My Problem With “I Can’t Help It”

What do you do when people refuse to change? Here is my problem with the statement, “I can’t help it”.

My Problem With I Can't Help It

We recently completed our pre-marriage counselling, and it was an experience I would definitely recommend any serious couple to undertake. We did the Prepare/Enrich course with some longtime mentors and friends of mine. I wasn’t sure what it would be like at the start but after the 200+ questions, I knew we’d have some things to talk about. And we did. I remember one of my habits came up during conversation that had been brought up before – one I’ve been working to improve. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a strong clashing point that could come off as dismissive in certain circumstances, which is not the vibe you want to give your spouse.

I remember a bit later that week we were in a group setting with a bunch of people and I saw the group of people exhibit the same behaviour, and I thought, aha, that’s where I learned that from. As tempted as I was to use that as an excuse, I realized that as long as I blamed my past experiences, I wouldn’t change.

Change is one of the most confronting words and experiences in the life of any person. We’ve recently been moving lots of furniture and fusing our lives together – that’s been an enormous change. We both started new jobs this year – another huge change. People move overseas and make dramatic career shifts. You might decide to drive a different way to work one morning and all of a sudden your life has changed dramatically thanks to the time you’re now saving. You might be tired with your current hairstyle and want to give it a bit of a lift. Life is full of all types of changes.

And yet, what do you do when someone identifies an area that needs to change in your life, but you don’t really want to do it? Usually we respond with, “well, I’ve always been like that”. “You just need to deal with it”. “It’s not that big a deal”.

Or my favourite, or least favourite – “I can’t help it”.

Here’s my problem with that statement.

Can’t… or won’t?

I think the worst part of this statement is that we say “can’t” but we really mean “won’t”. Imagine a patient who goes to the doctor and the doctor tells them, “Sir, you have high blood pressure, you need to cut down the cholesterol”. The patient will usually reply, “I can’t help it, I love that stuff”. The doctor then says, “Sir, if you can’t do that, you will probably die in a few months”.

Nekk minit, oldmate is on the kale cleanse and all keto and walking 4 times a day and done way more than dropped the cholesterol. They’ve become a paragon of health and vitality.

Same thing if you had a real potty mouth and you told everyone, “listen, I can’t help it, my work site is always like this and it’s the way I was raised”. If I gave you $40,000 right now if you would go without swearing for a month, all of a sudden what might have come so naturally to you is now a distant memory.

What happened to “can’t”?

Sufficient motivation happened, that’s what.

This is usually what’s lacking when we’re saying “I can’t help it”. It’s not that we can’t, it’s that we have no real incentive to. If we did, we’d change it in a flash.

I heard TD Jakes recently talking about how certain things in life are there to provoke you to improve. He was saying how annoying it is when someone has gone through what you’re going through, or worse, and recovered from it. They’re annoying you because they’re showing you what’s possible. You’ve both lost jobs, but they were able to rebound from it. You’ve both had a bad breakup, but they’ve been able to heal well and find love again, but you still feel alone. You both studied the same thing, but they keep getting promoted while you’re at the same level. And you’re getting annoyed because someone is showing you what your life could look like if you just changed.

Change is possible. Your life can be better than it is right now.

I’ve used it before

I hate that I’m just as guilty as anyone for using this statement. I’m working on it. Any time I catch myself thinking it, I try to jump on that straight away.

It’s an abdication of responsibility

Here’s was a challenging question I was presented with when I was battling a bout of anxiety:

Do you think you are choosing to be anxious?

I know that this question can be really pointed and one we don’t want to think about. I know I found it a challenge to consider. And yet, yes, I was choosing to react to certain situations a certain way. Granted there had been extenuating circumstances to help me get to that point, but I had been repeatedly choosing to neglect my own needs and to worry about them not being met.

The truth is that what has become so automatic and normal was not the way you always were.

Did you come out of the womb panicking? Did you learn your ABCs with a drug addiction? Did you develop bad relationship habits while mowing the lawn? Did you always struggle making friends or keeping your relationships healthy?

No. You learned those reactions. You developed those patterns.

You made choices.

And the most confronting thing is that you still are.

If you made the choice once, you might call it a mistake. But the truth is that you’re continuing to make those choices. Panic is the response you choose first. Closing off from others is what you’ve decided is normal behaviour. Shouting someone down and becoming violent is automatic to you now.

You are the one in the driver’s seat of your own life. As much pressure as a person may be putting on you to shoot, you are the one who is pulling the trigger. As much as you may feel like you’re obligated to be like that, you’re the one who is choosing to make decisions in line with those feelings.

And as many times as you’ve opted to make that choice in the past, this moment right now is the time you could choose something different.

It demonstrates an extreme lack of awareness or care for how you’re affecting someone else

I think this is really the worst part. It’s that someone may have destroyed you, but you have now become the destroyer. As much as you may have been hurt and a victim of what happened to you, you are now the monster you used to fear if you continue to perpetuate a life of stubborn persistence.

Just like that person who hurt you before.

I’m sure they were only thinking of themselves at the time, but man, how devastating that must have been for you. Truly. It sucks when someone is only thinking of how things affect them. The world has to bend to their preferences and demands and views. It’s up to everyone else to get accustomed to the way they are. It’s up to everyone to understand them and to put up with them and to do whatever they want.

You know what happens when you have someone who refuses to change in your life? You get destroyed like they’re a wrecking ball. And there’s no naked Miley Cyrus swinging around on this one – just the merciless destruction of the tolerances, the patience, the grace, the forgiveness capabilities and the love of those who are really trying to live life with you.

As you would know.

If you don’t change, you will burn people out. You’ll put too much pressure on too few people. And they’ll break. And perhaps they already have. Your spouse. Your parents. Your kids. Your close friends who are really, really trying. They’re the ones who suffer first and who suffer most.

If you won’t do it for you, would you do it for them?

People won’t tell you this, but that really hurts them that you think your problems are more important to you than they are. That’s the message you send when you don’t want to change. It’s that they aren’t worth your effort. And in truth, your decisions are confirming and reaffirming that feeling to them, especially if you’re not making an effort.

Like you, I’ve seen people who have lived their whole lives staying the same. And it’s terrible. Men, women, parents, children, colleagues, so many different types of people who all end up in the same place. And they have no one left.

A little change today could save you from a lot of loneliness and pain tomorrow.

No one else can do anything about it

I think a hard lesson I’ve had to learn in life is that if someone refuses to change, you literally cannot do anything about it. You can ask them and try to make things easier and give them options, but if they choose none of them, you really can’t do anything more.

Except release yourself from the decisions that you can’t make.

If you’ve done all you can, you’ve done all you can.

As a Christian, I believe in a loving God, and yet even a loving God can’t do anything with people who refuse to change. A lot of spiritual people will put on others in their life that “oh you’re a Christian so you’re supposed to be loving and accepting and forgive me”, and yet even God can’t and won’t do that if you don’t change your heart. There is no relationship, there is no openness, there is no trust, there’s just the brick wall of a person’s stubbornness. You have to make a choice. The old skool word “repentance” literally means a change in direction. Without one, the most spiritual, kind, loving being in existence finds freedom in leaving you to the consequences of your own choices.

As we need to learn to be when we have others in our lives who refuse to change.

But we do have full control over the choices we make today.

I can help it. And you can, too.

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