How to cope when others don’t want you to change

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

You’re finally changing something in your life that makes you unhappy. But now others don’t want you to change. What causes them to resist so much? Let’s look at how one person handled this challenge.

Maria has a low-paid cleaning job

Maria’s determined to improve her job prospects. She wants to enrol in a marketing course next year.

Although she’s tired, she goes to evening classes to prepare for tertiary study. She’s exercising more on the weekends, and wants to see her friends more. 

But since she’s changed her lifestyle, her mother Joan has been criticising her more than usual.

Joan spent her working life as a cleaner as well. She lives with Maria and relies on her emotionally and financially. 

Now, when Maria would love encouragement, she’s battling Joan’s attitude. First, Joan complained Maria never kept her company any more. Then she scoffed at Maria’s desire to get a better job.

Maria feels Joan wants to stop her

Maria’s hurt and angry that Joan seems always to pull her down, instead of being proud of her. And when Joan complains, Maria feels guilty for leaving her in the evenings.

Then she starts to doubt herself. Perhaps her mother is right: she’ll never reach a better standard of living.

One evening however, Maria takes time out in the college library.

Mindful reflection

Maria spends a couple of hours in mindful reflection about the situation. She writes down all her thoughts and feelings, without censoring herself.

Maria notes she’s disappointed and angry that Joan seems so self-absorbed. She’s frustrated Joan hasn’t kept up with any friends.

And Maria longs to escape the burden of being Joan’s only social contact.

She also knows she mustn’t give up. On reflection, Maria knows she needs to change her life

She craves a sense of achievement and fulfilment in both work and leisure. She admits she’ll resent Joan forever, if she remains stuck where she is.

Maria doesn’t want to live with regrets for the rest of her life.

Is Maria a terrible person?

Maria could choose to believe that she’s a terrible, selfish person. She could tell herself she’s wrong to think like this about her mother.

However, mindfulness has taught her not to judge her thoughts or emotions. She knows they’re valid, and that she has a right to feel as she does.

The only way she can move forward is to acknowledge her thoughts and feelings. To understand and accept them for what they are.

If she hides them from herself, she’ll never solve the problem. And it won’t help if she beats herself up for being a bad daughter.

It’s not true for a start.

Anyway, it wouldn’t solve anything, and would only upset her even more. So she chooses simply to be interested in the thoughts and feelings she’s uncovered.

Maria decides to change mindset. She knows she needs to change the way she thinks about the situation. 

She can’t stay stuck, getting angrier and angrier at Joan. Her resentment will build until their relationship is destroyed.

Maria puts herself in Joan’s shoes

She tries to imagine why Joan is acting the way she is.

Perhaps Joan is fearful that Maria will fail. Is she criticising Maria to make her give up before she gets hurt? 

Does Joan believe Maria owes her? Joan worked hard to keep them from poverty years ago. 

Is Joan jealous of Maria’s energy and determination?

After all, Joan never had the opportunity to change her own life. She was poorly educated, and had to work long hours in multiple jobs. She drifted away from her friends, and never found another partner after her divorce.

Another side to the story

Until now, Maria assumed Joan was trying to sabotage her efforts to change out of selfishness.

However, now Maria can see another side to the story. She can imagine the situation from Joan’s point of view. Now she has some ideas about what Joan may be thinking and feeling.

Maria realises more clearly the difficult life her mother has led. She finds compassion to understand Joan’s sadness and loneliness. Maria sees Joan’s hopelessness that things can change.

Perhaps Joan fears losing the little they have. That may make her hold more tightly onto the status quo.

Yes, Joan’s actions are designed to keep Maria from changing. But her motives are probably not malicious. They seem to be driven more by worry and fear.

Maria can’t be certain she’s right. But at least she has some ideas about how to resolve the problem.

So she works out a plan of action.

Maria’s plan of action

Maria decides she needs to tackle several different areas.

Her own reactions to Joan’s behaviour

Joan’s low mood

Joan’s social isolation

1 Maria asks for Joan’s opinions

Maria wants to find out more about Joan’s worries. She lets Joan know she’s been trying to imagine how she may feel about the future. 

Although Joan doesn’t want to talk, she knows now that Maria may understand her worries more clearly.

Joan doesn’t contradict what Maria says, so Maria feels justified in going ahead with her plan.

2 Using mindfulness to change mindset

Maria begins to consciously change her attitude towards her mother. 

Each time Joan starts complaining, Maria notices her own reactions mindfully. She reminds herself to be patient because of her mother’s fears. Then she lets the remarks slide away, rather than reacting to them.

Of course Maria finds this a challenge. She’s dealing with years of frustration. However, she persists in observing her thoughts and feelings neutrally.

She keeps reminding herself that she doesn’t need to react to her mother’s negativity. And she refuses to judge herself as a bad person.

3 Challenging thoughts

Maria also challenges some of her thoughts that are a little distorted. For example, “She’s so selfish,” or “She’s trying to sabotage me.”

Each time Maria gets caught in these thoughts, she reminds herself of the following:

My mother isn’t acting like this deliberately.

She seems selfish because her life is so narrow, and she doesn’t have anything else to think about.

She wants me to stop changing, because she’s worried we’ll be worse off. She doesn’t know how to manage her anxiety any other way.

She wants to save me from disappointment. She doesn’t have any self-confidence, and can’t imagine I’ll succeed.

She hasn’t had the same opportunities I’ve had.

Maria repeats these statements slowly to herself when she’s angry. This allows her time to calm down and rethink her reactions.

4 Mindful breathing

Maria uses mindful breathing each day, most of the day, to keep her composure. Every time she’s slightly upset, mindful breathing helps her maintain a neutral mindset.

5 Finding social support for Joan

Maria wants to help Joan recontact a few people, so she’s not so lonely. 

At first, Joan resists any attempts to change. Maria guesses she’s scared her former friends won’t want to see her. Finally Maria invites one of Joan’s friends for a visit.

Joan is so nervous, she threatens to leave the apartment. But once her friend arrives, it’s as if they’ve never been apart. She and Joan talk for hours and plan to see each other weekly.

6 Enlisting the doctor’s help

Maria also encourages Joan to see her local doctor.

She wants to make sure there are no physical causes for Joan’s low mood. The doctor also encourages Joan to try new activities, and to exercise a little.

Maria takes Joan to the local community centre, to find activities that would interest her mother.

Joan joins an exercise group and a gentle movement to music class. After a few weeks she can’t understand why she didn’t do it years ago. She’s even had a friend over to watch a movie in the evening.

At last, Joan’s outlook on life is slowly improving.

The end result?

Instead of reacting to Joan’s negativity, Maria changed their relationship after mindful reflection and acceptance.

Now, Joan is more willing to accept that Maria can’t stay home to look after her. And she also understands she has to take more responsibility for her own emotional well-being.

Both women are happier, and can give each other time and space to themselves.

Maria has applied for a grant to help her study part-time. She’s enrolled in a couple of subjects in her marketing course. She also exercises with her own friends, whom she sees a little more often.

Lessons from Maria’s example?

So what lessons can we take from Maria’s example?

Firstly, never be discouraged! Don’t give up your dreams, even if others want you to stay the same. 

Secondly, realise that there are probably many reasons for their behaviour. They may be feeling scared, anxious, worried, depressed or lonely. 

Keep an open mind. Don’t assume they are deliberately undermining you.

Put yourself in their position. Gather all the information you can, so you don’t leap to conclusions.

Understand their behaviour

The more you understand what’s causing other’s behaviour, the better chance you have of working out a solution.

Let them know you’re trying to see their perspective. Empathise with them. 

Ask them what they feel they may lose, or how they may be affected by the changes.

What are they worried might happen? What annoys them? Do they feel they’re being overlooked? Are they worried they won’t be able to reach their own goals, or have their own needs and wishes met?

Hold back from making any comments, or criticising what they say. Try to listen and accept their comments, without being negative yourself.

Treat them with the respect you would like for yourself.

Problem-solve together

You may need to think about how you can solve these issues.

Have a couple of sessions where you throw around ideas together. Work out how you can cooperate to solve each sticking point. Getting the other person’s input will help them feel more involved. 

However, if they think you’re imposing changes on them, they may resist. Allow them to map out their own path.

Help them reach their goals

If they can tell you what they want to achieve, you can help them too. Compromise and work together, so you both can reach your goals.

You may be ahead of them in your ability to set and follow through on goals. The more they see benefit from what you’re doing, the more they may accept the changes. 

But never give up your dreams to please someone else – as long as they’re not being harmed by what you’re doing.

Unfortunately, some people are oblivious to the need to change. They may resist all efforts from others to encourage them to make more of their lives. 

Whether this is to find greater meaning in life, improve your relationships or to get healthier, the journey is much the same. Once you learn the steps involved in making changes, you can adapt them to any area of life. 

Have you been ignoring problems that you know deep down need some attention? 

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