Surprising Saboteurs Part 1
Recently I consulted with a Malay gentleman who wanted to lose weight, and for more than just cosmetic reasons. You see, he had just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and with a strong family history of hypertension, diabetes and two male relatives dying from heart attacks, he knew it was time to take care of his own health or court an early death.
He was highly motivated, affirming his commitment to make time and effort as I went through the exercise program with him.
But when it came to the diet part he was crestfallen. On questioning I found out that it wasn’t his unwillingness to make changes. It was his knowledge that his mother-in-law, who did the cooking, would outright refuse to stop cooking curries, nor would she alter her original recipes in any way.
I asked him if she knew he was in danger health-wise, and that he was trying to lose weight. He replied yes.
Keep in mind, the gentleman I am talking about was at a stage where losing weight wasn’t an option, it was essential from a Life preservation standpoint
This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard of something like this. There are many variations on the same theme. And it doens’t apply to weight loss only. Any time someone has a major self-improvement goal, like starting a business, achieving financial independence, or going back to work, you can almost bet that one of the biggest impediments is a loved one.
Why would the people we’d most expect to be a pillar of support not only be unsupportive, but often sabotage our goals outright?
The Whys of Sabotage
Let’s look at why our loved ones might be the very roadblocks to our success. I use weight loss as a main example for this article, but keep in mind that many of these points apply to other endeavours and grand goals in Life.
Change of Habits/ Lifestyle
When you get to know someone and you both settle into a sort of comfort zone. You know what to expect, both the good and the bad, but at least you’re comfortable where you are. There is a sort of equilibrium and people like that.
But when you embark on a self-improvement drive, it means change. There is a rude shaking up of the status quo which can be hard to get used to. To lose weight, you will have to make time for exercise, change your diet. Previous bonding activities such as a hearty meal at NYDC have to go.
This can be a real shock because a lifestyle change requires the people around you to adapt too, and they may not like what has to happen to make your goals a success.
Lack of Understanding
Your loved ones may not understand what you are trying to accomplish, and why. This is often the case when anyone embarks on a quest for dramatic self-improvement that will require new priorities. His loved ones aren’t used to the change in priorities, determination and attitude. They may worry if new priorities supersede old ones they may have a vested interest in.
Some people are just plain suspicious. “Are you trying to lose weight because of that attractive new male colleague?”. Or they may have misplaced concern “Dear, I love you just the way you are. No need to lose weight.”
Questions arise like:
Why must you spend three week nights exercising in the gym?
Why must you invest money on a health fitness consults and personal training sessions?
Why do you no longer enjoy the foods that brought you closer in the first place?
This last is especially significant. Food has great emotive power. Couples may have fond memories of dates that included a hawker centre. Mothers may show love by cooking and recall happiness in the family when she cooked her special fried chicken.
Now when you refuse these experiences it’s like a personal rejection.
Lack of understanding can having different opinions. For instance, your wife may understand you want to lose weight, but insist you use the same method that worked for her while dismissing your own chosen methodology, explanations and rationales. In fact this can happen in any area your partner has achieved success, be it fitness, finance, and career success. They may feel they know better because they’ve been there, done that, got the T shirt. Unfortunately they forget that T shirt isn’t one size fits all.
Crises of Confidence
As we lose weight, the benefits are not just physical, but mental and social as well. Two of the most important areas I’ve noticed change in my clients are confidence, and self-esteem.
Many overweight people are naturally withdrawn, shy, and keep to themselves. The stigma of being overweight in a society that increasingly raises its standards of physical beauty, and the conditioning that comes from years of early childhood experiences are powerful. But when they lose weight and start to look good for the first time in their lives, their confidence and self-esteem rises, and their entire outlook and behaviour changes. They act differently, speak differently, and move differently. This is very intimidating for their loved ones, especially if this is a completely new side to them.
They become attractive to the opposite sex, and generally get more attention, which brings out insecurities in partners. Even work performances improve because they are no longer burdened by their physical as well as emotional weight, and suddenly a harmless, good old colleague has become a potential rival for that promotion.
And of course there are the toxic relationships. These types of relationships rely on one person being the dominant half, and the submissive who is in that relationship precisely because of low confidence and self-esteem. But if that changes, then the relationship dynamics change too. When new positive behaviours lead to positive changes lead to confidence from those achievements, it can wreak havoc in these types of unhealthy relationships.
A Mirror of Shortcomings
In an ideal world, your loved ones should be happy when you embark on a self-improvement journey, and even happier when you achieve success.
Unfortunately human nature is often less than ideal. And your success often becomes a mirror for their own failures and shortcomings and engenders feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and guilt.
They feel inadequate because suddenly, in one area, you obviously outshine them. In a couple situation, people usually match up in many common areas. Suddenly, if your goal succeeds, there is an imbalance. You are more attractive than he is, you have a high-paying job than he has, and suddenly everyone at parties is asking you how you did it, and ignoring him.
They feel jealous because of the rewards your success brings. The social benefits of losing weight are immediately obvious. But other types of success also lead to resentment. For example if you’ve succeeded in generating more income and are able to do more travelling, they may feel pressured to use their lower funds to go with you.
They feel guilt if they have tried the same thing you did, but failed. Your success highlights the fact that if they too, had had the determination, drive and dedication, they could have succeeded. They may have given up, thinking their dream was hopeless, only to have your success shake up their comfort zone again.
Suddenly, instead of seeing their loved one when they see you, they see their own shortcomings.
The Main Point? Threat of Losing You (or Just Losing)
Many of these points culminate in that fear we all have when it comes to the people we love – losing them.
They fear they are losing you as you change to a different person. They fear they are going to lose the things that made you happy together, whether it was a filling late night supper, a visit to the ice cream parlour, or lazing on a Sunday afternoon on the couch. They fear they will lose you to another person who is more attractive now that you are more attractive, more active now that you are more active. They worry about the hot people you’re going to meet in the gym, and their first question to you after your first personal training sessions isn’t “So dear, how was it?” but rather “Was the trainer male or female?”
Fears of losing you won’t be a surprise. What might be surprising is sometimes, they just fear losing to you.
A typical situation is when an ‘ordinary’ person suddenly outshines his friends. For example, two workmates cum drinking buddies have been content to just let their lives go by. Then one of them succeeds at losing weight. Suddenly, the other is upstaged because his increased fitness level improves his work performance and he gets a promotion. Or in their regular bar haunt, he is suddenly attracting girls while his friend continues sitting alone.
Have you seen surveys questions along these lines?
Would you rather
a) Have $200, 000 while your friends have $100, 000 or
b) Have $400, 000 while your friends have $1m
Amazingly, in many cases, people will go for a). The money in the example can easily be substituted for other personal improvements, whether it’s weight loss, business success, happiness, or a hot bod. People would rather be happier when they win on relative comparisons and give up being better off in absolute terms.
There is a competitive spirit in humans that can suddenly be sparked when one of the equals in a group decides to rise above mediocrity. And when it comes to weight loss the impact is huge. If you’re in a group and you were the biggest, and now you’ve lost weight, guess who would have the highest level of resentment? Your successor to the throne.
The AA35 way would be to be happy for your loved one, and use their success as inspiration to succeed yourself, maybe even enlisting their support as mentor. Instead, many people who have failed at the same thing see it as proof of their own failures and self-worth, and they react with negativity to punish you.
They don’t want to lose you, but they don’t want to lose too, period.
The Danger Point? You Love Them Too!
What’s the counterpoint?
The real danger here is this: You love them too!
That is precisely why they have the power to affect you so badly.
Think about it. Would you care if it was someone you didn’t like? Would an enemy have any power to emotionally blackmail you out of embarking on something life changing? If a hated colleague were to suggest you’d fail before you even begun, would you give up or work harder to prove him wrong?
The irony so often present is that when one strives for a grand goal, our loved ones have the power to hinder us, while our enemies are frequently the ones who help us.
Just as your loved ones have fears, you do too.
You are worried that you will lose them if you go on this journey, so there is already a negative connection to your goal from the very start. And as you proceed, and encounter more resistance, you are continually challenged, forced to weigh between your loved ones and keeping them happy, and you innermost desires and what success will mean to you. You don’t want to offend them, make them angry, hurt their feelings, and risk losing their love.
And that’s why you tolerate so much and endure so long, continually accepting stressful, leeching and abusive behaviour you would never tolerate until you capitulate, burnt out, drained and unsuccessful.
When you are being sabotaged by your loved ones, what should have been the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be an oncoming train.
That’s certainly a bleak picture. But we now understand some of the whys behind the negative actions and reactions of our loved ones, we can do something about it.
In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the ways they do this, and what you can do about it.