Let’s Talk About Expectations

I remember when I was much younger I was devastated that something I had expected to happen did not turn out as I thought. I was so angry that I decided that I would never have expectations again. That was a very wise thought and would have been very helpful for me to avoid tremendous disappointment and depression if I had followed through with that decision. I allowed my unmet expectations to cause me great emotional distress many times over the years. I really didn’t get that having expectations was complicating my life. It took many years and a great deal of disappointment for me to revisit having expectations.

One thing I learned over the years has to do with what I have control over and what I do not have control over. For the most part, only those things I do for myself and are not influenced by something outside myself are the things I can reasonably have expectations of the outcome. Even those things can turn out in a way I don’t expect. Anything that is not totally in my control I have little control of the outcome. Having expectations can give me a feeling of entitlement and can cause me to be in the role of the victim if the outcome is not what I had expected. If life does not meet my expectations it can have a negative impact on my self-worth.

We all have wants, desires, and preferences. Try to avoid having expectations.

Unconditional Love

Katy Perry has a new song entitled “Unconditionally.” The song refers to the notion of romantic love being unconditional. Although this is a very appealing notion, I believe it to be more of a romantic wish than a reality. Many people have the expectation that they will find a partner that will love them unconditionally. It is an ideal that would be rarely realized. Healthy adult relationships are based on mutual honesty and trust. When trust is broken and a person feels disrespected by their partner love can be damaged or destroyed. People grow apart and love sometimes ends.

We are most likely to see unconditional love by a parent for their child. Parent/child bonds are very strong. When someone does not receive that kind of love and acceptance from their parent, they are likely to seek that in their romantic relationships. They expect to find someone that will love them unconditionally. This leads to approval seeking behaviors and unrealistic expectations of those they have relationships. With the expectation of unconditional love comes great risk. Self-worth and esteem are tied to the love or lack thereof from another. When someone expects unconditional love and that love ends it can result in feelings of not being good enough and shame.

Our value as a person does not come from how others feel about us. It is important to love ourselves unconditionally and embrace our humanity and flaws. Then we will not have unrealistic expectations about the love of others.

Taking Care of Mind and Body

It is important to recognize that our emotional health affects our physical health. The converse is also true. Our physical health has an effect on our emotional health. It is equally important that we care for our body as well as improving our ability to cope with life’s issues. What we eat and the amount of activity we engage in can either improve or diminish our ability to manage our mood. Blood sugar levels can affect feelings of anxiety or depression.

A healthy diet and physical activity have a positive impact on brain chemistry. Here are some suggestions:

1. Engage in moderate physical activity daily.
2. Eat a healthy diet consisting of all the food groups.
3. Eliminated simple carbohydrates from your diet (sugar, white rice and potatoes). Complex carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar more stable. Blood sugar impacts mood.
4. Eat small meals throughout the day.
5. Drink a lot of water.

If you look better you will feel better. The healthier you are the better your mood as well as your self-esteem.

Seeing The Whole Picture

I was watching an interview of the singer Pink on TV this past week. She has had a remarkable year with a lot of personal and professional success. That got me thinking about how we see others and compare ourselves and out lives to others. Making these kinds of comparisons is inherently emotionally unhealthy.

When we look at moments or a small portion of someone else’s life it is like looking at a snapshot. If things are going exceptional well for someone we tend think of them as having some kind of charmed life. If we step back and see their life as a whole what we are more likely to see are ups and downs and highs and lows. Nobody has a perfect life without some trials and tribulations.

Pink has had many problems in her personal and professional life that lead her to where she is today. All the experiences have made the woman she is today.

The same goes for us all. Life is a full length movie not a snapshot. Keep this in mind when viewing yourself and your life.

Making Changes in The Way You Think (continued)

It is important to understand that our perception of reality becomes our reality. In many cases our perceptions have become distorted based on beliefs we developed early in life. Therefore, just because we perceive something to be true it might not be the case. Using the example of a person who is bitten by a dog; some people develop a fear of all dogs. Most dogs are not likely to bite us and we approach all dogs with the same fear. The fact is that only a small percentage of dog bite people so fearing all dogs is a perception not based in the truth.

Avoid thinking in absolutes or all or nothing. The concepts of always and never are invariably the result of faulty and distorted thinking. Also, it is not helpful to think that you should have done “this” or shouldn’t have done “that.” Regrets for previous actions are not helpful in improving mood and moving forward in our lives.

Identify the thoughts or beliefs that are faulty, erroneous, or self-destructive. Find alternative thoughts and beliefs. The next step I call “catch and correct.” Every time you “catch” yourself engaged in faulty thinking replace that thought with one that is more helpful. That way you are “correcting” your old patterns of thinking. This requires increased awareness of your thoughts and vigilance. It also required you to be persistent in your effort. This process will take time in order to change old automatic thinking to a new way of thinking. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. This strategy works for depression, anxiety, other fears, and self-esteem issues.

Most of all be gentle and kind toward yourself. No one does it perfectly and neither will you.

Vulnerability

A few weeks ago I facilitated a discussion about vulnerability. The discussion was about why it is important to a relationship that both people are willing and able to be emotionally vulnerable. The other important part of the discussion was how one allows oneself to be vulnerable a partner. Many of us have suffered significant emotional pain from past relationships as well as childhood issues that linger into adulthood. We can find it nearly impossible to open up to another person and allow ourselves to let anyone close enough to us to cause us additional emotional pain. Many of us have a strong desire to have a close connection to another person. But, our fears inhibit us from realizing this desire. Too many times people jump from one relationship to another in order to avoid the emotional pain of a break-up. Allow yourself the time to go through the grieving process and to heal before you attempt to engage in another intimate relationship. This is the first step toward making ourselves available for an emotionally healthy relationship.

Building trust is an absolute requirement for vulnerability to be present in a relationship. In order to build trust there must be honest and open communication. We need to reveal to our partner who we are and what is important to us. We need to be honest about our thoughts and feelings. We must also be forthcoming and responsible for our actions even if there is the risk of conflict. Part of a healthy relationship is dealing with conflict and finding ways to resolve it. Most of us fear being judged and rejected. For a person to truly love us they need to know and accept us for who we are not some façade that we project.

Before getting involved in a relationship, work on the issues that have caused problems in previous relationship. Get some counseling if needed. Face your past in order to overcome it. Give yourself to time to grieve and get to know yourself again. We tend to lose ourselves in the “we” of a relationship (especially the long term relationship). Practice the skills of open and honest communication and take emotional risks. This is the way to find the type of relationships we desire.

Overcoming Fear

It is important to recognize that fear is one of many emotions we experience. The type of fear that keeps us imprisoned is based on what might happen at some future time. “I might fail. I might look stupid. I might be rejected.” When something we fear is avoided it will increase the amount of control this emotion has over our actions and our lives. The longer we avoid doing something, the more fear we have of doing it. This avoidance has a negative effect on self esteem and can also affect other parts of our lives. Avoiding the things we fear can be based on a belief of not being good enough…this is simply not true. There can be a snowball effect further inhibiting our ability to have a full and rewarding life. Therefore, the first step in overcoming a fear is to recognize that it is just a feeling and based on some imagined threat.

The second step is to challenge the validity of the fear and what real harm if any would result in facing what we fear. We tend to think of the worst possible outcome. That is highly unlikely to happen. Focusing on how facing the things you fear might improve your life or enable you to reach your goals is extremely helpful. For example: If you have social anxiety, introducing yourself to someone you are attracted to would give you the opportunity to know that person. Allowing your fears to control your behavior will be another missed opportunity to have what you want in your life.

Finally, avoid as much of the anticipator fear as possible. When you are facing the thing you fear, acknowledge and even embrace your fear. It is normal to experience some anxiety when doing something for the first time or something we believe to have risks. Trying to repress or ignore an emotion can increase its intensity. Be in the moment and do not judge your feelings. The more often you engage in an activity you fear, the less anxiety provoking it will become.

We are all capable of accomplishing so much more than we can imagine. Overcoming a fear enables us to have the confidence to tackle other challenges. It improves feelings of self worth and self esteem. It gives us the opportunity to have more of things we want in our lives and to improve the quality of our lives.