You’ve come to therapy to build healthier relationships with your loved ones. In the process, you surprise yourself by developing a healthier relationship with yourself. You begin to understand your needs and motivations, which helps you see your family, friends, and romantic partners more clearly. You learn to be accountable for yourself, which leads you to alter behavioral patterns and set boundaries that impact communication and connection.
And then you get pushback. The people in your life—even the ones who encourage your desire for self-improvement—aren’t accustomed to your new way of doing things. They continue to react to you as if you were still engaging in previous “bad habits.” They feel uncomfortable when you discuss your emotions. They take it personally when you prioritize your needs over theirs.
Often, this pushback is not a conscious effort to undermine your improvement but a natural response to change. Homeostasis, the inherent tendency to maintain consistency in both our internal and external environments, can keep relationships stuck and constrain growth. With some forethought, though, you can prepare yourself for pushback and keep moving forward.
- Prepare to feel frustrated when people around you don’t support your self-improvement journey. You know how hard you work each day to replace old habits with healthier ones. You feel the benefits of your efforts and are excited to be on track to creating the life you want. But just because you recognize how far you’ve come and where you’re headed doesn’t mean anyone else will want to join you on your path. They may not be ready for that kind of work, or they may not recognize the value in it. It may even feel threatening to them. So be mindful of your expectations of others and practice acceptance of their current level of self-awareness.
- Prepare to disappoint someone when you set a boundary. If you’ve made a habit out of bending over backward for people and taking on more than your share of responsibility, people will come to expect that of you. Once you learn to say no, coworkers and friends may experience a loss and feel distressed about having to learn a new way to get their needs met. You might feel guilty for contributing to their discomfort, but that shouldn’t negate the significance of choosing to take care of yourself.
- Prepare to seek support outside of your current relationships. Your friends and family may need time to accept and adapt to the new you. You may need to find other people who can help you stay motivated. Look for organizations or support groups that include like-minded people or find a therapist who can support your individual health. Find a way to remind yourself why your effort is important.
If self-care is perceived as selfish, explain to your loved ones how it facilitates providing for their needs. Be willing to teach those around you about the benefits of self-awareness and self-soothing if they’re not prioritized in your community.
- Prepare to communicate with those closest to you about your need for support. The people around you may not understand what they can do to support you or how their behavior creates an obstacle. Take the time to help your loved ones understand the evolution you’re experiencing and how you hope to enrich your relationships with them. With greater insight into your needs, perhaps they will be motivated to reinforce your efforts; perhaps they’ll want to make a change of their own.
- Prepare to walk away from relationships or situations that no longer serve you. Once you learn to love and accept yourself for who you really are, it becomes much harder to remain in toxic environments that do nothing but compromise your self-respect. Recognize what you’re willing to tolerate and what is harmful to you. Don’t hesitate to take the opportunity to separate yourself from people and situations that don’t align with the person you’re becoming.
- Prepare to protect your emotional safety within your cultural or family context. Depending on your cultural or family background, patterns of behavior or expectations may exist that cannot be easily influenced. Assuming you’re not in physical danger, you might consider the ways you can assert your needs within the current framework.
To receive validation for your most authentic self, outside support may be your best option. However, identifying even one person on the inside with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings may help you feel less alone. If self-care is perceived as selfish, explain to your loved ones how it facilitates providing for their needs. Be willing to teach those around you about the benefits of self-awareness and self-soothing if they’re not prioritized in your community. Pinpoint the small ways you can safeguard your well-being when large-scale change feels out of reach.
You don’t exist in a vacuum. The contexts you live in and the people who surround you naturally impact your ability to sustain growth. If you approach the intersection of yourself and your environment with an open mind, you can recognize the gaps in your resources and identify the solutions that will keep you on your path to healing.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert
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