Don’t Let “Them” Bring You Down

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.

In this monthlong learning series, M.J. Ryan, author of the best-selling book This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, will take you through four steps, each lasting one week, to help you figure out what your most important intentions are and give you the tools to make each a reality. Just joining the learning series? Go here to start at the beginning. provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W4 years ago

thank you

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M5 years ago

EW they say ... you dont drink? why ever not they ask... Meds I say. Sometimes on a very rare occasion I might but its not the love of my life. Then I go to the gym and tell people i go and they look me up and down and their noses turn up and their mouths turn into a wrinkly smile if thats what its called. and i feel so bad b/c i know whats going thru their minds.. they long have you been going? Not long I say and they turn their noses up.. lost weight they ask..nope trying to get core strength. I swear to Gd its so hard. Then dont talk to me about men........howly moses and finding a date. Gee whizz...thats a mind field.
so you dont work? nope... dont have too..oh but why? Im old enough not too. so the conversation goes back and forth like this.
I look at these people and think...gosh almighty... NEXT!
and move on. I dont need these people to give me a hard time.

Tammy Taylor
Tammy Taylor5 years ago

interesting ... thank-you!

Val M.
Val M5 years ago


Vural K.
Past Member 8 years ago


Doreen Smith
Doreen Smith8 years ago

As a recovering alcoholic the truth in this article really hit home. I relapsed by having a so-called good friend constantly tempting me to drink. He didn't like the change in me, and resented it. Consequently this friend is no longer in my life, and I learned a lesson.

Doreen Smith
Doreen Smith8 years ago

As a recovering alcoholic I can relate to people who try to make you drink, and not liking you to change. I relapsed big time by this kind of pressure, got a DUI, and am now free of this person in my life. Tough way to realize you have to stay away from people who will trip you up.

barry h.
David P9 years ago

Good job MJ thanks for the positive post on sticking to what one believe in.

suzanne s.
suzanne s9 years ago

the other side of this well stated coin: i have no problem with alcohol; i simply don't enjoy it unless it's a good ale. when i decline, people often make and voice assumptions about me that are not true, which is no never mind until someone sees me take one of my occassional drinks and goes off on a 'woe is me, she's off the wagon' rant. it's mildly amusing, i suppose. what i found more irritating were the years that i was dramatically underweight and struggled very hard to keep my weight up. 'oh, i wish i had your problem!' was the universal reaction; my response was: 'no you don't'. now that i'm on the need to shed 10 lbs side, i can confirm that, for me at least, it's much tougher to put and keep weight on than the opposite, and getting no sympathy from others because they think it's a wonderful problem to have was no help at all. bottom line, i guess: don't presume, and don't make judgements when an offer of unvarnished sympathy will not hurt you and will likely help you as well as the other.