Loved ones may not support big life changes

  • Article by: HEIDI STEVENS , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2013 - 2:34 PM

If you’re making big changes in your life, don’t be surprised if friends or family members aren’t there to cheer you on.

Thirty-eight-year-old financial analyst Olivia Gomez was battling high cholesterol and a pre-diabetes diagnosis when she decided to make some changes.

She switched to an all-plant-based diet and upped her exercise frequency. Her weight, blood sugar and cholesterol all dropped to healthy levels, and she avoided having to take medication.

Her family’s response, she said, was less than positive.

“My mom would literally yell at me, ‘You’re getting too skinny!’ ” Gomez said.

That was three years ago. Today, she said, her family members approach her for advice on getting healthy.

But the early days of teasing and occasional hostility still sting a bit.

“I feel better, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally,” Gomez said. “So it was disappointing that they didn’t see that. I’m healthier all over.”

Gomez’s experience is a common one, experts say. You make a healthy change — lose weight, stop smoking, end a lousy relationship — and your inner circle responds with unease.

“It may be a complicated mix of envy triggered by their own regret: ‘Why am I stuck in a rut while you are seeking out a new and exciting path?’ ” said Terri Apter, an author and psychologist who specializes in family dynamics. “It also may express anxiety: ‘If you change, will you still be my friend?’ And, ‘If you are happier and more successful, will you still need me?’ ”

Lack of support

When speaker and consultant Liz Pryor, author of “What Did I Do Wrong? What to Do When You Don’t Know Why the Friendship Is Over” (Atria Books), beat out 15,000 contestants for a spot as “Good Morning America’s” “life advice guru” in 2011, she said she heard it all.

“ ‘Oh, Liz. What if you fail in front of the whole country?’ ” she recalled. “People would say to me, ‘We’re just worried about you!’ How do you debate that with someone you love?”

The pushback, after all, is often from the people we love. That’s because none of us is above envy, Apter said.

“There are some people who have an envious personality, so that any success of someone close to them is experienced as a kind of attack; they feel diminished by the achievement and happiness of others,” said Apter, who wrote “The Sister Knot: Why We Fight, Why We’re Jealous, and Why We’ll Love Each Other No Matter What” (W.W. Norton and Co.).

“But many of us feel envy occasionally. We may be generally enthusiastic about the successes of others, but something, perhaps transient disappointment in our own lives or a temporary setback or simply feeling low, can be part of a complicated context in which we resent our friend’s sense of freedom and new possibility. So we utter words of caution and warn about the possibility of failure.”

What you can do

Experts agree that using the negative reactions to launch a dialogue is key to steering the relationship away from a ditch.

“If it’s someone truly close to you, it’s important you address it,” Pryor said. “ ‘I know you love me and I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but I just have to tell you it’s hurtful and feels unsupportive when you say that.’ ”

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