One of the things we talk about in therapy is how our growth and change affects the other people in our lives. Or more specifically, we talk about how to grow and change without placing undo responsibility on the other people in our lives. We can’t expect people to change with us or to understand our journeys. Sometimes relationships improve as we get healthier and sometimes they get worse. It can be hard to keep our feet on the path we must walk when we feel ourselves pulled back by the people we care about and who won’t come with us.
To change is to upset the balance of our relationships; everyone tilts whether they want to or not.
Let’s say that that a woman (who we’ll call Joan) decides to practice health at every size and she chooses to give up dieting. Joan and her best friend have always gone on diets together. They take turns looking up new menus in women’s magazines or go to weight watchers meetings together. Now when the friend calls to give Joan a run down of her daily eating diary Joan doesn’t listen like she used to. Now maybe Joan tries to convince her to try HAES, too. Maybe they argue about it. Maybe Joan confronts her friend about behavior she interprets as enabling or her friend confronts Joan for behavior she interprets as condescending. (Remember the post I wrote about Truth vs. truth? How you behave and how someone else interprets your behavior is out of your control and vice versa.)
Even though Joan is the only one who’s decided to change, her decision is forcing change on her friend, too. Change knocks the relationship off balance and the system — the relationships — want balance so either Joan will learn how to accommodate her friend or her friend will learn how to accommodate Joan or the relationship will end.
Accommodation can look like a lot of different things. It doesn’t mean that Joan has to go back to dieting or that her friend has to stop; it means that the nature and the content of their friendship will need to change. To do this, they will both need to respect the other person’s right to do things differently and not everyone can do this.
We don’t live in a vacuum. Our choices impact the people we love and the people we live with just as their choices impact us.
Change can be lonely.
Finding people who support our changes — friends who have been through something similar, therapists who can validate our growth — is an important part of getting through the challenges of disequilibrium in our relationships. They can remind us that we’re not crazy for wanting something different or that the stories we’ve been telling ourselves can make way for new, better stories.
Growth and healing comes with learning how to be the person we need to be even when other people want us to stay the same. It’s figuring out how to navigate our changing relationship when we don’t really understand how they are changing. It means standing strong in our own truth when other people don’t see things the same way.