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Mar 202013
 

How can I tell if s/he really wants to change?

 

This is the crucial question we all ask ourselves when someone we deeply love has hurt us, betrayed us, done something horribly wrong, continually said they were sorry, but returned to the same behaviors over again.

What shows true contrition? It has been said that “the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior,” but people do change, people who have done terrible wrongs have gone on to turn their lives around and become people of service to themselves, their families, and their communities.

People have gotten out of prison and become mentors for others to keep them from going to prison, to help kids get out of gangs, to feed the homeless, to become ministers. But “How can I tell for sure that my loved one really does want to change?”

My son Patrick robbed our friend’s business when he was 17. When I finally allowed him to come home from jail he told me he was going to “behave.” He had on a leg monitor, but it was only a few days before he cut it off, stole a motorcycle and fled back to Texas. A few weeks later he was back in our state in juvenile lock up for a few weeks. The one time I had gone to see him in the lock up, he had told me to go F myself. He got out and went back to Texas.

A few weeks after he arrived in Texas he was arrested in what amounted to a home invasion robbery of a computer business. He was over 18 so he went to the “big boy’s” prison with a five year sentence. I tried to remain supportive and sent him commissary money and letters almost daily and he assured me he wanted to come home more than anything in the world. He wanted to attend college and get his act together. I believed him. We arranged for the parole board to approve a transfer from Texas to our state.

He got out, but we didn’t know it for several days. He had gone to live with my husband’s niece. She had had four of her five children removed by the state and her parental rights voided and the children placed for adoption. He had convinced her that I was abusive to him and all he needed was a change to go straight and because of my abuse he didn’t want to come live with me and my husband.

During the time Patrick lived with this woman, he got a gun, (a felony in itself for any ex convict) and violated his parole in many ways, including credit card fraud, driving to California (probably to haul drugs) and demonstrated in multiple ways that he had no intention of changing.

It was only a few months until he was arrested for the murder of Jessica Witt.

I again went to visit him, sent commissary money.

Why didn’t I get it that he wasn’t going to repent? That he was incapable of repentance? Studies are showing that our brains are hard-wired to be optimistic in spite of evidence to the contrary. A recent study at a university in England tested this and showed beyond a doubt that our tendency to remain optimistic is there, and even when evidence is shown to subjects, the part of the brain that processes negative information is over come by the part that is optimistic.

So our wanting to believe the best in someone we love, even if they have demonstrated time and time again that they have no real intention of altering their bad behavior and feel no real remorse, is not some moral failure on our part.

Well, then, how do we tell when someone is sincere in their change of attitude and behavior?

 

  1. The person must fully admit their guilt, not just say “I’m sorry”
  2. The person must demonstrate that they are aware of the negative consequences of their behavior to others and what those consequences are.
  3. The person must make a commitment and follow through on making amends where this is possible.
  4. There must be a commitment to group or individual counseling
  5. There must be a period of time (6 to 12 months) of no negative behaviors, which includes no lying or deception, and no breaking of agreed upon rules.

When Patrick had first started his adolescent behavioral problems we made up a written contract of our expectations of his behavior so that there was no misunderstanding on what the rules were. He did not adhere to this contractual agreement for very long. He was determined that no one would control him. Only by superior force has the law been able to exercise some control over him.

I finally saw through the mask he presented to me, and realized that he is never going to change, and that he fits the criteria for anti-social personality disorder (psychopath) to a tee.

Not everyone who fits the criteria for that is a serial killer or even a law breaker. Many, even most, can skirt either breaking the law or getting caught doing so. Many go on to be cops, military men, attorneys, judges, CEOs of Enron, or like Bernie Madoff, finally get caught in their financial frauds, or other positions of power.

Pathological lying, I call it “telling a lie when the truth would fit better,” is one sign that a person is untrustworthy. Irresponsibility is another good indicator of someone who is not going to change. They fail to pay their child support, they don’t get and maintain steady work, they mooch off their friends and relatives and “couch surf” because they cannot secure and manage money responsibly. They do drugs or other substances. Their intimate relationships are shallow and frequently abusive.

A person doesn’t have to be a full fledged psychopath or other “diagnosis” in order to be untrustworthy. If they demonstrate unreliable behaviors and harmful behaviors, believing that they ave “changed” or “will change” becomes obvious.

The question now becomes, “do you want untrustworthy people in your life no matter what the DNA connection?” It has been difficult for me to remove people from my life, no matter how much I loved them and wanted an intimate relationship with them. Not only my son Patrick, but friends that I realized were not trustworthy, that were irresponsible, and that behaved badly, have been removed from my “inner circle of trust.” Each removal of toxic people has been painful, depending on how close I was to these people. I have chosen to go “no contact” with them, meaning absolutely no communication or keeping up with their lives. That “no contact” allows me to heal and does not give those people opportunity to wound me again. Removing toxic people from my life allows me peace of mind and more time to spend with those people that do love me and treat me well.

 

Joyce Alexander, RNP retired

 

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  16 Responses to “How do you tell if someone you love really wants to change?”

  1. Joyce,
    I think this is a very important discussion, thanks for starting it.

    Sometimes the problem is just that manipulative people are very convincing. So convincing that you’d never imagine it was a flat out lie and your heart breaks for them.

    As you said, past behavior is the best predicter of future behavior. When you hear, “Why do you always bring up the past?” you can be sure you’re being manipulated.

  2. Michelle, I totally agree with your observation that when people say “why do you always bring up the past?” Especially if the thing they have done wrong is the SAME thing they did in the past…and I’m talking bad choices here, like lies, thefts etc., not “mistakes” or accidents…having a car wreck because the roads are slick is one thing, having a wreck because you CHOSE to drive drunk is quite another thing. LOL

    Thanks for your observations, I am all for giving someone a chance to change, but if they continue to show dishonesty, it doesn’t take me long to decide there are no more second chances. I realize that kids lie because they are afraid, but I’m talking deception by those old enough to truly know right from wrong.

    • Joyce, I’m a survivor of several sociopaths that purposely destroyed my life, as I knew it. With the help of Jesus’ truth, I rebuilt my life to a new reality. I’ve noticed several patterns with the anti-social personalities. The first is obvious, the LIP SERVICE that they give everyone and anyone in their lives so they can continue using everyone for their selfish wants/desires/needs. The name of their game is “what’s in it for me”. This lip service mechanism becomes refined as they age. They use lies and manipulations from childhood throughout their lives. Perfecting their techniques for each encounter. It’s the ultimate win/lose mentality. They are going to win and their opponent will lose … and everyone/anyone is an opponent. With that mindset, how does the average loving person expect these monsters to change? Even if they worked with the best counselors in the world, they’d give these professionals lip service as well. With this said, the average loving person refines themselves to be the best that God wants us to be, ridding ourselves of sins, and replacing the errors of our ways with the qualities of Jesus. Yes, we fall short, but, at least we strive for the qualities of Jesus. Whereas, the anti-social personalities focus on Satan’s lies to benefit them through this world. Satan’s downfall was the sin of pride and everything he did was through lying and manipulation. Sound familiar?

  3. Hello Joyce,

    My goodness, you certainly had a hard time. I am so sorry to hear this.

    Yes it is not easy to predict a human’s behavior. I wonder whether you Patrick’s parole officer was any help to you.

    As a retired Probation and Parole Officer (PPO), you can always predict somebody behavior by certain factors. If Patrick was using drugs/alcohol and cannot stop using drugs/alcohol, then you can often predict what his behaviour is going to be. As I have not met or spoken to Patrick I cannot say how I would have assessed him.
    Normally I would say that a PPO would have some inkling about a person’s personality.

    I suggest you read one f my articles about:

    The Forgotten Factor in the Crime Debate
    http://www.hypoglycemia.asn.au/2011/the-forgotten-factor-in-the-crime-debate/

  4. jurplesman,
    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    Thank you for that enlightening article.

  5. Truthspeak

    Joyce, my issue was cognitive dissonance – the actions of others didn’t “fit” into my system of beliefs and it was akin to attempting to force a square peg into a round hole.

    Because I would avoid doing things DELIBERATELY to harm other people that I loved or cared about, I held fast to the belief that anyone that I loved or cared about would treat me in like kind. This is simply not true. And, this was a tremendous hurdle for me to overcome. I STILL have my moments of cog/diss, and it’s a challenge to slap down that faulty belief and replace it with fact.

    Jurplesman, I’m so glad that you’re sharing your insight on Family Arrested.

  6. Jurplesman, welcome to family arrested! I have not been in any way impressed with few POs I have known personally. I think it may be like lawyers, “99% give the other 1% a bad name” (smile)
    I haven’t yet read the links you posted, but I will give you a bit of over site into my LIMITED interactions with POs, and unfortunately, I’ve not been impressed with today’s versions, and I realize part of that is they are over worked. A federal PO who supervised a pedophile refused to help me get this man out of my group of historical reenactors WORKING WITH CHILDREN, until I told him unless he did so I would make it my mission to ruin His career. The perp also (thanks to me) at a state museum, guess what? WORKING with CHILDREN…then he went to work at 4-H and I sent “public information,” i.e. his sentencing report, to every job he had and his wife, a school teacher, to the principals of her schools where he would show up for events where kids were present.
    The PO of the man who my son sent to kill me did not know his charge was a 3 X convicted sex offender for rape of 9, 11, and 14 year old girls.
    The probation officer (Patrick was on Probation at the time he did a big felony robbery) who supervised Patrick in Florida when I refused to take Patrick back unless they put a radio collar on him came to the house and picked up the equipment after Patrick cut it off and fled, told me I would have to pay $900 for damages to the equipment and refused to put out a warrant til Patrick had missed his court appointed court date three months later, even though I called him a week after Patrick fled to Texas and I had gotten calls about where he was living. The Texas police would do nothing as there was no warrant and by that time he was 18.
    Thank you for posting and I’m gonna go read the links now.

    • That is an incredible story about PPO’s in America. I know that there is a tendency for PO’s to have a too great a case-load. Our union made sure we had no more than 40 in our caseload. I find it hard to believe that YOU had to pay for $400 for the radio band. That is not supporting the families of offenders, that’s punishing them! Our childcare department have even greater caseloads of about 100, which makes supervision useless. My main job was helping people overcome drug addiction. About 85% of prisoners have drug addiction as a co-morbid condition to their offenses. If you add to this people with schizophrenia and various other other mental illnesses you have a pretty sick prison populations in prison. In fact I believe prisons are used mainly for psychiatric “rejects”, people that cannot be helped by conventional psychiatric/psychological treatment.
      I am retired now but I used a combination of nutrition and psychotherapy to help people overcome their mood disorders. Of course they have to be motivated, without it no therapy helps at all. If you want to know how it all started with me getting involved, please read:

      My Career as a Nutritional Psychotherapist
      http://psychonutrionaltherapy.blogspot.com.au/2009/07/my-career-as-nutritional-psychologist.html

  7. I somewhat agree with your article J-man, but in the 20+ years since you wrote it, a lot of research has gone on about biology, diet, and the chemistry of the brain as well as psychological counseling. The fMRI studies with the brains of known psychopaths, which comprise about 25% of all inmates in the US correctional facilities, shows a mixture of genetics (just like you mentioned about alcoholics) and environment (and that of course includes diet). The score on the PCL-R developed by Dr. Robert Hare “the” expert in psychopathy, and used as the legal gold standard for determining if someone is or is not a psychopath, takes a score of 30 out of a possible 40 to “qualify” and the average score of all inmates is 22, which means that the people the US is now imprisoning are pretty “rough characters” on average.
    The psychopath lacks empathy and compassion for their victims, and therefore are incapable of even wanting to change, and I think you will agree that if someone doesn’t want to change they are not going to do so.
    My own personal “drug of choice” is nicotine and as a health care professional I was a total hypocrite in advising my patients and clients to quit smoking! LOL I did not want to change, until one day I did want to change and I quit cigarettes, because I wanted to.
    The psychopath is like the alcoholic (and many Ps are also alcoholics) in that they inherited the DNA that makes it more difficult for them to make good choices…but they did not lose the ability to know what society believes is right and wrong. Robbery or murder is considered by the general society as wrong, but the psychopath doesn’t care. Of course not all psychopaths are robbers or murders, as our media would have us believe, many of them go on to successful careers in offices in business, military and politics.

  8. I used to teach nutrition and psychotherapy in group sessions where clients become their own therapists. For motivation I taught
    Values Clarification
    http://www.hypoglycemia.asn.au/psychotherapy/values_clarification.html

    Where people had to think about their values in life.

    It is a cardinal rule in nutritional psychotherapy, that any biological aspect of mood disorder MUST be treated FIRST before attempting psychotherapy. No physical illness can be treated by talk-therapy. Psychotherapy work for people with a healthy body!

    As to genetics, I believe that genetic influences can be overcome by nutritional means, especially among children who should be watched for hypoglycemia.

    • Jurplesman, I totally agree with you about nutrition being a big part of health, both physical health and mental/emotional health.

      Back in the days when I did hospital med/surg work, we would frequently have alcoholics who were injured and of course the B vitamins are washed out of the system by the alcohol ( and also not replaced by their usually poor diet) to the point that they became delusional, not just “having the DTs”

      Treating alcoholics with vitamins and diet was standard, but of course alcohol and poor diet over time kill brain cells to the point that they are unable to function or really be helped. They are confused and unable to think appropriately. It is a shame, but once they past that threshold of brain damage they are no longer ABLE to improve. Putting them into a home where their needs can be met for food and shelter and them kept away from booze is about the best that can be hoped for, but many times our laws about a person’s “freedom” lets them walk back out into the streets….and wind up in jail again.

      I’m not sure what the case load of the POs here is but it is very heavy, and unfortunately, not a job that many people want and the pay is pretty low, so the QUALITY of the people applying for the job isn’t all that great in my opinion either. Not to say that there are not some good people doing this work, just that my personal experience has been very disappointing concerning the convicts I have dealt with.

      Also having worked in the community mental health clinics where many patients had criminal records, mostly for minor offenses (theft of small items in order to secure money for drugs), I realize just how limited the resources for these people are.

      Values clarification is a great concept and for some an important way to teach them. Unfortunately, for the personality disordered, there is no “value clarification” that doesn’t allow them to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
      .

  9. I know about brain damage. I had a success rate of about 80% with drug addicts and other clients. I had one client clients , an ex-nurse, she was severely brain damages by using first marijuana and then graduating to more powerful drugs. In fact she started off the program with “Values Gratifiacaton” that is usually taught at the end of the course. Her paramount value was to get off drugs. She met a non-drug addict boyfriend who she introduced to the groups and they had an agreement that she would not be using drugs. One day, her mother told me that she was lying on the floor at home “sorting out cards” (allocating values by preferences). Long after I met her mother in the street and asking her how her daughter was doing (after two years), she said she is drug free, married to her boyfriend and was a good mother to her grand-child, despite her being fairly brain-damaged. Most other brain-damged clients I had usually recovered with a high protein diet after about a year. See Dr Nora Volkow (http://www.hypoglycemia.asn.au/2011/drug-addiction-is-a-nutritional-disorder/#Itmaytake).

  10. Having success, for a counselor, is important and too many times we become discouraged by our “failures.”

    AT the last job I had before I retired I worked on a geriatriac psych unit at a hospital with demented and chronically mentally ill elderly patients. Many times after six weeks or more of inpatient therapy, the “best” we could do was to get them to a place they were no longer combative so that they could be placed in a nursing home. Nursing homes will no longer take in combative patients in the US because they are no longer allowed to either physically or chemically restrain them.

    In the past many elderly and demented patients were restrained with drugs that left them in a daze, or they were physically restrained with vests or actual 4-point restraints, but this is no longer allowed. In a hospital the nurses are no longer allowed to put up ALL four bed rails as this is considered “restraint” and in fact, many patients fall and break hips because there is just not enough staff to one-on-one them or to do the paper work necessary to keep them in soft-cage beds so that they do not get out and hurt themselves.

    I felt at first that the huge amount of energy and resources we put into these patients was wasted effort, but came to realize that sometimes you can’t “heal” someone and make them “whole” but that just getting them to where they can live the best life possible UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES is a success after all. Just as a physician or nurse treating a cancer patient can’t always “cure” them, but even helping them live out their remaining time as best they can, and have a comfortable passing is a “success.”

    Many of these demented patients are ones who earlier in their lives “fried” brain cells with alcohol. I can’t imagine what it will be in another 25-50 years when the current group of drug addicts reach elderly status with brain cells fried by meth and coke.

    Many states are now allowing non-criminalization of marijuana, which I am actually not sure what my opinion is about it. Prohibition has never stopped any substance from being obtained, it only raises the price of it. Back when the US prohibited alcohol it didn’t stop or even slow down the production or availability, only built up the illegal distribution of it. Yet, at the same time, the damage done to people who use drugs is horrific, and the number of babies born drug addicted and damaged by drugs before birth is staggering. My cousin adopted a child with severe fetal alcohol syndrome, knowing he was brain damaged. She has done a remarkable job raising him, but it is such a shame that he was damaged by drugs before he was born.

    I read about the violence in South Africa now due to drugs and it makes me want to weep. I read a book about a Cape Colored mother who strangled her own violent drug addicted son to death because he was terrorizing the entire family. She was eventually given justice and not sent to prison. The court realized that she did what she had to do because there was nothing else she could have done. The law would not stop him. I grieve for and pray for that mother and the terrible choice she made.

    Our newspapers are filled with horror stories of personality disordered, morally corrupt people without conscience and the crimes they commit. There are some offenders who are mentally ill, and there is not sufficient mental health facilities to treat them, and not enough social workers, or parole officers to over see them. In the 1980s when we de-institutionalized our severely mentally ill, many of these people have become homeless, hopeless and untreated. They wind up in the jail systems for minor crimes such as urinating in public or stealing food from a grocery. They are usually not violent, though. Then they are tossed back out into the streets, “rinse and repeat” where they will “self medicate” with alcohol and street drugs and further decrease their ability to function.

    Jurplesman, I am glad that you had success with your case load. I’ve redefined what “success” is in many cases, but getting the “best case” we can with what we have to work with is all we can do, and it doesn’t mean we have “failed” if we didn’t “cure” them.

  11. I thought I’d bring this up again….this is about the optimistic view point we have about those we love…even when the evidence shows that they have no intention of changing their bad behavior.

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