Three reasons people may react negatively to your change

We all have a natural capacity to grow and change. People overcome old habits, outgrow familiar environments, change their ways, and change their minds.


You may have experienced this in your own life. Perhaps you have stopped drinking. Maybe you have been in therapy and moved beyond ways of being that were holding you back. Perhaps you have worked on becoming assertive. Maybe you have found faith. Or let go of your family’s religion. Once you have experienced significant personal growth, you may have found yourself with a new challenge. How do you navigate negative reactions when you have changed?

While you may value your ability to develop and expand your life experience, there will likely be people in your life who are not on the same trajectory. As positive as you may think your progress is, your friends and family may see the change as not particularly valuable or not something they like. Or they may not see it at all.

Your old friends may not like the way your sobriety holds up a mirror to their own drinking habits. Your boss may not appreciate your newfound way of asserting yourself and no longer accepting unreasonable demands. Your family may not acknowledge that you no longer hold the same religious beliefs. And your partner may not like that you no longer bend over backwards to please them.

Once you have made significant changes in your life, it can hurt if some of your loved ones find it difficult to accept the new version of you. They may even prefer that you return to what has now become inauthentic to you. Does this mean you are on the wrong path? Or might people’s reactions to your change reflect something else? Here are three reasons people may find it hard to embrace your new way of being.

1. They have less influence over your actions and decisions

If you have started living more in line with your values and priorities, chances are you will rely less on other people’s approval, advice, or permission when making decisions. While many people will welcome you finding your way, some may resist your new autonomy. Not depending as much on other people’s opinions can impact their sense of influence and relevance in your life.

If this is emerging in close relationships, you may want to express to your loved ones that you still value their input and care for them even though you are not going along with what they want. If they continue to hold the expectation that you will follow their lead or insist on you doing so, it might be important to reach out for support to address what may be controlling behaviour.

A good therapist can help you explore how to communicate with friends and family in a firm, yet considerate way, so that your decision-making is not dependent on their approval. Additionally, it is important to recognise the signs when controlling behaviour tips into being coercive or abusive, as you may then need to find ways of creating protective distance.

2. They may not receive as much from you as before

Personal growth often comes with a greater ability to recognise when something is not good for us and to communicate assertively what we want and do not accept. Relationships where a person feels overly responsible for others and puts them first, even to their detriment, are likely to go through some turbulence while the balance is adjusted. A person may for example have funded their partner’s shopping habit from the start of the relationship, allowing their partner to take advantage of what were once gestures of generosity.

When that person starts asserting their own limits and their aspiration to be more financially conscious, their partner may resist the change and demand a return to the norms they benefitted from. Similarly, people may react with surprise and upset when a person they have taken for granted is no longer willing to be available at all times for long phone calls or to take on the role of solving their problems for them.

In short, if you have been in relationships where you felt responsible for the other person’s emotions or behaviour, you may experience resistance when you start prioritising your own well-being. Clarifying what you are happy to do in the relationship and allowing them to express their thoughts on that can provide some insight into the potential for the relationship to grow in ways considerate of both people’s needs and wants.

3. It may highlight people’s difficulties with change

The idea of change can be intimidating. Some forms of change may even be seen as unacceptable. Not going along with family expectations, resisting social pressure, or rearranging priorities can elicit judgment from people who perhaps have not been able to do the same.

A mate who criticises you for not being any fun now that you have stopped drinking socially may struggle with their own sense of insecurity and difficulties enjoying themselves when sober. Similarly, a partner who has witnessed you improving your physical health by changing your diet and exercise habits, may become not only more self-conscious but also threatened by the idea of you seeing them as less desirable.

When people watch you do what they have not been able to do for themselves, it can bring up difficult feelings and even a sense of inadequacy and regret. If you sense that this is happening, perhaps you can find a way to show them empathy without caving in and reverting back to what they might find more comfortable.

The examples above focus on what may be behind negative reactions from others once you have made a significant change. If you have experienced those types of reactions from the people in your life, it may be worth not only reflecting on what might be going on for them but also on how you may be coming across when you express your change to others.

When we have changed in meaningful ways, we may for example slip into attempts to appear superior to others, become preoccupied with our new self at the expense of being present with friends and family, or find ourselves trying to force loved ones to change as well. That, however, is another story, for another time.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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