You've Changed: Dealing with Negative Reactions to Personal TransformationWhen you make that decision to make positive changes in your life and start working to actually make them happen, it can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Especially when so many of the people in your life don’t understand. And what’s worse, rather than being excited and supportive, or at least just accepting that you’re evolving as a person, they growl in disapproval, snarling that “you’ve changed!” And you end up on the receiving end of unwarranted hostility from family members and friends who pressure you to change back. So what gives? Why is this transformation that you’re so proud of seen as such a bad thing by everyone around you?

Why people have a hard time with your changes

When you start making changes in your life, either through your actions or your ways of thinking, it causes ripple effects that spread outward and touch everyone you know. When you make a big change, it forces other people to change as well; they now have to completely revise how they interact with you and how they think about you. And that’s really uncomfortable. You used to be predictable, and now, all of a sudden, you’re not (how dare you!).

When someone says “you’ve changed”, it simply means you’ve stopped living your life their way. ~Unknown

The thing is, their reactions really have nothing to do with you, what you’re achieving or what you’re becoming. Their reactions have everything to do with their own desperate attempts to cling to the familiar. I’ve mentioned before that human beings are prone to something called “negativity bias”, wherein we focus more on the bad things that happen (and ignore the good) because the bad things could be dangerous and therefore require more attention. And this negativity bias really comes into play when someone who is a part of your life starts to change – it’s often interpreted as a danger signal because people tend to fear the unknown. It goes something like this: You’re becoming different; I don’t know or understand what that’s going to entail, it scares the crap out of me, and I want you to stop it right now because it’s making me uncomfortable!

What to do when people don’t like how you’ve changed

When people get frightened like this, getting backed into that corner of having to deal with your changes head-on, then can get pretty vocal about their disapproval. They can even get down-right nasty sometimes, which can cause you to start questioning your own decisions and the wisdom of your new path in life. But there are a few things that you can do to keep yourself on track with your own personal transformation, despite whatever verbal assaults others may throw at you:

Shift Your Attitude. The most important thing to do is to realize that when these others are attacking you for something wonderful that you’ve achieved, or are in the process of achieving, it’s actually a good sign; it means that you’re on track and making progress! If you’ve made enough changes that people are getting pissed off about it, it’s an indication that whatever you’re doing is working (congratulations!) Just this one attitude shift alone can go a long way to making it easier for you to deal with the negative nellies that surround you. Whenever you get dumped on, remind yourself that this is proof that you’re accomplishing your goals, and let it slide off you like you’re Teflon®.

Stay Calm. When people start in on you about your new changes and transformation, resist the temptation to fight fire with fire, no matter how nasty they get. Remember that much of what these people are throwing at you is born of their own fear; fear that either they will have to change, too, in order to fit in with the “new you” or fear that they may no longer fit with you at all and will end up losing you. These are legitimate fears, and if you can keep that in mind in the face of their personal attacks, then it becomes easier to understand without being bothered by it. And often what happens is that because you remain so calm and demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to them, the other person feels more secure and their fears may start to evaporate and they stop badgering you to change back to the way you were.

Remember your truth. If the person you’re dealing with is calm enough, try stating your own position and thoughts clearly and calmly. “I am choosing a healthier lifestyle because I value myself as a person and believe that I am worth the effort” or “I am changing my major because I love this subject and feel most alive when I am doing something that I believe in”, or whatever. The other person may not care one bit about what you’ve said, but it will help you to hear yourself state, out loud, why you’re doing what you’re doing and why you’ve chosen the path you have. It’s a powerful reminder from your inner voice that will help you to keep on track despite what happens outside. If you’re not feeling strong enough to voice this to the other person, that’s OK; wait until you’re alone and try it as mirror work: look into your own eyes and tell yourself why you’re doing this.

When you start making changes in your life it’s exciting and scary all at once. You’re proud of your accomplishments and a little overwhelmed by all that’s happening. Having to deal the stress of other people’s disapproval on top of all of this can really take a toll on your self-esteem and ability to keep making the changes you want to see in your life. But understanding that this outside hostility is a smokescreen for fear, remaining calm in the face of resentment, and remembering the reason why you’re making the changes you are will help you to remain on track and weather the storm when people complain that you’ve changed.

photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
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