7 Ways To Navigate Old Relationships When You Feel Like A New Person
I've had to do a lot of emotional and self-growth work in my life, especially as someone in recovery from substance abuse.
But working on myself has definitely also required me to examine my relationships with family and friends.
Sometimes that self-growth means distancing myself from certain people, or even breaking off old relationships that simply don't serve me or my well-being anymore.
Still, there are people in life that you don't want to lose, even as you grow into a new person.
Believe me, it's not always easy to navigate this type of territory, but here are seven ways you can try to do so without compromising your own progress in rebuilding yourself.
1. Keep Your Expectations Low, Or At Least Neutral
The thing is, no matter how much work you've done on yourself, there's the possibility that your family member or friend hasn't changed all that much.
So, unfortunately, you can't expect everyone to “rise” to your new level of development, or even recognize it.
I've certainly arrived at family holidays or an old pal's birthday party initially feeling refreshed and stable, yet I find myself frustrated and snapping on people by the end of the event.
People don't typically line up to give you medals for "working on you" (much to my chagrin, since it's honestly some of the hardest work there is).
But you can't let it get you down if certain people from your past aren't willing, ready, or generally able to recognize your growth and your change.
Just remember, you're still doing great, and you don't need their validation (or anyone's, for that matter).
2. Recognize What Triggers You To Lash Out
Maybe it's when your old roommate reminds you of that narcissist assh*le you once dated while you're simply trying to tell her you've finally tried online dating, or when your brother jabs about how flaky you are while you're helping him paint his new apartment.
People who've known you for most of your life will probably have a hard time adjusting to a new version of you, but it doesn't mean that new you doesn't actually exist.
And it doesn't mean you have to revert back to your old self in their company, either.
You can't always control the situation, but when you can recognize certain comments or topics that make you feel uncomfortable in your identity, you then have a better ability to choose how you react.
3. Take A Breather When Emotions Run High
The minute I'm "triggered," I have a physical impulse to react somehow.
Usually it's in anger or upset, but other times I just totally shut down.
It's important to find ways to cope in the moment, so you don't necessarily fall immediately back into old, toxic patterns.
I find it helpful to get up and take a breather outside, for example, or to text a totally wonderful and situationally unrelated friend to distract myself from the upsetting situation at hand.
Have I done this choking back tears in a bathroom stall at a diner while eating breakfast with my father?
But I can't even tell you how much it helped to remove myself for a minute and express my true self to someone, so I could go back and sit down, without having my emotions take over the rest of the experience.
4. If You Don't Have Something Nice To Say, Don't Say Anything
In my recovery group, there is an adage we talk about a lot.
“Does it need to be said right now? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said at all?”
Pausing before you react definitely doesn't mean you have to stop expressing your genuine feelings.
It simply means you have the opportunity to do it differently.
Sometimes your attempts at new forms of communicating fall on deaf ears, but other times, the reactions will surprise you.
For example, I once wanted to tell an old pal it made me uncomfortable when they went on and on telling stories from my drinking days in front of new people.
Instead of getting angry as it was happening -- like I might have done in the past, or even “getting even” by mentioning something embarrassing they once did -- I just mentioned it made me uncomfortable a week later as we ate lunch together.
I was surprised by the kindness in their reaction, and it turned out to be an effective, level-headed conversation.
5. Treat People How You Want To Be Treated
There's probably a good chance the old friends in your life are going through their own similar, personal, self-growth struggles -- they just don't bring it up.
So, while you're worried about navigating the relationship as a new person yourself, they may be feeling the exact same way.
I find my most rewarding relationships are the ones in which the person and I give real space and respect for each other as we go about our lives and try to figure it all out.
6. Be Humble About Your Self-Growth
It's important to be modest and humble about most things in life, but it's especially key in this context.
It's too easy to get on a high horse and judge others through your self-improved, rose-colored glasses.
Let your self-work reflect itself naturally in your behavior and how you communicate with the people in your life.
The new you is here to stay, and old friends and loved ones will see that for themselves. It's up to them whether they want to grow with you or not.
7. But Above All, Always Be Proud Of Your Progress
Without a doubt, working on yourself is a constant journey -- and a challenging one at that.
Remember not to be hard on yourself when the new you doesn't necessarily get along with people in your life you've known for years.
The people who truly matter, and who truly want what's best for you and your relationship with one another, will appreciate your growth and look forward to seeing you change over time.