Sunday, December 8, 2013

I'm Trying to Make Positive Changes. Why Won't They Let Me?

Often in therapy, clients seek out services because they’d like to make a change of some kind.  Possibly to lose weight, to stop drinking, to change the direction of their life or career, relationship issues, etc.  Whatever the reason for the transition, clients are usually looking for validation and support.  They want confirmation that their goals are important and achievable.  

Week after week clients will come to sessions talking about the progress or lack of progress of their goals.  They might talk about how they’re eating more fruits and vegetables, or how they’re taking the stairs instead of elevators, or how they’re researching training programs in a field different from the one they’ve been working in.  As the sessions continue, I’m beginning to notice that a pattern is emerging.  Clients left the sessions in a positive and empowered state of mind, yet returned to the next session somewhat deflated and discouraged again.  What I observed is that this deflation process tends to happen to clients when clients are at home or at work.  Clients are feeling less supported when they are with family and friends, but why?

One of my clients recently said to me, “I’m trying to make positive changes.  Why won’t they let me?”  Exploring this further, I am noticing that sometimes the people that are closest to us tend to undermine or sabotage our dreams, often without even realizing it.  I‘ve heard stories of family members that would bring home sugary desserts while one member of the household is dieting or when a group of tight-knit friends would plan a high-ticket night out on the town while one member of the group was struggling financially.  Sometimes undermining can be harder to recognize.  A client I was working with had been working on anger management and mood related issues for a while.  He would often say that he felt pigeonholed because despite the efforts he was making to reframe situations and respond to triggering situations less reactively than he did before, the people in his life wouldn’t accept those changes.  So much so, that it was as though he hadn’t done any work in treatment as far as they were concerned.  His family members and friends would expect him to respond to situations in the same manner that he used to.  They would expect him to be negative, angry, and irritable even when he wasn’t feeling those emotions.   

Sometimes we secretly, or not so secretly, are hoping that certain people in our lives will change.  We might wish for this person to be healthier, happier, more pleasant to be around, more financially secure, more reliable, etc.  Yet when this person starts to implement positive changes, how do we respond?  How does someone’s goals impact us?  Does someone else’s success threaten our own sense of personal success?

For those of you who are bravely making positive changes, it is vital to remain focused on your desired outcome.   Changing longstanding patterns is challenging enough without having to factor in the opinions and behaviors of others.  If you aren’t getting the support and encouragement you need, sometimes it’s necessary to expand your circle of friends in order to find folks who understand your path.  That doesn’t mean that your current friends and family should be discarded, but that there is always room for positive sources of inspiration in our lives. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or message me with any feedback.

All the best,

Lisa Matus, LCSW