Wednesday Tip Jar: 6 Tips for Dealing With Unsupportive People

Everyone I’ve ever spoken to who has begun a journey of working on a new goal has run into at least one negative person. Someone who denounces their efforts and spits out continual remarks of how stupid the efforts are.

It’s hard to deal with these people, I know. So today I’m going to give you 6 tips I’ve used in my own life when I run into these folks.

6. Ignore them.

When you have a goal or dream you’re following, and you have people going out of their way to tell you why you shouldn’t or can’t, what they’re really voicing is jealousy.

Sometimes, yes, these “negative Nellies” may be giving you sound advice, just in a poor way. Even a very poor way. That means it takes some skill listening to the content and ignoring the quality of what they’re saying.

There’s a difference between criticizing or belittling and even ridiculing (couched in “advice”) and providing feedback that’s actually worth listening to. Criticism of an approach to how you’re going after a goal can sting, yes. But before acting defensively, it may be worth spending a moment digesting the message behind the words and the delivery. (Some people simply have very poor skills in providing feedback.)

But, if you sense it’s simply that person’s way of trying to cajole you back into a role that makes them more comfortable and/or are wanting you to follow their ideas of what you should or shouldn’t do (and you know they don’t fit), ignore them.

5. Realize they’re voicing and projecting their fears and doubts.

This is the jealousy I mentioned above. When you begin to work towards a goal (like perhaps fitness or weight loss, really any kind of betterment) it forces those around you to change as well. They may not see those changes as changes for the better. Someone who wants tot lose weigh, for example, will not only begin a new exercise regime but a new way of eating as well.

If someone in your life is used to the two of you eating in a certain way (pizzas, ice cream, fast food, even larger portions of healthy/healthier food) and you decide you no longer want to eat out three or four times a week and so on, this “forces” the other person to eat differently. If you begin focusing on exercise in the morning or perhaps evening, the complaint may be the alarm going off an hour earlier or less time together.

There is often, then, a form of wheedling and cajoling to get you to stop what you’re doing. This isn’t about you. It’s about the other person wanting to remain comfortable. So their objections are wholly about themselves.

Making a full-on lifestyle change can be hard in a family whose ways are set.

I’ve had people tell me that they will put a healthy item into their grocery cart, only to have their spouse take it out immediately saying, “I don’t like that.”  Childish, yes—but it happens.

So put it back in, stating firmly they don’t have to eat it if they don’t want it…but you’re getting it for you.  And then ignore whatever comments may follow. They won’t be eating that food, necessarily. And if Mama Jones gets upset that you don’t eat that labored-over cheese blintz, don’t take it personally. Stand your ground. Same with any personal growth goal. I’ve had clients whose friends and family mock their efforts to make changes for the better, even find ways to sabotage the efforts.

I’ve had more than one client who begin a routine of meditation, for example, and their partners have  have deliberately started watching TV or playing music loudly, or simply keep interrupting them. The thinking is the partner doesn’t see the point of what you’re doing, so why should you do it?

This also goes for times when perhaps you and a partner or friend start out on a goal together (e.g. fitness/health) and they drop off. It’s their choice to do so, but so often the wheedling and cajoling for you to also quit starts. Again this is because your efforts are reflecting back on their lack of them.

Keep going.

4. Get involved with folks who are supportive.

While it’s nice and soothing to get outside support, truthfully you’ll have to be your best supporter, even if you have friends who are supporting you fully, or you have a great coach or mentor. Why? Because you are the one living in your head with your own thoughts, doubts and emotions 24-7. Taking on someone else’s negative thinking just makes it that much harder, if not impossible.

If you feel like you need more outside support, find a group of like-minded people, online or in person. Discussion groups and boards are great places to go.

3. Ask yourself if it’s worth keeping the negative person in your life.

Sometimes this is hard to do. It could be a family member or a partner. A longtime friend. A co-worker you see every day. There’s someone with whom I’ve always been very close, but because they got so negative (up to and including shouting expletives at me) about my choices and an already-frustrating situation I was in, I quit communicating with them.

If you’re already stressed out, already working hard to overcome something, the last thing you need is verbal bullying from people. Your changes are about you and your goals of finding deeper levels of enjoyment in life. If someone criticizes you for choosing to enrich your life some way, let them go.

Sometimes this does end up in a split between two people. Divorces and relationship breakups have come from one person’s efforts to create more happiness. Yes, it would be ideal if a partner could at least support you and walk beside you, but sometimes the changes are viewed as so radical a lack of compatibility unfolds.

When this happens, it’s enormously challenging. And continuing on may seem selfish. Which it actually is, yes.

But it’s not the kind of selfishness where you cut a slice of cake, then leave the slice while taking the rest of the cake for yourself.

It’s the kind of selfishness that allows you to to grow in a way so that you can have more to give to the people you care about…and who truly care about you.

Of course, mindfulness is needed when other people are involved. It’s easy to get so focused on doing what you want (for a change!) that some toes and feelings do actually get stepped on. Very normal, actually. Then it’s simply a matter of adjusting your focus and finding a balance between focusing on you and focusing on others.

2. Let them have their doubts.

This is along the same lines as ignoring them. I’ve you’ve tried changing a negative person’s mind, tried getting them to come around and support you and they haven’t—it’s time to simply let them have their negativity. If they don’t believe that what you’re doing is beneficial, what they’re saying is they don’t see how it’s beneficial to them. And when people begin thinking this way, they have a belief that it’s not beneficial to anyone.

As long as what you’re doing is promoting a deeper sense of happiness, contentment and mental/emotional/spiritual/physical health for you, then it’s worth it.

1. “Show” don’t tell…they may come around!

Very often, when someone starts out on a path of betterment of some kind or another they’re almost always met with doubts and negativity from someone in their life. Often a partner. But sometimes, and sometimes often, something interesting happens.

As you start to grow and change, as you start to exhibit obvious benefits, the negative person gets curious. Even inspired to follow along with you.

(But it’s key to point out that if you’re met with negativity, nagging someone to stop or to come along with you will have the opposite effect. Try suggesting it a few times, but if you’re continually met with “no” and more negative “reasoning”…stop.)

Sometimes, life is much like the writing adage I use in the header. Writers are taught to show their readers the events and characters and action, not tell. To create a visual story rather than a journalistic telling. This is another version of another old adage: Actions speak louder than words.

Of course, someone may still not hear you. And that’s okay. As long as you keep moving forward towards your goals, even when you have setbacks, you’ll get there.

No doubt about that.

Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.


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