We want to make changes for the better. We expect those who care for us to support us in making those changes. But sometimes they don’t. Why is this?
We rely on many things in our lives staying the same. We like the floor to be boringly in the same place and reliable. We like people to stick to the same old side of the road.
In our relationships too we like some predictability. There are social codes for greeting that let us find out how the other person is, that give us time to find out how the other person is feeling and what kind of mood they’re in. And we often have rituals that we value: croissants as a special treat on Sunday morning, brewing the coffee for breakfast, chatting about how the day has been. All these things can help our relationships function smoothly.
However, sometimes we need major changes. We are confronted by something from the past or we find that our way of living no longer works for us. This can be anything from a little better diet and more exercise to questioning why we stay married.
Because we want to make positive changes we expect our friends and family to support us — but sometimes they don’t. And this can be quite painful. They say they want us to be happy but then don’t want us to do anything different. When we try out new behaviour we might get asked if we are feeling OK, what is wrong, or even, “What are you on?”.
In this situation I think there are a couple of things that can be helpful. Firstly to understand the other person’s point of view and explain our own and secondly to do everything you can to look after yourself.
I have already hinted at the other people’s point of view. They like things to be predictable. We tend to deal with many demands and often rapid change. To add more change is stressful — even if the change is for the better. To break a bad habit takes energy — and with busy lives and many demands we are often low on energy. So, when we come along and start doing things differently it takes some adjustment on the part of others. This requires energy — which they may feel they already have little enough of.
It also has helped me to understand that I have this same attitude. If I could have things different without going through the pain of changing I certainly would. I usually don’t enjoy the process of change — however good the outcome.
A further complication is that we may not be able to explain much what the change is about (if the issues are ones we want to keep private) or we may not know ourselves. We may need to just try out different options and see what works or what fits for us. This can be very confusing for others (as well as us!).
It can be especially so for the others who are close to us. They thought they had a good relationship with us; and now we seem to be saying that there was something wrong with it — why would we want to change something that was good? This can mean that it is those we are closest to who least want us to change. They are the ones who dislike the change most — because they most liked the way things were. The closest of our relationships are quite likely with people who find our way of life up to now the most satisfactory. And so they are the ones who least want us to change.
It may help if we can explain our own point of view. If we can say what hasn’t been working for us and why and what the changes are that we are making then people are more likely to understand. If people understand (even if they don’t agree), it may help them to feel less threatened. And if they are good friends they may well be willing to help us.
Secondly, I think it is important to look after ourselves. If we are making a major change this is likely to be very demanding. We are going to need the time and space to know what is going on and the energy to make the changes. We will likely feel anxious and stressed. And if we are confronting major issues from our past, this will be emotionally exhausting as well. Much nurturing and pampering is called for. If you are lucky enough to have supportive relationships the others may help you with this. Otherwise we need to do it for ourselves.
What kind of nurturing? For me, long hot baths and reading novels. I like a break from people — I’m an introvert. If you are an extravert, it may be going out and having fun. It’s often what we enjoyed doing when we were children. Or it may be something you’ve never done and that you dream of doing.
If you have gone through a major change in your life, how have those around you reacted? Was the reaction what you expected? Were your friends and family supportive? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.