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?
- The person must fully admit their guilt, not just say “I’m sorry”
- The person must demonstrate that they are aware of the negative consequences of their behavior to others and what those consequences are.
- The person must make a commitment and follow through on making amends where this is possible.
- There must be a commitment to group or individual counseling
- 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