You have changed.
We’ve all heard this at some point. You may have been told by a bitter soul; an old friend, an ex, or a family member after weeks/ months/ years gone by. They most likely said this with a venomous tongue, unhappy with something that you’ve instilled in yourself over time. This has happened to me a few times, from a few different people.
One of the most poignant examples came from an abusive person who was once in my life. After causing a lot of damage some years ago, and then again some years later, they resurfaced to tell me that I’d changed and asked for me to confirm to them that I had. This accusation was a favourite of theirs, as they knew it would hit me in a piercing flash through my chest, that I was terrified of changing and what it meant. But at this point, something was different. I saw the comment for what it was- an attempt to suppress and put me down. After dismissing that person in a dignified and assertive way that made me very proud of myself, I got to thinking about myself, change, and why it had such negative connotations.
Change is often aligned with loss.
If something changes, it’s because we lose something: situation, people, parts of ourselves. Because of this strong association with loss, I think that change itself has become synonymous with grief. We become terrified of change, we bargain with the idea that things ‘haven’t really changed that much’ or angrily deny the change altogether.
When that person would tell me that I’d changed, I’d be terrified, thinking that I’d become a bad person when really it was the opposite; signs of my personal growth were showing. I’d be so worried about appearing in a certain way, losing people from my life, that for a long time I tried to refuse change altogether. I stagnated in a place that wasn’t serving me and endured pain for a long time. Is this something that you’ve gone through too? Have you faced those dreaded ‘you’ve changed’ accusations from other people or yourself? Maybe even shrunk yourself down to avoid them?
If you have, I’m sorry that you’ve gone through that. It’s a horrible experience and one that often takes a long time to heal from. But if you’re reading this, I’d like to think that you’re already healing and if you’re not, I hope that this post is a little nudge for you to do the unthinkable… make a change!
Often, the ‘you’ve changed’ grenade gets launched when you start to work on confidence and/or imposing boundaries. If you’re being more vocal about your feelings, calling people out on their problematic behaviour, or signs of your confidence work starts showing – you’re likely to find people ready to lash out. I’ll chat through some of the main reasons I think this happens; don’t be surprised if you find some of your own behaviours mentioned here. If you do, don’t worry, it might be a gentle push encouraging you to look inwards!
Change is a problem to solve
One reason for ‘you’ve changed’ accusations is that people are problem solvers. We analyse, categorise, and then move on. So, when a person that we’ve already analysed and categorised into the box of ‘unproblematic’, ‘pushover’, ‘believes XYZ’, we expect them to stay in that box. If we see them climbing out, it makes our brains very stressed and we’ll try putting that person down in an attempt to keep them in their assigned box and save us the job of recategorising.
We might even feel tempted to call people hypocrites for changing their opinions, but there’s nothing hypocritical about changing your views or actions after finding evidence to change it. In fact, it’s a sign of growth and maturity. This includes anything from views on race, politics, gender, and sexuality to music taste, fashion taste, or physical taste.
‘How very dare you have the AUDACITY to eat cauliflower! You said you hated it six years ago, you absolute hypocrite’ – seems a bit ridiculous doesn’t it really? See someone else changing as an opportunity for yourself. Appreciate how they’re growing and be motivated by it, reassess your own views and see if anything has changed on your end!
Change could mean an altered relationship
Another reason people might appear spiteful or annoyed at your change could be that they feel that your relationship has lost common ground. Say you got close with someone over your love of a certain film or music genre, but then you stop listening or watching for whatever reason. You/they might start to like another genre, one that you may have even made fun of in the past, and the other person could worry that you won’t have anything to talk about. I get it. Similar tastes are fantastic icebreakers. They’re an easy way to make conversation and get close to someone. You can swap recommendations and opinions and it gets you over the awkward hurdles of a new relationship with relative ease. However, there’s more to a relationship than common interest and I’m quite sure that you will have more in common than just that.
You’ll have made memories together and shared stories about childhood, family, crushes, etc. that will have brought you closer. If you find someone in your life, or if you yourself are, getting a bit bitter about a change in taste, open communication and reassurance are best. Explaining to the other person all the things that you appreciate about the relationship, outside of that one commonality and maybe even the reason for the switch-up will help ease anxiety and boost clarity. If you find your relationship can’t continue without this small commonality, it’s a good motivator to find more of them – be it ideologies, political views, work ethic, mindset, etc.
Change is growth and growth is scary
A third, very likely reason someone is uncomfortable with your growth is that they are threatened by it. Comfort craves more comfort; stagnation craves stagnation. If you are growing in confidence, intelligence, patience, self-control… if you’re growing in any way, next to someone who isn’t – they may feel dwarfed in comparison.
If there are two trees growing next to each other and one stops growing, before long it’s going to be overshadowed by the other tree. The stunted tree may feel anxious about losing light, about the amount of water that the growing tree will use, and the minerals it will absorb. The stunted tree may act from a place of lack. But the growing tree knows that there is plenty of sunlight, water, and nutrients for both trees to survive; that growth for one doesn’t mean downfall for the other.
Change means loss… of control
The final reason I’m going to chat about today is, in my opinion, the most sinister and that is loss of control. If you’re working on yourself – physically, mentally, and/or spiritually then you often grow in independence, confidence, and self-esteem. This is bad for the people in your life who are reliant on your low confidence and self-esteem for their ego, feelings of validation, and control.
Manipulators and abusers feel threatened when their target starts to gain strength, they worry about losing grip. You might recognise this in terms other than the direct ‘you’ve changed’ comments like: ‘I preferred it when you were like [reference to something you did in the past]’, ‘that hairstyle/outfit/activity just isn’t you/ the you I love’, ‘where did this arrogance come from?’ ‘you never used to be a [insert sexually charged insult here]’.
If you leave a relationship, the abuser’s anger at you for surviving and thriving without them may surface with insults about you and your lifestyle. It’s important to recognise that these comments are temper tantrums, not truths and they reflect nothing about you and everything about the other person.
You aren’t lying to yourself or other people for accepting your growth. We learn about ourselves and the world we live in every day and that’s such an exciting part of life, one that shouldn’t be shunned. Don’t put yourself and other people down for changing; be curious as to why you/they have changed; broaden your horizons; counter your brain’s desire to box people up and be grateful for the previous versions of yourself for getting you to where you are now! What I hope you’ll take away from today’s post, my little lightbulb, is that change isn’t ingenuine or negative; it’s natural and necessary.
And for the person who demanded I tell them that I’d changed since the time we knew each other, I very much have changed since then. I’ve changed in age, appearance, experience, tolerance, and resilience. My brightness is even more iridescent despite your attempts to darken it. I have boundaries that refuse to allow people to treat me in the way that I was once treated and help me to maintain healthier, more balanced relationships. I’m still learning about who I am and am loving every lesson along the way.
I have changed in so many ways and I’m excited to continue to change and grow in love for the world around me and for myself. I can only wish the same for you.
Embrace your Change.
Feature Image taken in Largs, Scotland