Many people come into my session with years of experiencing their partner being a certain way. They need their partner to change, but they are not convinced it’s possible so they sit in the relationship protecting themselves from their partner.
So they ask me “can a Leopard change its spots?”
One gentleman came in with a severe marriage issue and he was trying to save it – she wanted a divorce, but he had terrible anger problems.
He told me he was going to anger management. I said “Why do you want to manage it? Don’t you want to get rid of it?”
I went on to explain to him that his anger was designed to meet his core needs and because it kept meeting those needs through his anger he would always behave this way.
I shared with him that if we could understand the needs that were being met through the anger we could meet those needs in far better ways.
We needed him to meet these needs in ways that supported his wife himself and his marriage.
The goal was he no longer needed to manage his feelings he built a new way of observing himself and his role. He also learnt how to better translate what his wife was really trying to communicate to him so the triggers never happened.
This way the fear that drove his anger never bubbled up and his focus was no longer himself or protecting himself from her. His focus was now his wife and helping her to feel safe and reassured.
In fact, he learnt that his anger was the reason behind her historic behaviours that triggered his anger. She had shut down due to his outbursts so he didn’t feel loved because she stopped trusting him to help her feel safe.
So they had created the perfect storm.
Changing behaviours in a person is horribly difficult if you don’t know how. The key to making lasting changes in any behavioural pattern is understanding the key drivers that are at the root of what drives the behaviour in the first place.
NOTE: The only change that’s worth making is a lasting change.
People can promise to change but change through willpower alone is not likely to achieve lasting results for most people. The change must come from the heart of the person.
The change has to be one the person agrees is a good one to make and reflects their core make up.
If a person has been depressed for years, is anxious or angry or controlling it’s unlikely this is the core of the person, although I can understand why their partners might disagree with me.
When a person has behaviours that are disabling their ability to achieve the life they desire then looking for the root of the problem is critical.
I’m not a fan of working on symptoms because this means the root will find another way to show itself.
The root of the problem doesn’t mean dragging up the past. It means understanding the patterns that were born in the past.
Once the needs behind the old patterns are understood then those needs can be used to help the person build a life that is one that works for them.
This way you don’t change the essence of the person, but you do empower them to behave in ways that reflect who they really are.
This builds confidence, inner strength through at last being able to be free to be the person they were always supposed to be.
So can a Leopard change their spots? Probably not, but people can change once they can see the change they need to make is far safer than keeping their old pattern of behaviour – this what I see every day.