Have you ever been told that you need to change something? Like being advised to lose weight by your GP or to exercise more by a fitness enthusiast friend? How did it make you feel? Did it make you think ‘yes, you’re absolutely right, that’s exactly what I need!’ Or were you left feeling judged, angry and even ashamed? And what did that do to your motivation to change?
Because even if you can see that problem you are experiencing is causing yourself or others pain or having a negative impact on your health and wellbeing, it can still be incredibly hard to take that first step to get help. This can be very challenging for friends and relatives of someone who is struggling; to see them suffer or to see the destruction that their behaviour may be causing. It can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated and maybe even wanting to give up and walk away from your loved one.
But motivation has to come from within. Whilst people may see the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others, they may not like this and want it to stop, but they need to feel ready to face what may be underlying their difficulties. This can be terrifying and for that reason can take a long time for them to even contemplate seeking help.
Changing a behaviour such as an addiction, or engaging in help seeking (e.g. therapy) is complex and people tend to move through a set of stages in order to do this:
Where the person may be able to see the negative impact of their addiction, but this does not yet outweigh the perceived benefits
This is when the balance tips to becoming more aware of the problem, yet still feeling unsure about whether or not they want to change. However, they may start considering or exploring the possibility of change.
This is when the person starts to accept responsibility and makes plans for implementing change.
At this stage, the person will start to put into plan actions that will move them towards changing their behaviour. They may have asked for help and be actively engaging in treatment.
It is at this point that the person feels able to keep up the momentum of change doing. They have developed new patterns of behaviour and are consolidating and integrating these changes into their everyday life.
There may be a lapse or relapse in the future and this can be very common so please do not feel disheartened. However, they may in fact reach a new stage known as Termination, where their new way of life becomes so ingrained and aligned with their new self-image that the thought of temptation becomes almost unthinkable.
What is important to note is that you may also need support. It is very hard caring for someone who is struggling and can cause significant stress which can impact on your mental health too, so it is important that you seek help too. This may be from a professional or from other people who have similar shared experiences (peer support).