Dealing With Saboteurs, Negative Energy, and Naysayers

Sometimes the people who are the closest to us can be the least supportive people in our lives.  They might criticize, sabotage, and even seem to want you to fail.  Why is that?  Shouldn’t our family and friends be our biggest champions?  Our cheering section?

It makes you wonder, if a family member or friend doesn’t support your goals, does it mean that they don’t really love you?

Probably not, but these are tough questions with no simple answers.  Here are 9 ideas for what to do when a family member or friend is unsupportive, critical or sabotaging.

1. Nothing is Personal.  First and foremost, it is important to know that when a family member or friend is critical, unsupportive or in some way let’s you down, it isn’t personal. What? How can it NOT be personal?  One of the best blog posts I have read all year is entitled, Nothing Is Personal.  This is highly recommended reading.  The most impactful point of the post is that everyone is trying to wrestle through their own pain and life issues, and as we wrestle through to adjust and escape our pain we bump and bruise each other. When someone hurts you, it is more the case that they are bumping into you as they wrestle their way through their issues, and less the case that it has anything to do with you. The less personal you take these slights, the less impact they will have on you.

2. Say this, not that.  When dealing with a family or friend who expresses criticism or cutting comments about your progress, a best initial step is to tell them how it makes you feel and what you would prefer they say/do to be supportive.  Make sure the person knows exactly which comments you are referring to (e.g., “When you said, “Are you going to eat that?!”) and how it made you feel (e.g., I felt really judged.).  When giving someone feedback, always stick with expressing how you feel rather than what you think of them or their intentions.  So for example, avoid saying, “You are trying to undermine me” or “You are just a mean person.”  Putting your audience on the defense will more quickly lead to an argument than a resolution.

3. The 70% Rule.  I’m a huge fan of this rule. Ask yourself, “Is this person good to me at least 70% of the time?”  If the answer is “yes” then perhaps letting the bad moments slide is best, because the person’s value in your life is much larger than the occasional slights.  If the answer is “no” then it may be time to redefine the boundaries of this relationship.  One way to keep a friend or family member above the 70% cutoff is to spend somewhat less time with them. Some people are more tolerable if you don’t see them daily or weekly. Figure out what is the ideal frequency of interactions that keeps you feeling satisfied and fresh in that relationship without the negativity taking too much of a toll. If no level of contact is without slights then you really have to think about whether having this person in your life is providing any benefit to you. If it is a friend you can walk away from, that might be the right choice.  If it is a family member that you cannot walk away from, finding the lowest level of contact that is tolerable may be your only recourse.

4.  What If The Offender Is My Significant Other?  One of the toughest situations is when the person who is critical is your spouse.  If you tried # 2 and it has repeatedly failed, and the frequency of offenses is intolerable, then this pattern may be a sign of a bigger relationship issue that needs to be dealt with.  In some cases, it may be emotional abuse. Read about the signs of emotional/verbal abuse here. If you think your significant other may be emotionally abusive in general, getting into counseling for yourself and/or as a couple will probably be the only hope for change.  This problem is likely affecting far more than just your attempt to lose weight.

5. Choose Your Words Carefully. Healthy lifestyle comes with enthusiasm for healthy behaviors as well as disdain for unhealthy behaviors.  How you talk about your lifestyle changes may come across as passively judgmental to everyone who hasn’t embraced a healthier course for their life.  For example, you might say, “Back when I was fat and lazy I thought it would be impossible to finish a 5K and now it’s EASY!”  Consider that someone who is still feeling like a 5K is impossible may feel bad hearing such a comment, no matter how proud of you they are.  Or you might say, “I never eat fast food anymore, what garbage! I can’t believe I treated my body like such a garbage can before!”  Consider that someone who regularly eats fast food could perceive this as an insult.  Even subtler statements can hurt others who are struggling more than you are.  Choose your words carefully, always considering how a comment would have made you feel back when you were having a hard time.

6. Are You the Object of Resentment? Even if you aren’t making comments like I described above, keep in mind that someone struggling might still feel some resentment towards you as you lose weight.  Your frequent trips to the gym and healthy orders in a restaurant draws an unspoken contrast between the two of you. They may feel that you have less in common or assume you don’t want to spend time with a “bad influence.”   In this case, avoiding judgmental language and spending time with the person doing “neutral territory” activities (those that have nothing to do with food or exercise—such as going to the library or a play) might be helpful.

7. Change is Scary.  Losing weight requires a pretty big change in lifestyle, and a change in lifestyle can change the dynamic of your relationships.  Maybe you are spending more time with friends who exercise and less time with those who don’t. Your significant other might worry that you will find them less attractive, or they may be jealous of any new attention you are getting. All of this may stem from the fear that your lifestyle change might threaten the relationship, so negative comments could be their way of slowing down your progress or their only way to express these feelings.  The person may not be aware that this is at the root of the problem so confronting them may not work.  Instead, do what you can to make the person feel safe and loved, and if this is at the root of the problem, the negative comments will subside.

8. 100 Positive Voices Drowns Out 1 Negative. If you aren’t successful at silencing the negativity, drown out the negative with positive. Find positive voices of support for your weight loss journey. I highly recommend social media for this purpose. A whole cheering section of healthy people exist on Twitter (click here to find them), or consider starting a blog about your weight loss journey (click here for more on how)—blogs attract tons of positive attention.

9. Don’t Believe Them.   Whatever you do, never, ever believe a naysayer.  They are always wrong.

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