Even though they may love us, our closest friends and family members are, after all, human, and sometimes a change that might be good for us, isn’t considered by others be good for them.
Strong emotions such as jealousy, resentment, fear or even anger can surface, taking not only us by surprise, but perhaps even the person experiencing them!
Sometimes the individual is able to mask their emotions, but not the behavior. When this happens, subtle attempts at sabotage may emerge. Other times the person might blatantly attempt to derail our plans.
Either way, this sort of behavior can be perplexing and hurtful. It can severely damage trust and our relationships if gone unchecked and unaddressed.
So what are we to do when our change brings out the worst in others?
Listen and observe.
There are a lot of different ways that this sort of situation can show up in others:
The bland or semi-sarcastic tone to the words, “that’s nice, I’m really happy for you,” said with eyes tearing up or an attempt at a quick exit.
A steady stream of cautions and concerns intended to draw out our fears so we won’t move ahead with our change “do you really want to move to <fill in the blank>? I just read that it’s one of the worst places for people who like sunsets to live, and they have poisonous snakes not to mention it rains all the time.”
Sometimes people are outwardly happy for us only to secretly sabotage our efforts behind the scenes. Like telling us our resume looks great when in actually there are several typos.
It's not us, it's them.
The thing to keep in mind is that these behaviors have more to do with the other person’s issues than it does with us or our change.
It is likely that they have underlying fears or other unresolved issues that would benefit from being brought out in the open, but the person might be too ashamed, proud or embarrassed to talk about them.
It is possible that these fears or other issues have buried themselves so deeply that the person isn’t even aware of their existence, or the power they wield.
Pause, balance then act.
Because of this, one of the best things to do is to pause. It is easy to want to react and take action, but doing this when angry or wounded will probably only lead to more hurt feelings and damage to the relationship.
Once we’ve cooled off and gained back our balance, often times the best approach is to just name it: “You seem a bit despondent since I mentioned I was taking that new job in <fill in blank>. Is it because we won’t be working together any more?” or “You seem sort of on edge ever since I said I was moving into my own place. Can we talk about what’s going on?”
Once we’re able to get things out in the open, we can then begin to work through the issues and figure out a way to help alleviate the other person’s concerns.
If their anxiety is based on false assumptions or beliefs, they can be cleared up once they’ve been surfaced.
Other times, it may be reassurance and a solid plan of action that will be most helpful, “let’s put every other Sunday at 4:00 PM on our calendars to Skype and make it a priority so only we only reschedule if there’s a real emergency."
Of course, follow-through is very important with such plans, but the purpose behind them is to add some certainty to an otherwise uncertain situation.
Allow time to process.
If the person isn’t interested in talking about what is bothering them, then it could be that they just need more time to process and adjust to the changes.
This doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and helping the person to understand the impact their actions have on us can help bring awareness to a situation that otherwise may continue based on pure reaction, “I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it, but when you told me you were happy for me, I believed you. So imagine how confused and hurt I was to find out that you told Mom I was making a big mistake. Help me understand what’s going on.”
Holding others accountable for their actions.
When our change brings out unresolved issues in others, it is often reflected in their behavior.
Observing, listening and asking about the reasons for unusual behavior helps to let the other person know we have noticed that something is amiss, and opens the door to discussing it. It also holds them accountable for their actions, which will hopefully put an end to any negative behaviors.
Recognizing what is needed, and when to let go.
Sometimes all it takes is understanding, forgiveness, and some assurances through plans and structure that can alleviate fears or concerns. Other times it might require time, patience, and faith that the person will eventually open up.
Unfortunately, there may also be occasions when the person is unable to face and work through their issues, and lacks the trust required to open up and expose their vulnerability, opting instead to mask themselves in a shield of protective pride and unpredictable subversive behaviors.
In these cases, we must remember to honor ourselves first, and exercise our freedom of choice when deciding how much, if any, future contact we want to have with this person. After all, sometimes our change may uncover paths for other people that are solely theirs to walk.
About the Author
Megan Rounds, Ed.D. is owner and principle perculator of perculcha, llc.
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