On Confronting Unrealistic Expectations
Written by: Kaitrin
It's been a stressful month and a half, hasn't it? Between the election, the crazy weather, and my own personal stressors (a job change, the holidays, and a dose of comparing myself to where I was last year) I've had a lot of unrealistic expectations pop into my brain, and when they do, negative thoughts and emotions aren't far behind.
Today, I'll tell you how I’m fighting those unrealistic expectations.
Let's start with an example of the troublesome things that pop into my brain. "My coping mechanisms should be working. Why aren't they working? They're not working and that means I'm broken again."
“Should” doesn't help us see the world how it really is. It tells us what our expectation is and cements it.
There's a bit to unpack there. First, and something that I struggle with, is my habit of “should”ing all over myself. Should is not a helpful word here. There are many things that "shouldn't" be happening. Good people should have good things happen to them. Yet, we all know good people who have had horrible things happen to them. “Should” doesn't help us see the world how it really is. It tells us what our expectation is and cements it.
Second, as I found out from my therapist fairly recently, coping mechanisms change. This was something that I hadn't expected to happen. I thought, misguidedly, that if a coping mechanism worked once, it will work again. Here's a list of the coping mechanisms that I've used before that I'm currently struggling with because they aren't helping like they used to:
-Doing Martial Arts
-Going for Walks
And that's not even the whole list. Granted, right now it is winter, so some of these coping mechanisms can't happen in winter. Swimming and sunbathing are out when there's close to four inches of snow on the ground. Walking is less pleasant. That's why those three coping mechanisms failed.
But do I really need to list out why each one of these have failed? No. It's not helpful. It's also not me. I'm not choosing for these coping mechanisms to fail. It's just a thing that happens sometimes. That said, I am having trouble letting go of the coping mechanisms that aren't working. I want to keep trying them, because maybe, maybe this time they'll work. It's happened before. I didn't do theatre for 4 years in college, and when I went back, it was like I never had left. In fact, I was better at it than I had remembered.
I keep waiting for that to happen with my coping skills, but I'm forgetting a key point: you can't force it. You can't force a coping skill to work for you.
I'm still at a better place mentally than I was a year ago, and I own that. I did the work, and I will continue doing the work, and I will continue to improve in spite of any obstacles in my way.
Which brings us to the third part. Yes, my coping mechanisms aren't working like they used to, but that doesn't mean I'm suddenly broken. I'm not broken just because I don't feel like crocheting or crafting right now. I'm not broken because working out has lost its luster. I'm not broken because playing games feels flat. I'm still at a better place mentally than I was a year ago, and I own that. I did the work, and I will continue doing the work, and I will continue to improve in spite of any obstacles in my way.
I've done this with my eight biggest unrealistic expectations. I was writing to my pen pal, and I started pouring out these things that were making me feel bad about myself. Then, I decided that I didn't want to just leave those unrealistic expectations there. I challenged each one, and it took about 3 pages of writing to do. I surprised myself. I didn't cry while I was doing this. My inner voice felt very matter of fact.
So, my challenge to you this week is to write down three unrealistic expectations that you have, and unpack them. Challenge them. By unpacking and challenging our negative expectations, we can start on the road to accepting that we have these unrealistic expectations. They aren't always bad or always good. They just are, and that's okay.