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  • Laura

Expectations: Yours, Mine, and Ours

Expectations are often wrought with difficult emotions, self-imposed assumptions, and presumptions that are hard for anyone and everyone to live up to. As I have mentioned in at least one prior blog post, the most problematic expectations are those we set for ourselves. We are perhaps the most calculating, critical, cruel, and self-sabotaging of ourselves.

Why, you ask? It has something to do with the fact we can, to an extent, control how others perceive us, but escaping our self-criticism is more difficult. Now, I am not positing that we can portray ourselves as smoothly polished granite in every situation. Still, there's a reason for the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" – the delicate shell surrounding our personal bubbles can make it feel like it requires us to maintain the status quo façade to "keep up appearances."

When our façade comes down - which happens to even the best of us - people inevitably see our Achilles' heel and, in turn, can use that to hurt us. Once we lie belly up, others might hurt us; this is a lesson that some can shrug off, but most of us become much less trusting of that particular person – or, in the worst of outcomes, even at times, all people.

No one likes to feel vulnerable, that's for sure. So, where do expectations figure into this? There are both internal and external expectations. The external expectations are, in my mind, the easier of the two to manage – I think you can learn to put on a front when in the company of others more easily than you can fool yourself. You can put on the role of a confident and savvy individual when your insides are pure jello.

The internal expectations we place on ourselves are no joke. Mine are incredibly harsh. My brain has four words on repeat when I dare to think positively of myself: worthless, useless, hopeless, failure. I call them the four horsemen of the apocalypse. A therapist I have worked with renamed them the "four little f*ckers" – it hasn't made them go away, but it does give me a little perspective and can usually give me a little chuckle, even in the worst of times.

In all seriousness, my brain often tells me that I don't deserve the air I breathe and that I am a waste of oxygen. And, let me tell you, the Beast that is suicidality LOVES, LOVES, LOVES my internal expectations. Anything I can say to knock myself down a few pegs: I'm not special in any way, I'm lazy, I'm fugly, I'm stupid (did I mention that I'm not worth the oxygen I breathe??).

Another angle on expectations is the boundary issues inherent in any meaningful discussion of expectations' role in how we outwardly present ourselves and in our internal dialogue. When we place expectations on ourselves (internally and externally), we often do not maintain healthy boundaries. If we see ourselves as lacking in one regard and globalize that, we've got a problem: we need to instead set a boundary regarding self/others. We must reconcile the need to maintain a perfect image with what we feel in our hearts.

If it is safest for you to keep up a façade with others, the question becomes, who do you feel safe enough to reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings to? You do not need a whole passel of individuals. Suppose you don't have such a person. In that case, I suggest you seek the services of a therapist (actually, I suggest a therapist in most situations, as they are most likely to be the most unbiased resource you can have in your arsenal to do battle with the Beast). 

If, however, you feel you have to deceive yourself, that's where I feel you have an even bigger problem. Deceiving yourself does not lead to anywhere positive. And, if you lose all sight of who you really are, you won't know the first thing about how to battle the Beast. Believe me, the Beast can sniff out a fraud in a millisecond. Losing sight of who you are can lead to bad things, and the Beast's suicidality can come out to play, and it can push and shove even harder than you can.

One suggestion is to ask someone(s) you trust how they would positively describe you. I have seven words that have been bestowed on me that I try my hardest to keep in mind when things are not going well in my life and, even more importantly, when things are going well. The words are more easily called upon when things are rough if you make it a habit to think about the positive words consistently. I have my words on Post-it notes on my bathroom mirror, so I can't help but see them every morning and evening.

Here are my words. I was described by my doctor as "smart, kind, and funny." A social worker added "resilience and integrity." A nurse added, "Determined." And, during my last hospitalization, a fellow patient dubbed me "lovely." Each person's opinion(s) of me rang true not because I initially (or always) believe them, as they're admittedly still hard to call upon in my darkest hours, but based on the fact I can most often recall them and they can drown out the negative voices in my head.

Note: It has taken me considerable time, effort, and practice to keep these words in the forefront of my mind. Remember, battling the Beast that is suicidality is not often a sprint; most times, it's a marathon.

I strongly advise you to minimize the Beast by thwarting it based on seeking out – and keeping at hand – ways to remind yourself of the good in you. Keep in touch with your positive side and use it to drown out (or at least dampen) your Negative Nelly. Everybody has a positive side, even if you can't initially call upon it. (That is, unless you are a sociopath, and if that's true, you've got bigger fish to fry.)

Go forth, get your words, and try to live a life where you don't beat yourself up inwardly or outwardly with unrealistic expectations. Don't give the Beast ammunition – it can be hard enough to get through life as it is. So, again, go forth and get those positive words and use them to beat back the Beast. You'll have good days and bad days. Live for the good ones.

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