.
The mere admission combined with the determination to WORK on it is more than half the battle.
Look, give yourself some credit. The majority of people never get past blaming others for their problems. And if they can get past that enormous hurdle, most of the next group just wants an emotionally ecstatic salvation experience. They want the tears and the group hugs, the drama, the swelling music like you see on TV. They want the Holy Spirit; they want Oprah. They are willing to profusely apologize, confess their sins, expose their shame on national TV, get down on their knees and beg forgiveness from their God.
But then they want their God to do all the day-to-day work.
Folks, God doesn’t do the work. We do the work.
It’s a grind to change as a person. You have to be both disciplined and smart. You have to change habits, which takes dedication and sometimes creativity. You have to work on new behaviors every single day, and constantly interrupt old thought patterns.
If you know you need to work on it, it proves you are already working on it. Because simply knowing that you need to work means that you have stopped blaming everyone else, and you have stopped hoping for some pseudo-religious self-help motivational speech to save you.