The Change Effect
Probably the best way to understand this is to look at an example.
Imagine you have a close relationship with a friend who has become very emotional
high maintenance. She is self-centered, dramatic, totally engrossed in her
own life and barely gives a nod of interest to yours. You remember the early
days, when things were fun, and you keep trying to be there for her to make
things right in the hopes that those days will return.
Finally, you’ve had enough. You’re tired of being over-extended
and ignored. You decide to set boundaries, which essentially means to know
where you begin and this other person ends. You begin to take care of yourself,
to say no, to set limits, to stop putting up with bad behavior.
All good things. But how does this other person react?
In my experience, and in what I’ve seen in my clients, people usually
respond in one of four ways.
1. They say “Yay! Finally…you are asking to be treated with respect.
Yes, of course I’ll cooperate!” Sadly, this doesn’t
happen very often.
2. They ramp up the old behavior in an effort to pull you back into the old
pattern. For example, your friend’s acting out increases…she has
tantrums, she pulls a guilt trip, she tells you that you are a terrible person.
Essentially, the toxic behaviors increase in an effort to pull you back into
playing your part. This is a very common reaction, by the way.
3. They will leave the relationship. Again, if your friend needs someone to
act out her drama (pick up the phone in the middle of the night, break your
plans to accommodate hers), and you no longer wish to do this, she will find
someone else who will. End of story.
4. They put up a fight (see #2), but eventually get on board because they
have no choice if they want to have a relationship with you. Of course, this
means you have to hang tough in your convictions. And this gets really sticky
when the person involved is someone with whom you have deep
emotional and/or financial ties, like a spouse or a parent.
Knowing in advance that making positive change in your life may set off a
chain reaction with those closest to you is the only chance you have of being
truly successful. Anticipating these possibilities is important because it
lets you know that you’ll need support to get through the rough patches.
This support may be a close friend with whom you agree to be accountable.
It may mean investing in counseling, or being part of a support group. (The
12 Step Programs do a wonderful job with this).
Whatever it is you choose, just know that meaningful and lasting change is
worth the price. And you don’t have to go it alone. Relying on others
to support your growth is what having healthy, functional relationships is
Until next time…