01/23/2009 01:41 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't Let "Them" Bring You Down

This blog is part of M.J Ryan's Intent Learning Series

I've always been flabbergasted, or perhaps the better word is shocked, by people who press drinks on sober alcoholics or cookies on those on a diet. Then there are the dream killers who stomp on your intention of better work-life balance or ridicule you for becoming a vegetarian.

What is it with such folks? Why doesn't everyone you know applaud and support the changes you're making? Is the fact that you're evolving threatening in some way?

I don't think it's usually conscious, but we do often threaten those around us when we grow. We could be triggering their insecurity - she won't love me anymore if she's thin -- or envy -- he's following his dream and I'm not -- or challenging their internal excuse that change isn't possible. They may take your healthy change as a judgment against their unhealthy choices. Perhaps it represents some sacrifice on their part -- you've decided to take 30 minutes for yourself every evening and that means they get less attention. There's a host of reasons why they may try to hold you back.

This can be particularly true for those who are nearest and dearest to us. Therapists have known for decades that families are systems and when one part of the system changes, it shakes up all of it. The system then marshals its resources to try to stay the same. None of this is conscious, of course. Almost none of us are aware of the degree to which we take comfort in our fixed ways of being and ideas of ourselves and one another: My mother is the needy one; my brother is the flaky one. As a consequence of these dynamics, those closest to you may not be eager to support your new choices.

What to do about these naysayers and saboteurs? First, be aware that, as much as you would like it, you may not have support from family and friends. So be sure you do find people who will listen to you and not shame or sabotage (see What Kind of Support Do You Need? Week 2 day 5). You can ask for family members' and friends' blessing, you can invite them to join you, but you can't make your choices contingent on their behavior. That's a fancy way of saying you mustn't let other people, even those closest to you, determine what you do or how you feel about yourself. You're an adult.

You don't need to explain, defend, or justify. Try "Thanks for your opinion. I'm going to stick to it." And when offered temptations, you only need two words: "No, thanks." If they persist, try "I am choosing not to [drink, smoke, eat dessert, etc.]. I'd like you to support me by accepting my 'no' as final." The upside of making assertive statements such as these is that they reinforce your intention and make it easier for you to stick to your commitment to yourself.

To Try: Figure out today what you'll say to anyone who tries to ridicule you or get you off-track.

Adapted from This Year I Will...: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True