When You Have to Change On Your Own

Getting healthy is threatening to others. The sabotage and criticism won’t just come from “haters”, it could come from those closest to you.

Carl Rogers once said this about change:

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

There’s another paradox to deal with when it comes to change:

Sometimes you can’t do it alone and sometimes you have to.

I was shoveling snow in the driveway this sunny winter morning and I was reflecting on the phrase “The people that love you the most…”

The people who love you most will understand.

The people who love you most have your back.

The idea being that the people that love you most will support you, no matter what. They will be there for you. They’ll cheer you on. They will have your best interest in mind. They’ll be so happy for you.

The fact of the matter is that the people who love you the most often don’t want you to change. And they won’t always support your change and growth. Sometimes they’ll even sabotage your efforts to change.

You’ll see this when someone who announces that they are signing up for the gym and wanting to lose weight and their friends, spouse or their kids say “Yeah! That’s great!” And then turn around and bring home a cheesecake for them to eat. You’ll see this with a couple where the husband says he will do anything and everything to save their marriage or be a better parent but won’t take the time to go to counseling or attend the parenting workshop together.

Why is that?

See, the thing is the people who love you the most sometimes love the current version of you. They’re comfortable with the way you are. It’s familiar. You’ve found a homeostasis, a rhythm, and way of life, a pattern or a cycle that works for them and has worked for you. On some level. Even if it’s not healthy. The status quo is the best kind of security blanket; it is especially warm and fuzzy because you made it yourself.

Whether it’s intentional or not, they’ve played a part in who and where you are today. They’ve done that by either colluding with you and the way you are by allowing what’s gotten you where you are. Or by not confronting you, holding you accountable or shielding you from consequences of your behavior.

Or maybe they’ve tried confronting you and giving you feedback and they’re tired. And now that you want to change, they are frustrated. They don’t trust you, they’ve heard it all before. It may even bring up some bitterness or anger they haven’t wanted to feel.

They may love you but they may not actually believe in you. That could mean they don’t believe in your potential or your ability to change and be something other than what you are. Or that could mean they don’t believe your word. Maybe they’ve heard you talk and think about making changes and they’ll believe it when they see it. In the meantime, they’re not going to get excited or be hopeful; they’ve been disappointed or burned too many times. If that’s the case you can’t really hold it against them that they’re not super excited that you’re wanting to get healthy.

There’s another dynamic in place that can sabotage change: even if you don’t say anything, those who love you the most, those who are closest to you, may feel the pressure to change. Even if you say they don’t need to change or even want them to change, you will inevitably influence them toward change.

Getting healthier involves changing:

the rhythm of your life,
the habits you make
the things that you sacrifice for
your priorities
the way you spend your time
the way you spend your energy
the way you spend your money
That’s going to have a direct impact on them, depending on how close they are to you. While you would hope that they would be happy for you, if you start to change and get healthy, it can highlight their insecurities or areas in their life where they may need to change or could change and get healthier.

And people can get defensive about that. Because change is scary.

What if you change? What if you change the way you see yourself?

Changing what you believe and see in yourself can be a threat to those who love you because if you see yourself in a different way then maybe you’ll see them in a different way. And maybe you won’t like what you see. Maybe you’ll start to believe that they’re not good enough. There’s something wrong in the relationship. When you start to get healthier, it can be empowering. You can start to shed limitations — external and internal — and start to dream and open up your mind to new possibilities. For those close to you, they may not like the new directions you want to go. Or they may like the direction but they may feel like they aren’t ready to go there with you.

What if you change how you see me? What if you don’t like what you see? Will you want me anymore?

No one likes to feel like they’re not good enough. And no one likes to be left behind.

The battle to lose weight and go to the gym is not so simple. When you consider the ones who love you the most.

You’ll see three types of reactions from people when you want to change.

  1. support
  2. some people try to talk you out of it
  3. silence
    You’ll see this when you want to make improvements to your physical health when you want to make mental health or relationship changes. Or changes with your spiritual growth.

So don’t be surprised. Don’t be discouraged. And don’t let criticism, sabotage or lack of support deter you. Stick to the changes on the growth that you want, whether that’s eating healthy, getting active, going to counseling or going back to church.

Change can be lonely. You can’t do it because it feels good and you can’t do it for affirmation from other people. Not only will it not feel good, you may even feel worse. You may feel physically sore and achy, your ego may take a beating and you may even feel isolation and anxiety as you make changes in the ways you relate to others. You may even choose to spend less time with friends who don’t support the changes you are making.

This past week I talked with a couple. The husband needed to eat healthily and get more exercise. And he blamed his wife for not being able to do either. Sure, it would be nice if his wife went to the mall with him so he could walk or cook different meals. But she doesn’t need to change in order for him to change and get healthier.

If you want to change, grow, get healthier — you have to do that for yourself. You have to take responsibility and you can’t blame other people for your lack of progress or lack of change. Yes, one of the reasons you may want to get healthier is so you can be there for your family, to see your children get married or meet your grandchildren. But that can’t be the primary reason or only reason.

We care for what we value. If you start without considering your worth and why doing the work of growth and change is worthwhile, you won’t last long.

When it comes to change often the people you need to make the change aren’t the ones who love you the most, they are simply the ones who can and will help you.

Three things that can help if you notice that those close to you are unsupportive or sabotaging your efforts to change.

1) Talk to them about it. Check whether or not this is going on. Don’t assume what you’re experiencing is them sabotaging you, do it in a soft way not making a final judgment. Communicate you are trying to understand and give them a chance to think or talk about it. They may not even be aware that they’re doing what they’re doing.

2) Besides talking to them about it, invite them to make changes too. Understand that if you’re already taking action on changes, you might be several steps ahead of them in the process. Be patient. If you have talked about change and not followed through in the past, own up to that and apologize. Validate that their skepticism is legit.

3) Honor their autonomy and respect their differences. They don’t have to change at the same pace. And they don’t have to change in the same way. Invite them in and support what they would like to change. There may be things that you each need to work on separately.

If you listen well, make the invitation openly and genuinely (instead of manipulating or controlling them) you will greatly improve your chances of being able to brainstorm, problem solve and come to agreements and action plans about things that you can work on together.

If they decline the invitation to make changes, then you’ll know that you gave it a good shot and you’re still free and responsible for the changes that you want to make. You can’t blame them or hold them responsible for what you need or want to do.

One key thing to remember, just because they’re not ready now doesn’t mean they won’t be open to it in the future. So handle that conversation well and they might leave the door open to talk about it again in the future. It might help to even ask them if it’s okay if you check in with them about it in a month or two.

If you are making changes or getting to ready to make changes this year, I want to encourage you to keep going. Stay tuned for more blogs on habit change and sticking to your goals.