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Managing Change: 40 Tips For Handling Family, Friends & Romantic Partners As Your Reclaimed Self

One of the things that makes newly assertive people nervous and even motivates them to slip back into people pleasing ways, is a mix of fear of how their nearest and dearest (and some not so dearest) will respond to them not being so accommodating, as well as feeling shaken if people don’t automatically comply with their newfound boundaries and assertiveness. This class is full of tips that will help you to manage this change.

1. Don’t own other people’s insecurity and responses to your change.

It’s not unusual when we make changes, for people to experience differences in us or for them to be afraid of what the changes will mean for them. This means that some people’s responses will not actually be due to you having said or done anything specific or at all, but more due to their perception of themselves in the eyes of your newly changed self, or how they perceive your changes are likely to affect them. In some instances, particularly if they are passive aggressive and aggressive, their response to you is about how they perceive you to now be perceiving you in light of your changes, and that is… projection and treating you as a threat when you’re not.

If you have done something that’s unreasonable or abusive, then a person is warranted in being upset with you. Let’s be real; most of your unreasonable behaviour that may even at times have crossed into being abusive, is directed at you. Have you been a pleaser to try to change people or to get what you want? Absolutely. But abusive? No.

If what constitutes being ‘unreasonable’ actually amounts to, ‘X will no longer comply and allow me to take advantage or even abuse him/her’, you are not being unreasonable. If you’re experiencing recriminations due to a person no longer being able to control your emotions and behaviour by force, again, you are not being unreasonable. It is in fact they who are being unreasonable and don’t get things twisted.

2. Let people you care about into the changes that you’ve been making with some key reasons why and the primary benefits.

Don’t tell them to gain agreement or validation; giving them a little insight into the changes you’ve been making is an assertive means of clarifying who you are, any shifts they may have noticed, and letting them know that what you’re doing is about you, not about them even if some of these people may have ‘inspired’ your desire to change.

Example: I’ve been doing a great deal of reflection over the past while. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but after the breakup / redundancy / that experience with X, I went through a difficult time that’s resulted in me making some really positive changes and learning a hell of a lot about me too. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a ‘pleaser'; I worry too much about everyone’s opinions, I limit myself out of fear, I overload myself with stuff because I don’t know how to say no, and I wage a war on myself with comparison. I’ve not been happy / as happy as I’ve made out and that’s down to me to address this. The consequences of me being a pleaser is that I may be high on people’s lists for who will do stuff but I don’t really like myself very much. At times I have felt so desolate and I have experienced depression. I’m taking steps to address my assertiveness. I’m going to continue being me but I’m just going to learn to have the ability to step up for me. I feel lighter already, I’ve been sleeping better, I’m finally putting some stuff from the past to rest, and I’m taking command of me.

Who can argue with that?

  • You let them know that you’ve been through a difficulty.
  • You acknowledge what you discovered about you.
  • You provide examples of what you mean that highlight your struggles instead of focusing on other people’s behaviour.
  • You outline the negative effects on you of what you’ve been doing.
  • You outline the benefits of the change.
  • You let them in on some of the positive effects you’ve already experienced.
  • You don’t ask for their permission.

Only someone who feels threatened by these changes will take issue. That’s not you, that’s them; don’t own that.

3. Enlist the support of healthy members of your circle.

My close friends in particular, kept me accountable and reminded me when I got distracted due to stress, what the downside would be of sliding back. You will also be surprised at how someone who you’re not particularly close to, such as coworker or someone from a group that you take part in, may notice the changes in you and be really pleased for you. I had people in work who it would never have occurred to me that they would notice such things, congratulate me on making changes and even holding my hand and saying, “I’m really glad to see you looking so radiant” and then whispering, “He didn’t deserve you.”

4. Don’t become a preacher or evangelist.

If there’s going to be a source of conflict and criticism, this is actually the most likely source of it. Often, when we feel enlightened, we want our friends and family who aren’t enlightened to share in that enlightenment and make their own changes. Next thing, we’re telling them that their ex is an AC or inadvertently chastising them. We mean well but we’re getting carried away. As the saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear… or the meaning of the lesson will become apparent. Lead by example, not by being in their face. A person who already feels inadequate will mistake what you’re doing for superiority and feel even more inadequate.

5. Don’t sweat the boundaries.

The next major concern after fear of alienation is fear of how much ‘work’ it’s going to take to have boundaries or how people are going to react to them. Here’s the truth about boundaries:

People who as a part of their own value system conduct themselves from a place of care, trust, respect, and where appropriate, love, plus who value integrity, will not feel your change of boundaries in a negative way. Why not, you may ask? Because a person’s only going to feel your healthy boundaries in a negative way if they were over your line in the first place. If anything, a person with healthy boundaries will feel more comfortable in your presence and possibly even relieved.

You only need to be extra vigilant with known offenders, i.e. repeat offenders, as well as in the discovery phase of getting to know someone or in situations where for whatever reason, your confidence is rattled. If you’re being conscious as opposed to operating unconsciously with your habits of thinking and behaviour, you haven’t got anything to worry about.

If you have a mutual relationship with Aunt Maybelle, you don’t need to do anything. Again, because you are being boundaried in other areas of your life and so in turn are feeling happier, all that you improving your boundaries elsewhere is going to do with Aunt Maybelle, is improve and enhance an already good relationship.

If your mother is a known offender, you don’t need to cut her off (unless she’s abusive and/or she is unwilling to work with a healthier you and respect your boundaries), this is where your vigilance, awareness, and mindfulness is needed.

Decide in advance what the ‘hot spots’ are with the person, in this example, your mother.

Then decide in advance how you’re going to handle things so that you are boundaried, not so that you control their emotions and behaviour.

For instance, I know that if my mother calls me up and has a certain tone/attitude/ or uses one of her key phrases, that I need to limit the time to 10-15 minutes max, or say that I’ll call her back and still limit the time then. I also have a number of ready-made excuses for getting off the phone and I just repeat them if she’s not listening and then say that I have to go. Not only do I feel so much better and unburdened after initially wondering if I was a bad daughter for not sitting through this stuff no matter how toxic, but my mother has gradually come to know my line and has improved some of her self-management too. I no longer listen to my mother bitch about my siblings, I don’t entertain put-downs, and I gently, firmly, and sometimes with humour, call her out on inappropriate comments about other stuff. She’s not allowed to tell me how to live my life or to make digs about my home, my husband, or my kids. That’s my line. I have ready-made responses for some stuff and if for whatever reason, it’s not addressed at the time, I address it within me and make a note for next time to be vigilant. I also have a boundary of not falling into the trap of expecting her to change into Ideal Mother TM. I’m a grownup! She’s my mother but we both have to approach each other as adults and so in turn, I have also learned not to treat my mother like a child, which at times has been testing…

Don’t spend oodles of time stressing about how they might respond or about that time in the past; the time is now. If it’s not happening right now, it hasn’t happened yet and you have time to respond.

Learn from each time and adapt.

Get into the habit of operating from a position of self-respect. Relax, go about your business, and learn how to read signs that there’s a boundary issue without panicking you into believing that the sky is about to fall down on you and responding off the back of that panic. Be conscious, aware, and present and you will be able to read shifts in your feelings and physical responses.

If you feel very tense and leaden-like in the stomach for instance, it’s signalling a need to have an active response and to be boundaried. It may be about being boundaried with you or it may be a need to assert a boundary with someone. Learn your body responses. Be conscious, aware, and present so that you can make smart decisions with the best of the information that you have at the time.

6. Make sure that you’ve identified your ‘hot list’ of people who are most likely to take the piss and these (and anyone who you meet who behaves similarly), are the ones that you need to be vigilant with - your People Pleasing Entourage. It is most likely to be a family member, next most likely is long-term or toxic friend, and then either a current partner, ex, or coworker.

7. Do not apologise for having to curtail your pleasing ways. That implies that you are in the wrong and guilty.

8. Scale back your commitments to your pleaser self and lay the foundations with family and friends by stressing work and other schedule commitments.

The best way to prepare for saying no ‘next time’ is to mention your other commitments, not in an, ‘I’m busier than a world leader or superhero’ type of way but more in a, ‘This is what I do with my time and my life. My time is valuable’ type of way. You do not need to justify the validity of these commitments and you don’t need to gain agreement from them. Your friends and family have no business telling you that your work or other things that you’re doing are not important or certainly less important than what they want. You decide your priorities. Incidentally, you just try telling them that their priorities are not their priorities and see how much blowback you get. You are not a lackey or The Help.

9. Think of 3-5 things that you regret having done – these are what you will say no to next time regardless of who it is.

10. Manage your guilt and angst about saying no (or preparing to) by asking yourself if the benefits of you agreeing to what you feel guilty/anxious about, outweigh any problems it’s going to bring you.

One friend people pleased her way into agreeing to take care of her neighbour’s dog despite being allergic…

If you won’t be able to get to work or maintain other commitments as a result of saying yes to this, you should say no.

If you’re going to feel resentful, upset, frustrated, taken advantage of etc., afterwards, you say no.

If it’s going to cost you your well-being and potentially endanger you or have negative consequences beyond the immediate short-term, you decline. Trust me when I say that the guilt and anxiety will pass in far less time than the problems…

11. Would that person put themselves out in the same way that they expect of you? Have they previously put themselves out to the same degree that you have?

This is not a tit for tat, keeping score world (although some people treat it as such) but you must learn to recognise when you’re getting jacked and there’s an imbalance. Answer these questions based on who they are now and have consistently been in the past, not on who you think they might be now that you have made your own changes.

12. Let your parents (and siblings if applicable) or any other family members, do their thing even if it’s not yours.

Yes, I’m sure some of them could do with making changes but there comes a point when you have to ask why you’re not putting the energy into your own changes that you are into theirs. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned: If family want to be effed up, they’ll be effed up no matter what you do. You’re just not that powerful. I’m living proof that you can have a family with a catalog of effed up behaviour (and I do mean some seriously effed up stuff) and get on with your own life. You are breaking a cycle in your life. That’s what matters.

13. Do quietly evaluate the authenticity of your friendships.

This is a toughie. No you’re not looking to ditch friendships but as someone who is recovering from the downside of low self-esteem, you do have to evaluate whether any of your friendships or your behaviour within these friendships, represents the toxic pattern of people pleasing. It’s very possible that it doesn’t. If you actually have healthy friends and in the past you have had some people pleasing inclinations, those friendships, like the relationships I mentioned in #5, will not be affected. If you’ve been lugging around what really amount to toxic friendships that stretch back to your school days and you keep them ‘ticking over’ out of fear and guilt about stepping away and about how you’ll look, these are not authentic or healthy friendships. You all deserve better than a faux friendship and if some of these people are actually shady, they can be who they are on their own time while you focus on healthier friendships.

14. Remember that if you maintain even one toxic relationship with your typical pleaser habits of thinking and behaviour, it will affect your sense of self. Just one relationship based on unhealthy beliefs about you and life is enough to create chaos in your life. 

It’s not that your healthier relationships don’t impact you but toxic behaviour will put you at odds with yourself as well as drain you.

15. Hang back.

Learn how to rein in your eager beaver ways. Let someone else volunteer, don’t take over all of the tasks (it helps if you don’t convince yourself that they all have to be done perfectly or your way, and instead let the chips fall where they may), and don’t fill in silence with your pleasing. Do this enough and others will step up. If you’re also jumping in there, others will sit back either because they’re passive and lack confidence and so feel intimidated / prefer to be directed, or because they typically ride on other people’s coat tails.

16. Identify your ‘I feel inadequate’ cues and triggers.

It might be with regards to gifting or when a sibling is praised, or when it’s half-siblings birthdays, family occasions, when other people do well, when you need to ask a question or admit you don’t know something, or when you’re convinced that you’re around somebody who is ‘shinier’ than you. Identify what you can say to you that will lift your spirits, comfort you, and keep you in reality. Remember that the mind believes what you tell it so an affirmation works well here. ‘I am safe. I am secure’, or ‘I’m a unique, valuable, worthwhile and lovable person’, or ‘I am equal’ or something that basically challenges the insecurity (the reverse of it). This brings me neatly to…

17. Don’t project your feelings of inadequacy onto others.

Often when we hide our feelings and then eventually reveal them, rather than own our own, it becomes, “I feel _______ and you feel the same”, or “I’m feeling and doing ___________ because I know you feel __________.”

Actually, that’s your feeling but sometimes it seems easier to talk about your feelings by talking about someone else’s and the only person who knows what they feel and can tell you how they feel, is the person who is feeling it, and even then, that’s only if they’re self-aware! Yes, complicated, but basically, stop taking ownership of other people’s feelings and behaviour! You’re not Mystic Meg or capable of Jedi mind tricking.

When we come from a place of inadequacy, we over-empathise and project our own attitude to ourselves and life instead of actually considering things from their perspective. Let your family and friends speak for themselves as it will spare you unnecessary pain. If you want to estimate their feelings in order to make your point, instead of “You this” and “You that”, say “I feel __________ and based on ___________ {examples}, I’ve felt that you may be _________”, or ask them. Trust me, that’s a lot less scary and painful than just making it up as you go along so that you can avoid conflict. If you truly value a person’s presence in your life, projecting your feelings and thoughts onto them isn’t the way to go.

18. Strive for the middle ground between festering and erupting and flying off the handle due to too much suppression.

Wherever you are along the scale, conflict, criticism and disappointment will have to be dealt with. The middle ground is assertive. Who amongst your circle has fairly healthy habits of thinking and behaviour? Practice being as honest and authentic as possible with them. It is a wonderful feeling to have at least one person (besides you) that you can totally be yourself with. Identify that person and live it up.

19. Know your ‘touch points’ and triggers.

You are now armed with this knowledge and you don’t need to make an announcement or warn people off, but you do need to ground you asap when you experience it, and if you’re still working through it and it is cropping up in an interaction where the person is trusted. Which brings me neatly to…

20. The assertive thing to do when there are certain insecurities (we all have them) is to engage in safe-disclosure, not over-sharing.

There can be a tendency when we have been through change and have some painful experiences that we’re still working through, to ‘blab’ them out with the idea being that if we tell these people then they’ll watch themselves and respect your boundaries. With new / shady people, it’s giving them the blueprints to screw you over. The healthier and assertive way of managing this is to be boundaried and self-aware, not speeding yourself into things, as well as sanity checking things that you’re doing or agreeing to, reading your feelings and not shying away from them, and building trust in reality where there is mutual disclosure over time.

20. No one has to agree with you and that includes blood relatives, friends, and romantic partners.

It is OK to disagree and keep this in mind as your newly reclaimed self. Don’t focus on one being wrong and the other being right. Agree to disagree. Own your own and let others own theirs. If they disagree with your boundaries, again, instead of trying to convince and convert, agree to disagree and ensure that you are boundaried enough that they cannot continue to cross them.

21. Don’t approach family, friends, and romantic partners about conflict, criticism, and disappointment as if they are the enemy.

Of course if when it all boils down to it, they are your enemy, it’s time to move on and opt out.

22. It’s OK to be different.

Your family, friends, and romantic partners are allowed to be different and so are you. The fact that you or they are different isn’t a big deal; it’s life. Your reclaimed self needs to strive for authenticity and pretending to be the same as your inner circle will actually create problems, not make you closer. Celebrate what makes you different and embrace it. When we learn to not judge people for not being the same as us, it really then becomes a question of compatibility.

23. Even when they are your family, friends, or romantic partners, they will not be able to read your mind and nor should you try to read theirs.

Engage, question, be curious, speak up, conversate. Your reclaimed self doesn’t take things for granted. When we try to read other people’s minds or expect them to read ours, we become complacent and a wall goes up.

24. Your reclaimed self must use boundaries to guide and direct people to what is acceptable and permissible behaviour around you.

25. When you see something that needs changing in your life, your first port of call is for you to take action.

Don’t wait for others to ‘fix up’. Even small steps make a huge difference.

26. Say it with me: I am responsible for how I behave and continue to feel.

Feelings are instinctive and happen without reasoning and knowledge. Your actions, including how you treat you and your feelings, affect the way that you continue to feel. In turn, others are responsible for how they feel and behave. This does not mean that it’s OK to do as you like – own your own and conduct yourself with integrity and then you can be honestly aware of where you impact others.

27. Give.It.Time. Wait to see how people respond.

Don’t do the whole panicking backtrack. Whatever the amount of time you normally wait before you second guess something that you’ve said or agreed to in an effort to be more assertive, you need to extend it. If it’s minutes, it needs to be at least 10 times your normal wait time. That means that if you normally panic after 20 minutes and spiral, you will have to wait 200 minutes at least before you can even consider beginning to have a panic and by then, you will hopefully be calmer. This is a good time to practice mindfulness and to have a go-to affirmation. Saying, ‘That’s not mine, that’s theirs, I’m sending it right back’, is a reminder not to own their feelings and potential behaviour that hasn’t even happened yet.

28. Sometimes your nearest and dearest will exceed your expectation of conflict and it’s likely to be where you didn’t anticipate it.

Most of the time they won’t though plus you will be more than able to handle it. Always remember that it’s not worth backsliding to passive when the overwhelming majority of situations will not live up to your projections. Ask yourself, Is what I’m predicting / forecasting true? How can my reclaimed self handle this in a more assertive way than previously? Progress not perfection.

29. Don’t ask for permission to be you and to act in your best interests.

Note I didn’t say selfish interests and you will only do this if you’re crossing boundaries and trying to rule people instead of being assertive. People who are supposed to be closest to you are the last people that you need permission from because by definition, they’re supposed to love you for who you are, not what you can be and do for them.

30. Remember that people who you’ve trained to expect yes from you, are going to need their own time to get used to you saying no more often.

Don’t make it your responsibility to manage their ego, after all, no one is entitled to a yes all of the time even if they’ve had it out of you before, however, by owning your part in the issue, you can recognise that just as it’s taking time for you to adapt your habit, it’s going to take time for them to get used to the new dynamic. Don’t own their feelings and do accept that some people’s feathers will be ruffled but they need to be if they’ve been reliant on a yes from you.

31. One of the best things that you can do to manage the changes with your friends (or family) is to be up front about direct changes that will affect something very specific that they’ve come to expect.

It doesn’t mean you won’t experience resistance and tension but it will save the changes from feeling sudden and aggressive, even if for all intents and purposes, they’re not and their expectation is more unreasonable than your denial of it / non-compliance. Example: for the person who expects you to pay for everything, drop it into a conversation before you are out that you won’t be paying for it, that way they can choose whether they still want to go out. Yes it will hurt if they no longer want to do something because you won’t pay, but at least you’ll know where you stand. Another method, especially if you’re on a budget, is to only bring out enough cash to cover you but not to cover two people (or however many).

32. Be yourself consistently and they will get used to it, but do recognise that if you have some unhealthy relationships, they may not survive your changes, or they may need to go their own way for a time, lick their wounds, and return behind your line.

Make sure that if and when they ‘come back’ that you’re still the same boundaried person.

33. Sometimes when you say NO, it’s not because of any particular boundary per se; it’s because for whatever reason, you don’t want to do it.

It could be that it is inconvenient, it could be that you don’t like whatever it is that’s being asked or expected, and sometimes, you just don’t want to. Sometimes we know not why we don’t want to do something. If you can on balance, reflect and say to yourself that there are plenty of other occasions that you have said YES, then that’s OK. We don’t have to do everything that everyone asks of us. If you’re saying NO for the hell of it, while you’re entitled to, recognise that if it’s a reasonable request, you may come across ‘unfriendly’ so just make sure you decline in a friendly way. “I’m sorry, I can’t this time but thanks for asking.” If you’re feeling very rattled, always go with, “Let me get back to you” and then take time to sit with your feelings and thoughts and get a reading on them.

34. Listen.

Sometimes, we are not aware of how we come across. It may not be what we intend but sometimes we misjudge a situation or say something that on reflection or to that person’s ears, is hurtful or just rubs them up the wrong way. Hear them out and remember your work on boundaries and dealing with criticism and conflict.

Remember that you’re on a journey and on a learning curve and particularly on the boundary and expressing opinions and feelings fronts, there’s some trial and error there. I was a bit over-zealous with both my newfound boundaries and my opinion with a longtime friend who had rubbed me up the wrong way but I’d remained silent or only half-heartedly mentioned stuff. The next time she kicked off, I felt confident to speak up but the way in which I went about it, did not reflect my own personal values. Of course in conflict, we don’t always behave in the best of ways and we all say things in arguments that we wish we could snatch back, but I didn’t like the way that I behaved and amended my behaviour.

Just because someone has gotten away with stuff before, it doesn’t mean that when you’re in the wrong, that you shouldn’t listen because they owe you a reprieve.

If you didn’t step up then, resolve to do better now, don’t be opportunistic and ‘cash in’ or act as if you don’t have to listen to anyone who appears to query what you’re doing. Remember that just because there may be an issue, warranted or not, that doesn’t mean that your ‘reclaimed self’ is ‘bad’.

35. If you show fear to family members who know how to play you, they’ll know your ‘tell’ or even your Achilles heel, so look at how you can neutralise your tell (it could be as simple as not biting the bait when they create conflict) or how you can address the vulnerability.

36. Don’t be wishy-washy and passive.

Say what you mean, mean what you say – easy on the mixed messages. I know it’s easy to agree now backtrack later, or to make disagreeing noises or vague protestations without actually saying ‘No’ or whatever it is you’re being indirect about, but when you hint, that means no direct message and you’re opening you up to negotiation. I once offered to do something, they then asked for something else, I did say no but then I also sort of intimated that I might be able to do the other. Eventually I said, “This is what I’m doing [the original offer]”, and they accepted it. If they took issue with it (they didn’t), that would be for them to deal with. Be direct and firm. Remember, you’re not under obligation to oblige people’s every request.

37. If you’re being asked to compromise on something that’s about you or your arrangement, decide what works for you and then let them know.

It might not be exactly what they wanted but it’s your compromise so they also have to compromise.

38. They (especially family) can and will try the guilt card but it’s best to stick to the facts.

I appreciate that I came out of my mother’s womb or that somebody else did something for me, but that doesn’t mean that I owe boundary busts. You don’t owe anybody anything that amounts to crossing your line.

39. Share your successes within the framework of a rounded out life.

Even though me changing created a lot of clashes between me and my family, I still vocalised all of the good things that were happening to me. What is happening to you? Do you feel happier? More content? Has the black dog of depression gone away? Health improving? What new things have you tried? Challenges overcome? Big goals and tasks ticked off? Even badly behaved family (it’s amazing how different you view things when you stop personalising other people’s behaviour) enjoyed some of my ‘updates’. The key is to expand your life into something more rounded as opposed to being focused on one or a few people who in the past you’ve been primarily reliant on for happiness. By trying new things, being braver about talking to people, doing things just for you, and not focusing all of your growth on family or romantic relationships in particular, you have so much more to share plus a lot of the other stuff is ‘neutral’ and only someone who is miserable about themselves would regard what you share as a slight on them.

40. Remember that your reclaimed self may rub off on others in your circle.

You may fear conflict, criticism, and disappointment still to a degree (most of us do) but the upside of coming from a healthier place and facing life is that you hear and see the world differently and are emotionally available. This transforms not only the way you feel about you but fosters deeper connections - Intimacy. Certain people will feel more confident in your presence and willing to trust you to be themselves. These are wonderful relationships.


Learn as you go, don’t expect to get it ‘right’ first time or even the fifth or fifteenth time but do realise that you will gradually see progress over time although you might not recognise it at the time.

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