When talking about change backfires

Have you ever had someone tell you about a problem, ask for advice, express a strong desire to change…only to become defensive when you try to help?

This is one of the most confusing relationship dynamics that people come in with. It’s one thing to get defensive when someone criticizes you or offers unsolicited advice, but why do people get defensive when we try to give them help that they seem to be asking for?

One thing I’ve learned is that just because someone talks about wanting to change, doesn’t mean he or she is actually ready to take action to change!

This is also one of the things that can make it scary even to notice or talk about a problem we are having…admitting to ourselves or others that there is something in our lives, something we are doing, that we are uncomfortable with, often comes with a sense of pressure to do something about it. We are afraid to admit our problems for fear of having to do something different before we are ready.

But one of the most important things aobut change is that, until we are aware of something that feels wrong or uncomfortable, it’s hard to evaluate whether we need to change it. Our fear of change action can stop us from paying attention long enough to make a choice about whether we want to change or not. This keeps us stuck, as we go through automatic actions that might be hurting us or getting in the way of the kind of lives we want to have, but that we are too afraid to examine closely.

So the first thing I tell people who come to me for help with their relationships or their lives, is that thinking and talking about issues is not the same as changing them. I give them permission to notice and pay attention to things without having to do anything about them. Sometimes this opens doors that have been closed for a very long time, and I view that opening as the first step into the empowerment that comes with examining our lives enough to make choices about how we want to live them.