How Friends & Family Get In The Way of Personal Growth


I love cheese enchiladas.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese enchilada I didn’t like. I could write a book about the cheese enchilada. I can describe in detail the differences in texture, thickness and architecture of the corn tortillas, the different types of cheeses and mix of cheeses, the impact of the addition of various types of onions, and the vast array of sauces and gravies available to top my favorite food item. I have built the body I have one enchilada at a time. I have not seen one offered yet, but I would benefit from a cheese enchilada addiction recovery program.

And this year, with great vigor, I am after creating a healthier body. There is little room for an enchilada if I am to reach my health goals. Certainly not room for the quantities of enchilada consumption in my past.

Like many of you, I have resolved and declared the change that I am pursuing. I have set very SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-based) goals around my health. I am engaging in behaviors and rituals in a full-on effort to leave old habits and build new ones.  My motivation is high and I am having success.

The Problem

  • Heading out to eat after church, my wife — who loves me dearly and supports my health goal whole-heartedly — recommends that we dine at “Gringos,” my favorite cheese enchilada supplier.
  • My daughter and her husband want to meet for dinner halfway between our two towns and states that they will meet us at “Las Fuentes.”
  • My coworkers and business colleagues send invitations in person, email, phone calls and texts, to discuss business over some enchiladas soon.
  • Mom calls to let me know she clipped some “Los Cucos” coupons for me.

The Hidden Barrier of Personal Change

If you are like me, your decision to change was not made by your environment. Your spouse, parents, children, boss, coworkers, pastor, neighbors did not sign up with you for the change.

The people closest to you will get in they way of your transformation. As you are in the process of change, you will notice that everyone in your world will continue to treat you the same as if you have not begun to change.

The River Flow

Imagine being on the banks of a river that is 20 feet wide and four feet deep. To reach your goal of the opposite river bank, you will have to cross the river. As you take the first few sets of steps, you notice that you are veering off course. The power of the river is actually taking you down stream. As you raise your foot and move it forward, the flow of water compels your foot to land further down stream than your brain told it to. And with every step, your goal becomes increasingly more difficult to reach as you have to work with even greater intent than you had ever imagined.

When you make your decision to change and set your goals, it is as if you are on the banks of the river. On the other side of the river lies the goal of who you want to become or how we want be. We frequently make decisions about personal transformation when we have stepped out of life long enough to become introspective. As we step back into life with our SMART goals, highly-motivated and focused, we sometimes find that our spouse, friends, boss, coworkers, pastor, neighbors, etc. act as an unseen flow that pushes us ever so slightly away from our goals. Those we love the most seem to be working against us becoming the better person they and we have always hoped to become.

The Powerful Force of Our Family and Friends

Some common ways people in your life unintentionally get in the way of the goals we have set include the following:

  • They do not believe you because you have tried to change unsuccessfully before.
  • They do not want you to struggle in the change. They know change is hard and they do not want you to be in the pain of change.
  • They do not think you have taken all the information into account and are trying to protect you from failure by giving you more information that you may not have thought of before.
  • They do not like that you might succeed in an area where they have failed.
  • They do not want to get their hopes up that the change will stick and then be disappointed when the change you pursue does not stick.
  • They want to encourage you but their interaction with you is so habitual that it will take them time to change how they interact with you.
  • They will change how they treat you when they see consistent change in you.
  • They call you a hypocrite because you said you changed but then you made one mistake along the way toward who you are becoming.

What Can I Do About Discouragement From Others

‘Love is patient’. I Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

  • Lead them through your change. Help them discover that what they are doing is normal. Let them know that you are still pursuing the change you are committed to even though how they are trying to help feels like it is working against your goal achievement. Give them specific ways that they can do to help, which may be as little as “nothing.”
  • Be courageous in the face of opposition. You noticed something you wanted to change and did something about it. Your commitment and your motivation to change is applaudable. You are on your way. Keep your courage high as you continue along your path.
  • Do it instead of telling it. Telling the people closest in your life that you are going to change or that you have already changed is good. Showing them how you are changed is even more powerful. “A picture is worth a thousand words” and “actions speak louder than words.”  What you do is powerful!
  • Give them grace as they get to know the new you. You are still getting to know the new you. They are making the transition like you are. If they experience whiplash or have to take a second look, that is OK. Love them through their reaction to the new you.
  • Be patient for them to see you in the new light. Even after you have made the changes internally and behaviorally that helped you achieve your goal, you may still have some who continue to interact to you as your previously were. Be patient. In their time, not yours, they will see you as you truly are.
  • Extend yourself and your family grace around your failings. My college professor and friend, Paul Faulkner, used to say, “You are a hypocrite only when you deceive others into thinking you are what you never intend to become.” You may look like a hypocrite as you imperfectly slip into an old behavior that does not reflect what has changed within you. Along the way toward what you are becoming, someone you love may judge you as a hypocrite or criticize you that you have not changed.

What Do You Have To Say?

  • Have you also found that those closest to you are an unseen barrier to goal achievement?
  • What would you add to the list of examples about how spouses, family and friends can be barriers?
  • What other suggestions would you add about what to do when faced with opposition during personal improvement and transformation?
  • If you tried implementing any of the recommendations, how did it turn out for you?

By Roy Wooten

Roy completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2009 and has been the longtime leader of The Crucible Project community in Houston. Roy and his wife Devra have led over 135 of their Life Together Forever Couples Weekends and are the authors of The Secret to Lifetime Love: Speaking and Hearing Truth. He also authored Full Throttle Into Fatherhood and is the Executive Director of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers in Houston, Texas. Follow Roy at

Photo credit: JeffreyW via Creative Commons.