I’ve noticed recently that many times when my clients or friends start to make big changes in their lives, despite reassurances of support, their friends and family become uncomfortable and fearful and try to get them to go back to the way it was before. It doesn’t matter if this is when they are changing jobs, trying to eat healthier, or getting into a new relationship.
I understand the fear. I think I’ve done this to friends and family members myself a few times over the years. We don’t want things to change because we like them the way they are, or at least we know them the way they are, and we aren’t sure what will happen when the new changes take place. Maybe they’ll grow beyond our relationship or expect us to make changes we simply aren’t ready to make yet. And, instead of having an honest and difficult discussion about our fears and the importance of our relationships, we undermine their efforts or make snide comments about what they are doing. Instead of loving and supporting them, we make them feel bad and push them away. Let me make this clear: I think this is a normal reaction to an unknown situation. I also think we can do better.
A friend was talking about one of these situations, and the image came to mind of crabs in a bucket. As one pops up and tries to get out, the others pull it back down or climb on it to see outside of the bucket for themselves, pushing it back down. Then the process starts all over again. Essentially, the crabs remain in the bucket until it’s dinnertime (for us, not them).
Having been on the giving and receiving end of this phenomenon, I think it’s time for a new paradigm. If I can’t say something supportive, I shouldn’t say anything all, just like my mother told me. And this applies to asking questions, too (“You’re doing what?”). I also have to accept that others want things that don’t appeal to me at all, and that’s okay. If I’m truly concerned about a friend or family member’s health or well-being, I’ll say something about it, never fear, but I must respect their decisions and their needs even if I don’t agree. I also have to speak up when someone does this to me. I think this is the hardest part of all. I need to let them know that talking to me about my decisions is fine, but dragging me back down into the bucket is not. And finally, I need to not take everything so personally. Maybe I need to let their comments wash off me or tell them to call me back when they can be supportive since now is obviously not that time. Or I need to call back when I can be supportive or at least inquisitive.
This is a change for me, and I might need some support to make it happen. Are you with me?