Saturday, December 10, 2011
How to Deal with Criticism from Family and Friends Concerning Veganism
I've never been an individual susceptible to peer pressure. In high school, unaffected by the need most teens have to conform and be a part of the “in crowd,” I focused much of my attention on my academics and sports, and whatever time I had leftover went to socializing. Today, when it comes to my diet and lifestyle choices (raw veganism, yoga, meditation, New Age spirituality and mysticism, and Gerson Therapy), my last concern is whether or not the masses agree with the way I live my life. I have the ability to drown out critical comments from the peanut gallery and continue to follow my inner guidance system (or intuition) as I live the lifestyle choices and practices that feel right to me. I live MY own truth, and that is good enough for me. But for some, especially new vegans and those of you just beginning to embark upon a healthier and more stable you, criticism from friends and family can strike like a knife in the back and a dagger in the heart. Why would the people who I thought loved me not want to support me? This is a common question swirling around the new vegan’s head as he/she dodges the bullets of criticism aimed his/her way.
Let me start by saying that you will certainly find out who your true friends and family are during a crisis and/or during a time of great change and life overhaul. Those who were in your corner from day one, your tried and true intimate relationships, will support you one hundred percent in your transformation. At the very least, they will give you the space you need to grow and change and allow you to personally develop and grow into your authentic and healthier self. At the most, they will show curiosity in your new lifestyle and become inspired by your dedication and the results you are obtaining, making changes in their own diets and lifestyles to mimic what they see. Those who do not support you, the superficial relationships in your life, do not deserve the energy that you should be devoting to breaking old, unhealthy habits and creating new, healthy ones. This could be just the push you need to reevaluate your interpersonal relationships, to gain perspective, and to reset your priorities.
Hear this and take notes - most people are so profoundly misinformed when it comes to health and wellness in our society because they have been exposed to, believed, and never questioned the propaganda spread by the very companies that stand to profit off of their unhealthy lifestyles and ultimately their future illnesses. One "plan of attack" is to educate them in a docile, non-threatening way about why YOU have made changes in your life to better your health and wellness and focus less on why THEY should jump on board, too. Trust me, they will jump ship instead. Lead by example. Since becoming vegan almost four years ago, several of my close friends (and Internet friends) have followed suit. At the very least, dozens of individuals who have crossed paths with me have tweaked their diets and lifestyles to add more plant-based foods and stress management techniques. This all occurred just because I stayed in my own lane and let others watch me drive off into the good health horizon. When they see the results you are experiencing, they will want a piece of it, too. It's easy to preach and become overzealous when you first begin cleaning up your act, but try to remember that if you don't want to be criticized, others sure don't either. If they ask, inform. Otherwise, silence is golden.
Also, when certain individuals in your life (and you know who they are) watch you evolve into a better, more balanced, and healthier you, an undercurrent of jealousy and guilt can fuel their critical comments as they continue down the path of self-destruction. Ever heard the saying "misery loves company?" Well, so does a diet of burgers and fries. Change is scary for most people. As a former goal-oriented athlete, I've always welcomed change because it has meant becoming a better version of who I am right now. Just as obstacles are opportunities for growth, so are changes, and we need to begin to view them in less threatening manners. Routine is safe, and those people in your life who love routine will be particularly uncomfortable when you start refusing cocktails and sugar and begin suggesting you hit up the local organic and vegan joint instead of your neighborhood pub or McDonalds.
When it comes to conflict, YOU have to engage in it for conflict to exist. If your conversations with particular individuals have become caustic surrounding your diet and lifestyle, say to them, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to discuss my diet and lifestyle with you anymore. If you would like to talk to me, we are going to have to focus on a different subject from here on out.” Stand your ground. If they continue to fan the flames of your frustration, it may be time to temporarily or permanently cut ties with them so that you can focus on your health and well-being. Arm yourself with information, but also arm yourself with compassion and understanding. A majority of the people on this earth will go through life stagnant and asleep, and they will leave this world the same exact way, un-evolved and unexamined.
If you are feeling particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, try to remember why you decided to embark upon this diet and lifestyle overhaul. Was it to feel healthier? Was it to reverse a chronic health condition? Was it to take a stand against animal cruelty? Was it to truly live your values of compassion, mercy, non-violence, love, and non-judgment? Reminding yourself of the important moral, ethical, spiritual, and physical reasons you changed the way you eat, drink, think, and live can be a powerful tool in assisting you in renewing your commitment to veganism in the face of critical comments. Remember, you can always make new friends who share the same lifestyle choices that you do. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals will allow you to feel connected to a sense of community during a time when you can begin to feel isolated from mainstream society.
Last but not least, be proud of yourself! Give yourself a pat on the back for all of the amazing life changes you are making. It isn’t easy to break old, unhealthy habits, to rebel against mainstream society, to differentiate yourself from family and friends, to take a moral and ethical stand each moment of every day with every action you take, etc. And, please, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Veganism is a beautiful, all-encompassing life practice that is rooted in health, beauty, love, compassion, intuition, the interconnectedness of all organisms, non-violence, mercy, non-judgment, and personal and spiritual growth and development. And, food, delicious food. Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Veganism is not a death sentence. It is a movement toward an abundant life.