So, you’ve taken big steps forward in your life. Maybe you’ve finally chucked all the junk food from your kitchen. Perhaps you’ve been promoted at work. Or maybe you’ve simply decided to stop being so negative. To your surprise, some of your loved ones are less than supportive: “You used to be so much fun!” “Why don’t we gossip together anymore?” “So, you’re a big shot now, huh?” Now, in addition to dealing with the big changes in your life, you feel stressed by the tension that arises around those reactions.
What’s the best way to deal with these stress-producing naysayers? To find out, we talked to social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, author of The Book of No: 25 Ways to Say It – and Mean It – and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill, 2006).
Other people’s sour grapes
Whether it’s an overtly nasty reaction or a simple lack of support, other people’s negative responses to our positive life transformations can create emotional stress and disrupt valued relationships.
Barriers to Overcome
Guilt. When we better ourselves, says Newman, we often feel guilty about leaving our friends behind or surpassing them in some way.
Fear. The dread of being rejected or criticized by our loved ones can greatly affect our stress level and encourage us to sabotage our own success, says Newman. “Your friends may love you dearly, but if they are jealous or insecure, that could manifest itself in
a variety of ways — they could snap at you, be short with you or simply adopt an attitude toward you that they’ve never had before.”
Resentment. Feeling that a friend has let us down or been less than supportive can cause us to feel angry and resentful. Getting caught up in our own “How could he or she?” judgments can prevent us from seeing clearly and responding constructively and may lead us to make mountains out of emotional molehills.
How to Cope
Celebrate your transformation.“You’re entitled to keep your life moving in a forward direction,” Newman says. “You’re not doing anything malicious or vindictive by bettering yourself. You should be patting yourself on the back instead of feeling guilty and stressed out. Adopt a mantra, like, ‘I deserve to be at my best.’”
Use conscious language. Take pride in your accomplishment and use direct language to tell your friend, “I’ve achieved something really significant for myself, and I know you’re happy for me.” Says Newman: “Not only are you relaying how much this transformation means to you, you’re also telling your friend how you want him or her to relate to you.”
Don’t pathologize other people’s reactions. The greeneyed monster is a very human emotion, says Newman. “At some point or another, we’re all going to feel jealous about somebody or something.” The good news? Ill will usually fades, and people adjust to new circumstances. “Time and people change — that’s a fact of life. While it’s hard for some people to adjust, most will.”
Be willing to detach. Reassure your friends that you’re not leaving them behind, but if six months or a year has passed and some of them are still giving you a hard time, “perhaps it’s time to consider removing them from your inner circle,” and making some new friends, says Newman. (For tips on how to say goodbye, see “Goodbye, Friend” in the May 2008 archives.)
Away From Pain, Into Comfort
The gentle art of ortho-bionomy can help our bodies unload chronic stress.
Origin: Developed in the 1970s by British osteopath (and Judo instructor) Arthur Lincoln Pauls, DO, ortho-bionomy is based on two fundamental premises: A properly aligned musculoskeletal system is critical for overall health, and one should work with the body instead of against it to promote balance and alignment.
Benefits: In addition to reducing stress by decreasing muscle tension, relieving joint problems and improving circulation, ortho-bionomy also helps to heal both new and old injuries. Many people have found that this bodywork method is also helpful in supporting an emotional release and healing, bringing comfort to survivors of many types of trauma. Best of all, because it’s so noninvasive, ortho-bionomy is just as good for babies, the elderly and people recovering from surgery as it is for the rest of us.
Simple Steps: The key to ortho-bionomy is recognizing that the body won’t heal unless it’s comfortable. Practitioners forgo forceful, vigorous movements in favor of gentle compression, holding, rocking and techniques that create positions of rest that naturally trigger a bodywide relaxation response.
“Think of what happens to people during whiplash or even through a repetitive activity like holding the phone to your ear all day long,” Joyce explains. “The muscles tighten up and go into protect mode, but they forget to let go. The whole point of ortho-bionomy is to support the body so that it can find its balance and be free of whatever pattern it’s stuck in.”
How many sessions a person needs depends on how quickly his or her body is able to recalibrate and find balance. Many bodyworkers, like Joyce, practice ortho-bionomy, as do other health practitioners like naturopathic and osteopathic doctors. On average, practitioners charge about $65 to $75 an hour. To learn more about ortho-bionomy, check out www.ortho-bionomy.org.