Feeling angry and frustrated a lot? Annoyed that people aren't living up to their end of the deal? Most of the time, there is a fairly logical explaination for this. You are expecting too much. Of others and of yourself. This is what happens when Reality and Expectations collide.
If you have read the last post, and it reasonated with you, chances are you are fairly perfectionistic about yourself. And, chances are, you have expectations of yourself and others that are unreasonable. Hear me out on this, I am *not* saying it's your fault (because, chances are, you are already blaming yourself and beginning to beat yourself up for this. Stop that. And keep reading.)
Families with untreated or undiagnosed personality disorders or unmanaged substance abuse, are often chaotic and unpredictable. The only thing you can count on is not knowing what to expect. We already know the impact that such families have on us. A side effect of those side effects? Unrealistic expectations.
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them" - Maya Angelou.
This sounds so simple, yet I consistently see adlt children of these environments going back to a dry well for water. Often, we tell ourselves "if I just say it this way" or "if I just do this one thing" our parents with substance abuse or mental illness will change. They will love us unconditionally. We will *finally* have the relationship we have been craving our whole lives.
And it never works. It may change for a time, but odds are, manipulative, chaotic behavior will return, and we end up right back where we started, beating ourselves up for "being so stupid". You are not stupid. You are human.
Humans need (and deserve) unconditional love. Relationship. Understanding. And to feel Valued. Herein lies the difference: what we need and what we can expect are two different things. We need water. We cannot expect to get water from a dry well. We need our parents to provide nurturance. We cannot expect to get it from those who are not willing and able. (Key point: Willing And Able).
Let's look at it another way. Grab a sheet of paper & something to write with.
Write down all the things you needed from your family that you have not gotten in the following format: I need you to ___________.
Now go back and cross out "need" and write "don't expect". Read it over a few times. See the difference?
Often, something happens when we face this reality: There are things we need and deserve from people, that those people are unwilling or unable to provide. We are overcome with sadness and grief. And rightly so. There is a grieving process that takes place when we realize that our expectations of those we hold in high regard will not be met. The relationships we long for and dream of and, in some cases, even pretend currently exist, are just an illusion of what could be but are, in fact, not. We will talk about Grieving the Living in another post.
For today, I want to focus on the anger and frustration that we just left. When it becomes okay not to expect the unattainable from others, it becomes okay not to expect it from ourselves. Remember when I mentioned the "willing and able" part? That applies to you, too. Take a moment and jot down all the things you expect of yourself. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Now take a moment and look at how realistic these expectations are. Seriously, is there enough time or bandwidth in your emotional reservoir to accomplish this list? Assuming you are on massive amounts of caffeine and/or done some serious mindfulness/yoga/relaxation and have said energy and bandwidth, go back and look at that list again. Which items are you *excited* about? Which ones are you all in on and seriously willing to do? It's okay that almost none of them make the cut.
This is where I tell you to stop beating yourself up for not being joyfully willing to do allthethings. Most of them are hard. Or they're boring. Or we don't even know where to start. I'm know you already know that the pattern of demanding, unrealistic expectations runs deep. And I know you know how flipping exhausting it is to try and keep up with. Finally? I know you don't want to keep this in your relationships or pass it on to your kids.
I will leave you with a small trick that can help change your approach to your expectations of self: Try substituing the word "could" every time you hear yourself think I "need", "should", "ought to". Because the truth is, you could do that thing. Or you could not. Really depends on how willing and able you are at the time. This same trick can be applied to loved ones we have skewed or unrealistic expectations of. And this is important, because it is where the compassionate, caring part of you gets to shine. Your parent could stop drinking all the time. They could take your feedback on how their behavior affects you and really consider it, have an eye opening experience, and apologize. Or they could not. There is compassion in seeing that people are capable of changing behavior when they want to. And I know the part of you that wants so badly to be thought of as good and good-enough needs to know this: It is possible to set boundaries for yourself and realistic expectations of others. And/Both. It does not mean maintaining the same old patterns. But we will look at boundary setting in another post.
For now, head back to your lists. Read them over. And practice the word could.
I know how hard it is to break the family rule that you must do all the things! I know it goes against all of your controlling, perfectionistic tendencies and threatens to make you feel like a failure. I know the "what-ifs" are creeping in. Take a deep breath and just try it. Dip just a toe in the water of change. And if your anxiety won't let up? There is help.
Cindy Goeller is a licensed therapist who loves listening to others, eating Maryland steamed crabs, and exploring the Finger Lakes of New York. When she is not in session with her clients, she can be found writing, baking, or spending time with her family.