Can People Change?

can people change

April 4, 2023

Can people change? The short answer is yes. The real question is: can we have the compassion to see someone’s (including our own) potential, versus holding them to past behaviours and actions?

Honouring one’s potential to change doesn’t mean erasing the wounds of the past. But there’s incredible healing power in forgiveness and in compassionately recognizing one’s humanity – especially your own. 

In this episode, we’re talking about:

  • Judgment and righteousness
  • The potential for someone to change
  • Forgiveness
  • Healing from trauma
  • Approaching disagreement with respect
  • Why always refer to someone by name

Do you believe people can change? Are certain elements unchangeable? Is there something you’re going to work on after hearing this episode? DM me on Instagram @emilygoughcoach or email me and I’d love to discuss your thoughts.


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Website: Emily Gough Coaching

Podcast: Room To Grow Podcast


Episode 117 | The 9 Year Affair: Lessons In Infidelity

Episode 310 | Lose The Labels That Keep You Small & Expand Into Real Freedom

Episode 348 | Stop Bullsh*Tting With Your Potential

Episode 338 | Believing Is Seeing: The Energy Required For Hope

Podcast Producer: Adam Liefl


If we just believe that that how we come out of the womb is exactly how we are going to be for the rest of our lives, that extinguishes hope for ourselves, for others. And, and what is life without hope? Hope is what keeps us going. The hope for a better life. The hope of, of what is to come, the hope of all the beautiful things that,

that we are working towards to have unfold in our lives. I’m Emily Gough, a human connection coach, writer, and speaker with an insatiable sense of curiosity and adventure, always asking more questions and using the power of stories to teach, learn, and Grow. We boldly explore relationships, connection, and the nuances and complexities of the human experience with compassion, honesty,

and a sense of humor. With both solo episodes and highly curated guests, sharing incredible stories, experiences, and expertise. The Room to Grow Podcast takes the entire idea of growth to the next level, all while covering the uncomfortable topics many of us would like to avoid. There’s always more room to grow. Let’s do this. Hey, hey. Welcome back to The Room to Grow podcast Emily here.

And today we’re gonna be talking about the question around can people change? Can people change? I have a lot of thoughts on this because this, this one really can get to the root of addressing people in their, in all of their humanity as opposed to snap judgements, which are very easy to make. We’ve all done it. So this one is a really big one.

But before we dive into that, I want to let you know two things. One, and these are both free things, by the way. It’s very exciting. So one is that I want you to go grab your guide on the four, the four tools that you, that, that might be missing from your relationships and that you can implement right away to make your relationships healthier,

stronger, more deeply connected, more fulfilling, all of those amazing things. You need those four, these four tools. This is essential. These four things are essential for all of your relationships. I teach these things to every single one of my clients because I think that is so important to master these, these specific steps. So go grab your guide on that.

It’s all free. It’ll be delivered right to your inbox. And the second thing is that I ran a two-hour communication clinic a couple weeks ago. It was fantastic. It was just amazing. There was so much incredible energy in the room. It was the most signups I’ve ever had for, for a single workshop, which was awesome. It was really,

really cool to see how excited everybody was. It was just amazing. And it was free, and I am going to keep it free, but not forever. This is not going to be free for much longer because it really, like, I actually should have charged for it. But, but I wanted to do it for free because I wanted to,

to give this as a gift. So you can go grab that as well. But do it quickly, because I don’t know how much longer I’m going to have it free. I’m probably going to be charging for it sooner rather than later. So I want you to go grab this while you can. So grab the communication clinic, all the information for both of these things are in the show notes.

And go grab them or jump over to Room to Grow All the details are over there. Or you can also DM me and I will send you all of the links to all of the things I’m over at Emily Goff, coach on Instagram is probably the easiest way to reach me. You can also track me down on Facebook. Okay, so all the links in the show notes,

all the things. So can people change? You know, this is a really interesting question. I’ve, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this over the years, especially in, in different situations with different people and different types of circumstances and stuff, and going, okay, well, you know, I, I maybe, and, and fundamentally, I will tell you this part,

fundamentally, I believe that people are capable of change because I have seen and and witnessed people around me change as they grow and evolve and develop. I have witnessed massive changes within myself. I I am not the same human that I was even, even a year ago. I’m not even the same human in a lot of ways. Of course, yes,

there are certain elements of us that, that can remain the same and certain personality traits and everything else. And, and I’m not gonna go into like the, the really specific scientific details around some of those things, but I very much am of the belief that people can change. Now, do people change? Not necessarily. Not necessarily. That can be down to a matter of motivation.

Having the right tools. It it, there, there’s so many different factors that can come into the psychology around change and, and our own personal evolutions. But I think that these are, these are really important questions to address and, and to think about. And I don’t, I don’t have all the answers on on this. I mean, I really have,

I feel like the answers I, I’m often here to reflect questions back to you, to just ponder and think about, even if you end up having a completely different opinion than me, which is amazing. And we’re actually gonna get into that a little bit more in this episode. But a lot of what I, a lot of what comes to mind for me when I think about change and,

and the idea of can people change is righteousness. Because when we place more value on being righteous, it removes the possibilities of connection. And the reason why I’m bringing righteousness up with change is that it can be very easy to point fingers at people. It’s so much easier to point fingers at people than taking a look at our own shit. And I want you to think for a second and,

and take, you may even wanna pause this episode. When I ask you this question, I want you to really reflect on this. Can you think of something shitty that you’ve done when someone offered you grace or forgiveness or acceptance or whatever it was, even if you weren’t sure that you deserved it based on whatever, whatever the thing was that you did.

Can you think of something shitty that you’ve done when someone forgave you and accepted your humanity and, and you were able to move past that with them? I can think of all kinds of examples of shitty things that I have done or said or whatever, where people offered me grace, even in moments where I maybe didn’t think that I deserved it. And I really want to tie this in with the idea of,

of change and, and the idea of forgiveness and stuff as well. Because we can, we can recognize that yes, we can forgive people and forgiving people does not necessarily mean that we continue to allow them in our life any longer. So one is not necessarily equal to the other. It absolutely can be. And I have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of forgiveness,

where it actually, there were certain situations where people, our, our relationship deepened as a result of this thing and perhaps having hard conversations around it. Another reason to go check out the communication clinic that I did, but this is, these are the, the questions that we have to ask ourselves because when we’re so busy pointing fingers at everybody else and saying like,

we’re right, the other person is wrong, judging people really harshly for something that they said or did or anything like that. Can we leave space for the humanity? And sometimes, yes, we are still going to need to set boundaries. So for example, there is, th this, this particular story might come up a couple times in a couple different ways in this particular episode just because I think it relates really well,

is I, I, when I was in a, a past nine year relationship where I found out that there was infidelity going on for that entire relationship, people have asked me before if I think that my former partner is capable of change. And I do, I do think that there are many elements of of that type of behavior that absolutely can be changed.

I have other people in my life who have spoken quite openly about being perhaps a betrayer. And this is just one example of, of thousands that we could give. But being a betrayer, stepping outside of a relationship, and I truly believe that they actually will not ever do that again. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. I could. I I can absolutely be wrong about this,

but I I believe that they are capable of something different. This can be a little bit of a tricky line because sometimes we can believe in someone’s potential. I feel like a lot of us have been there. I absolutely have. We can believe in someone’s potential more than the reality of the human in front of us. And when we only believe in the potential,

even though the, the potential that we’re believing in is perhaps going against the actual reality of a person or situation and, and for continuous like lengths of time, like there’s nothing really shifting there. That is a harder situation to deal with because we can’t really, we, we have to extricate ourself from that. At some point we can believe in someone and not necessarily have our entire future wrapped up with them because that could perhaps reach a point where then we won’t get to where we’re going.

It, it can just turn into a whole situation. I, I think, I think that you probably know what I’m talking about with that, with believing in someone’s potential. And yet there is also so much power in believing in someone’s potential and so much power in forgiveness and the belief that humans are capable of change. I, I believe that, that our,

our ability to change and adapt is, is at the root of how we have evolved as humans. If we’ve just believed that that how we come out of the womb is exactly how we are going to be for the rest of our lives. That extinguishes hope for ourselves, for others. And, and what is life without hope? Hope is what keeps us going.

The hope for a better life. The hope of of what is to come, the hope of all the beautiful things that, that we are working towards to have unfold in our lives. And sure, we can’t predict the future, but we can hope. And when we eliminate hope, that’s where things fall apart. So if we operate, to me,

if we operate on the belief that people cannot change, we are also simultaneously extinguishing hope. And you know, there, this is, this has been interesting to think about this too sometimes in relation to things like cancel culture and, and stuff like that because things like a very, having very emotional reactions to, to something that someone says or posts or does or whatever,

without allowing space for curiosity and conversation, it eliminates compassion and being open to opinions and perspectives different from our own. It actually allows for, for connection to happen. And it means that o otherwise, like we just, we just sort of like eliminate. We just sort of negate critical thinking. We’re all about the criticizing, but the critical thinking piece kind of goes awry.

And when we write people off, we forget about the humanity. And I, I have to remind myself of this too, like I, I read, I read energy about people very closely and I also pay very close attention to things like integrity and, and all of these things. I’m very, I’m very observant. And if I see that things like integrity and energy,

those are just two examples, but those are the two biggest ones, like top ones that come to mind for me. If I see that either of those things are off, I’m not really interested in being close to that person and we’re having them in my circle in any capacity. And I also have to remind myself sometimes that people can change. If I catch myself making a snap judgment,

I come back to this question for myself. I’m like, can people change? I’m like, yes, Emily, people can change. Some people won’t. Some people won’t really change and they might be a more or less the same type of human today that they will be in 50 years from now. But if we operated on that belief about everyone, where does that leave us?

Yes, past behavior is still very important to pay attention to, like looking at, at someone’s past history and behavior, looking at our own past history and behavior. But again, I have said and done all kinds of shitty things in my life just as anyone who, who identifies as a human has. And we still have to find ways to move past that.

Again, it does not mean that we necessarily invite that person to go on our journey with us, but you know, may we need to set boundaries or, or whatever. But I still believe that people, most people are doing the best they can with the knowledge and wisdom that they have at the time. And I believe that about ourselves too. Like hopefully when we know better,

we do better. Is everyone gonna live up to that? No. Are we going to live up to that all the time, like 100% of the time? No. So we can’t be so quick to judge others without going inward on this as well. And we don’t have to make someone out to be a villain. Can we instead recognize the value in the lessons that we took away from a particular experience from a particular person or,

or interaction with someone? Sometimes people are going to act out irrationally. Doesn’t mean we have to take it personally. Sometimes we are going to act out irrationally and others might take it personally, even though we might know that it has nothing to do with them. They don’t know that necessarily. And that is not an excuse for poor behavior. We still have to own that.

But it’s important to constantly be making these switches in our minds and we are pointing fingers at somebody else. Look back within that old saying about, there’s one pa one finger pointing out, there’s three more pointing back at us and we have to bring it back to this. There’s, there’s also a lot of kind of inherent dehumanization that I hear in, in things like cancel culture and the ideas that people can’t change and all of these things.

And one, one example of this is, I, I’ve been posting a lot more in, in the last month or so on, on social media, month or two I guess, and I’ve been getting a few haters, which I, I usually don’t. I have, I I I tend to have like, I find really supportive, amazing people following me.

I’m, I, I feel very fortunate in that way. And so I don’t get haters very often and, but it is an an inevitable part of growing on the internet and I’m getting some haters. And listen, I’m all about the nuance in everything and I’m also the first to acknowledge that there’s only so much nuance that can be explained or explored in a single social media post.

So as much as that has actually stopped me in the past sometimes from posting at all, because I am all about the nuance and the context of things and how much that matters and all of that, there is no one thing that I compose on social media and explain every possible piece of nuance, context and perspectives in one like 32nd reel or 10 slide carousel.

It’s just, it’s just not possible. It’s, it’s not possible. So we have to remember when we see a post like that, remember that there’s a human behind that post. Remember that there’s a human there and sure they might have an opinion that’s different from yours, but there’s also no reason to make a snap judgment about someone and to be rude or to call them names.

I’ve had some of that with these, but I have also expanded my nervous system capacity enough to be able to hold that. And I kind of let it roll off my back. Doesn’t mean that I tolerate disrespect. Like if someone like swears at me or something like that on the post, I’ll just delete it. Like delete block. No, I’m not engaging with that.

But I had someone who, who disagreed with my post, but she, she posted the most lovely, beautiful explanation and, and, and sure she actually, I, I learned from that. I was able to learn from that because I was open to receiving it and because she also approached me with respect. And that’s a two way street. We,

we have to do that on both angles. It’s also interesting too, I I, I’ve never, I’ve never actually talked about this on the podcast before, but I, I believe very strongly in using people’s names and not just as some sort of like psychology tool, which, which yes, it is, we, it has been shown that like we as humans respond more,

more positively when we hear people use our names. But that’s not why I do it. The reason why I use people’s names is because it is incredibly humanizing. So even when I’m working with clients too, when they’re telling me about certain people in their lives, I make sure to ask them for those people’s names. Not like first and last name, just like,

like first name so that we, I can, I can identify with them who we are speaking to. And because I think that it’s a very important element for bringing life and, and bringing full vivid color to a human to be able to use their names. We, we saw, this has been shown time and time again in, in history, but I,

I’ll use the Holocaust as one very obvious example that comes to mind. When the prisoners were taken into the camps in the Holocaust, they were tattooed with numbers because that’s all they became. They, the, the, the guards and, and the Nazis and stuff, they didn’t want anything to do with the humanity behind each individual person. So they became numbers instead.

And it has a very dehumanizing effect when you name someone, when you give them a name, it changes things. It makes them more human. And this is the part I’ve never shared publicly when I found out about my nine year relationship and what had been going on behind the scenes. And I ended things a few days later there, there had been some exchanges back and forth with between me and the other woman.

The other woman had contacted me a couple times and, and I hadn’t yet responded via email or, or DM or anything. And I did finally decide to send her an email. And I’m not gonna get into the whole email, but I was very respectful with it because I, I had and still have a lot of compassion for her. But I finished the email with,

when, when I had, I, I had been given access to a lot of the text messages between my partner at the time and this other, this other woman. And there had been a lot of talk about me that included derogatory nicknames and just, just really, really cruel things if I’m being transparent about it. It was, it was very cruel.

And when I sent the other woman this email, I, I finished it by asking her, and I’m gonna read you the portion that I, that I said, I said, when you retell this story over the months and years to come, please use my name when referencing me, it’s Emily to refuse to use my name in the various messages you have sent me and to keep me as nothing more than a pronoun in your vocabulary or to fall back on your old favorites.

Like, and I inserted the, some of the nicknames that they had used for me are all attempts at dehumanizing me. I’m a real human with real emotions and what I very much believed to be a real life with the man I loved. It is very easy to dehumanize people when we don’t use names, when we make snap judgments about people, when we keep them as nothing more than a nickname,

especially a cruel one or a pronoun or, or whatever that is. I’m encouraging you to bring life to this. And I also recognize the irony in this, that I am not using the other woman’s real name in the telling of the story, but that is to protect privacy. I would never cross that line. So please know that, that that is the line for me is that I do not use names if I am protecting someone’s privacy.

And I I will never use that real name publicly by any stretch of the imagination for, for those very specific reasons. But I do believe that there is power in our names. Think about Harry Potter with Voldemort. If anyone has ever seen Harry Potter, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I haven’t for many, many years. I used to like line up for the books to come out.

When you think about some of the nicknames from Harry Potter, everyone in in the wizarding world would refer to Voldemort as he who must not be named. And I can’t remember the exact quote, but there’s something in there where, oh, I think it’s a fear, fear of a name. I think Dumbledor said to Harry, fear of a name increases the fear of the thing itself.

And that is so true. And when we are operating from a place of fear, there’s no humanity there, there, there, there’s very, there’s very little humanity there. Not nearly as much as when we look at the human in front of us as a full complex, multi-layered human being, we we can’t, we can’t make such quick judgments about them or write them off or brush them aside in quite the same way.

And one last thing that I, one last example that I’ll add to this is that I have somewhat recently been informed, maybe I’ve just been kind of out of the loop on this. I guess I, I, this is probably old news to some people, but a lot of people are using the term body count to refer to the number of people that they have slept with.

And that kind of terminology sickens me because I, I don’t care if like somebody’s just having casual sex, like one nightstand, whatever, doesn’t matter. I, I don’t care that that is totally cool, I am totally down for that. You go do your thing. But the terminology around body count is what sickens me because it completely removes the humanity of the person that you are being intimate with.

I don’t care if you don’t even know their name, please don’t refer to them as, as part of your body count. That that just, that one hurts my heart. That hurts my heart. It is a human being that you are exchanging connection with. Even if it’s a very surface level connection, that’s fine. That is totally, totally fine,

but please use their name again. It doesn’t mean in every context. If you are, for example, like I am, like respecting privacy for certain people or anything like that, that’s one thing. But don’t just remove their name because it, it is, it is almost like an erasure of, is that a word? I think it’s a word,

it’s like a racing, let’s do that way, it’s like erasing someone’s identity in a lot of ways. It’s like erasing someone, someone’s identity, a portion of it. So I just really wanted to mention this about the idea of, of whether or not people can change. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Like what do you think about this?

Can people change? Are there certain elements of people that you believe can’t change? What are some of the instances or circumstances where you have come face to face with this question yourself? Is it possible that you, if you haven’t always been really conscious of using people’s names, could you improve at that? Is there a way that you could improve at that?

And if you just think that you’re bad at names, like in terms of like remembering names, there are ways to get better at that too. But just the first and foremost thing I can offer you there is to actually use their names. So when someone introduces themselves to you, make sure to greet them then with their name. Like, Hey, I am,

I don’t know, Trevor. Hey Trevor, nice to meet you right there. You can, you can already start to cement that in your mind a little bit. And of course there will be times where we have to ask someone for their name again or, or whatever it is. But just being really conscious of using people’s names, use people’s names.

It is very, very important. And I do really think that when we can examine our own sense of righteousness, because this can come up for all of us, it’s very, you know, kind of like ego, ego-based. And can we explore more of the question around can people change? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. So sending message over at Emily Goff,

coach on Instagram. You can connect with me in all the places, again in the show notes, there’s all kinds of goodies in there for you. And let me know how this goes. Okay, we’ll back soon. Thank you so much for listening. If you want more, one of the most common questions I get is where do I even start doing this work to create deeper connections and better relationships?

I’ve got a free 15 page guide for you called, where Do We Begin? This is the very foundation that you need to start building healthy relationships with others and with yourself. This is my gift to you and multiple people have referred to it as life changing. You can find it over at Room to grow or check the show notes to go download it and have it sent straight to your inbox.

Thanks so much and stay tuned for more episodes weekly.


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