Can You Get Another Person to Change?

The short answer is “no.”

BUT, you can change that person’s behavior – quite a lot – if you know how.

Verbal abuse and emotional abuse are widespread problems in relationships. The workplace bully and the boss from hell are people who have taken emotional abuse tactics to work with them. You can’t always get away from these people, but you can make sure their control tactics affect you less.

There is plenty of information about controlling people and why they treat others as they do. Chances are, if you have to deal with such a person, you don’t care why they are intimidating or critical; you just want them to stop. You probably also know how unlikely it is that such a person could suddenly become happy and kind. You would be pleased if they simply stopped being unkind.

Most advice about dealing with bullies and abusers will advise you to get out of the relationship. This is the optimal solution, but it is not always feasible. In times of double digit unemployment, it may be difficult to leave a job before the boss from hell affects your reputation. It may also be difficult to leave a spouse without financial hardship or the (statistically very real) risk of losing child custody.

But you can change a person’s behavior, if not their nature. There are actions you can take which make you less susceptible to abuse or intimidation. A woman I know changed her behavior at work and had the office bully suddenly asking her out to lunch and wanting to be her friend. Another woman very quickly conditioned her angry boss to express himself far more respectfully. (Note: If you are in a violent relationship, don’t attempt such changes as they could provoke more violence. Consult a shelter; make a safety plan, and a strategy for leaving.)

The most potent defense against bullying is the personal power you project physically. When you project physical strength and power, you send subliminal messages that say, “Don’t mess with me,” regardless of your size, age or gender. Participation in sports helps build physical confidence, but the most effective way to cultivate and project this power is martial arts – even a meditative martial art like t’ai chi.

Make sure you also maintain powerful, centered posture and keep your consciousness in the present moment and centered in your body.

Emotional detachment also prevents you being sucked into control tactics, buying into criticism or accepting inaccurate versions of reality.

Whenever possible, put time and space between you and an emotionally abusive person who is on the attack. Use that time and space to double check their “facts.” Emotional abuse is geared to define you as powerless and incompetent and this may be accomplished with small exaggerations or out and out lies. Check the accuracy of others’ evaluations of you.

Another way to detach, when you find you must be in the presence of abusive anger, blame or criticism, is to cover your solar plexus (above the navel and below the ribcage.) You can fold your hands over this nerve center and it will help you emotionally detach from criticism, blame or anger.

When you are upset and off center, a bully or abuser gets a shot of energy from having power over you. If you detach and stay centered, you deny them that power and you will find that you get a shot of energy from the interaction. Finding it difficult to manipulate you, that person may just take his or her toxic self off to greener pastures.

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1 Response to “Can You Get Another Person to Change?”


  1. 1 Praphai July 26, 2012 at 4:20 am

    It’s good to be reminded of this unfortunate fact, that we can’t change another person, but at least we have the power to defend our stance, or simply diffuse the difficult situation… Thanks for some good tips!


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