Good People Behaving Badly

People who are essentially good sometimes do bad things. However, how do you handle it when a family member behaves in ways that hurt others and themselves? Sometimes, it is hard to know what to do. We may feel both angry and concerned, and they may not welcome hearing about either feeling.

Sometimes we feel so concerned that we make the mistake of covering for them, trying to smooth things over so they stay out of trouble. We try to keep the consequences of their behavior at bay. On the other hand, we may issue ultimatums, demanding behavior change, or else. Often, though, we are not very clear about what “or else” means, or we waiver and waffle and the “or else” never happens. We get into a cycle of threats, promises, and recriminations, but nothing really changes.

In situations like this, it is important to remember to separate the person from the behavior. It is entirely OK to say, “I love you, but I won’t accept it when you behave this way.” It is also important to express your feelings that the problem behavior is not like him or her, and that you believe in their ability to change it.

So, set clear limits on behaviors you choose not to accept, explain the consequences if the behaviors continue, follow through on those consequences if needed, and persist with faith in a positive outcome.

One thing is certain: you can’t change someone else, or learn their lessons for them. But you can express your beliefs, ask for what you want, and support their efforts to change.