- Whether you are trying to get to the gym more, live a healthier lifestyle, or parent in a more loving and present manner, it is nearly impossible to make major changes in your lifestyle, health, or behavior without leaning on others for support. Tweet This
- We need to rewrite the narrative that going it alone is better than leaning on others for support and help. Tweet This
- Most New Year’s Resolutions fail because many people overestimate their ability to change habits, behaviors, or relationships on their own. Tweet This
Most New Year’s Resolutions fail because many people overestimate their ability to change habits, behaviors, or relationships on their own. Our behavior is a result of a complex mix of emotions, desire, memories, and past losses and traumas. When we reduce our behavior to its simplest form and attribute change to mainly willpower and resolutions, we are misunderstanding the power the past has on us. Parenting resolutions are a prime example of how this misconception leads to failure.
As a psychotherapist and parent guidance expert, the parents I work with often make a New Year’s resolution to become better, more sensitive, empathic, and present parents. Some even email me on New Year’s Eve to put their intentions into writing. Intentions are critical to changing one’s behavior, but intentions alone are not enough. A father who was raised by a critical and verbally abusive father committed to me that he would be less critical with his son. A mother who was easily frustrated and impatient much of the time with her children, to the point of becoming emotionally volatile, vowed that she would be more patient and control her temper. The individuals and couples I work with do have a chance of changing because therapy is not just about changing immediate behavior but is also about all of the complicated mix of influences and critical relationships that shape and form our personalities. If a person’s parents could regulated their emotions, then that person is more likely to be able to do so when he or she becomes a parent. If an individual was neglected or abused as a child or left alone too much without the loving and empathic presence of parents, then he may not know how to fully relate to or connect with his own children. Behavior is only a piece of the puzzle.
The lucky ones who end up in the office of a therapist will begin the work of unraveling the knot that keeps them from becoming their best selves and the best parents they can be. Those who are conscious of their limitations and weaknesses as parents and want to change but are not willing to reach out for help often suffer from feelings of failure and hopelessness after the glow of the New Year passes.
We are a country that idealizes self-sufficiency and independence, a “can do” nation. As Nike says in their ad campaigns, “Just do it.” The problem is whether you are trying to get to the gym more, live a healthier lifestyle, or parent in a more loving and present manner, it is nearly impossible to make major changes in your lifestyle, health, or behavior without leaning on others for support. In the case of parents, that may mean turning to a therapist and parent guidance expert, or maybe joining a parenting group that can offer support. In the case of working out, it may be turning to a trainer. If it is to give up alcohol and drugs, it may mean calling in the troops of mental health experts and family members to support your decision. The one thing that rarely works is to go it alone.
This ethos of “will power will prevail,” or “I can do it on my own,” is at the root of so many issues in our toxic society today. The goal of mental health is not to become independent but rather to become interdependent. The healthiest individuals are those who depend upon those closest to them when they are available and who have the ability to rely upon themselves when no one is immediately available. Think of relying upon yourself like a backup generator in your house: you want to have one if the power is down, but you don’t want to run it all the time because the cost is too great. When it comes to mental health, the costs to those who over-value independence and self-sufficiency are feelings of loneliness, isolation, and often despair or depression. According to a report from Harvard examining loneliness in Americans, 61% of young adults and 50% of mothers with young children feel lonely “frequently” or “almost all of the time.” The explosion of loneliness in this country has everything to do with this cult of independence.
When it comes to parenting, the overemphasis on independence has resulted in generations of children who are forced to become emotionally self-reliant before they are ready. They are left in day care before they have formed the bonds of healthy attachment to their parents, which, in turn, form the basis of their emotional security for life. They are sleep trained as early as three months old, when they still need to rely on their parents for comfort and security. They are potty trained as early as six months old before their bodies are even physically ready. They are encouraged to think about their academic futures and professional paths before they are capable of knowing themselves. The pressure to grow up too quickly and become emotionally independent before they are ready has created a generation of fragile children.
If we want our resolutions to succeed, then we need to think of them as pieces of a bigger puzzle of our lives. We need to connect the dots of our own behavior to that of our parents or others that raised us. We need to understand how our emotions, conflicts, and losses play a major role in our behavior and examine the underlying motivations, rather than focusing on the behavior alone. Most importantly, we need to rewrite the narrative that going it alone is better than leaning on others for support and help.
Erica Komisar, LCSW is a psychoanalyst and author of Being There Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters and Chicken Little The Sky Isn’t Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety.