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How to Let Go Of Others' Expectations (4 Steps)

February 22, 2018

Have you ever found yourself feeling stuck in an experience of resentment, anger, or strong aversion?

 

Perhaps you’re in a situation where you feel tired of feeling under pressure from others’ expectations…

 

I did, and I wanted to share with you 4 ideas that helped to assist me in letting go of others’ expectations :-)!

 

1. UNDERSTAND THE “BEHIND THE SCENES” SOCIAL CONTEXT  

 

In my previous posts I mentioned many writers who criticized our modern society for placing too much value on having and consuming.

 

There are so many individuals who grew up within cultural/family expectations that imply that one fills up on love/appreciation/self-worth from something external to oneself, whether this includes having socially approved assets or fulfilling their community’s social expectations.

 

Another "behind the scenes" social context that effects women in particular is the influence of the enormous historic legacy of them being less encouraged to pursue self-development outside of their caring roles (than men) and their identities being more entwined with attending to and being receptive to others’ well-being/experiences than their own (I explored this in “Liberating Inner Eve”).

 

The result? Many individuals are conditioned against connecting with their internal point of reference and source of inspiration/purpose. They may be vulnerable to experiencing a wavering self-confidence that fluctuates according to someone else’s perception/judgement, a loss of a sense of personal power, an experience of anxiety, emptiness, or frustration.

 

 

2. EXAMINE YOUR INTERNALIZED “SHOULDS”

 

Part of our humanity is being “hard-wired” towards forming attachments with other beings.

 

“The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature.” (Bowlby, A.)

 

We learn in childhood that to survive we have to please our caregivers. We often take on board their expectations, we internalize their words. These literally become our thoughts. We take on board their expectations. Often they can manifest as thoughts that begin with ‘I should’… and an accompanying experience of guilt.

 

Many psychologists believe that, generally speaking, our experience of guilt has an evolutionary purpose of maximizing our chances of survival. Internalizing the expectations and standards of our caregivers “helps” us avoid rejection, disapproval, or punishment from our significant others and society.

 

In order to lessen the power of someone else's expectations, we can evaluate the content of the "should" message that we are receiving, according to whether it is appropriate or not, and according to how it relates to our inner experience, values, and goals. 

 

Even the process of examining and questioning our thoughts makes them seem less “factual” and open to adjustment, less powerful in defining our worth, more transient and open to transformation.


 

3. OFFER YOURSELF PLENTY OF COMPASSION

(E.G. AROUND EXPERIENCING FRUSTRATION)

 

Our feelings communicate where we stand in relation to our goals, values; they help us to be aware of our boundaries and preferences. They give us valuable information about our thoughts, ways of coping.

 

As such they are our “friends” (even feelings such as our initial reaction of frustration, help to alert us to possible violations of our boundaries and teach us about what we don't like).

 

Resisting feelings and fighting against them only increases our distress. While it is expected that an emotionally healthy adult is in control of his/her behavior, and how he chooses to cope and respond to his emotions, we are much less in control when it comes to our initial emotional reactions.

 

Surrounding them with compassion makes it easier for us to examine our underlying thinking and coping, and ultimately let them go.

 

I personally like to also keep in mind that my emotions are transient and in a constant process of transformation, which makes the “negative ones” not as significant…

 

If you are from a Christian background keep in mind that Jesus, too, experienced a range of emotions, which he acknowledged, expressed, and coped with.

 

 

4. FOCUS ON STAYING FULFILLED IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

 

"Attachment comes from the accumulated past. If you can be unattached to the past every moment, then you are always fresh, young, just born."

Rajneesh

 

It is pointless to try and resist/fight against “unwelcome” emotional reactions within ourselves.

 

Psychology research suggests that attempts at suppressing thoughts not only usually fail, but most often also backfire, that is those unwelcome thoughts/emotions that we are trying to suppress end up intruding into our consciousness even more.

 

However, once we acknowledge the message contained within our emotional experiences and thoughts, whether it is in relation to our values or our perceptions at the time, we can reinvest our focus on finding nourishment, meaning, and fulfillment in the present moment.

 

I find Martin Seligman’s classification of activities into "gratifications" and "pleasures" very helpful when considering what to re-invest my energy in, in the present moment, so that my attachment naturally grows towards areas of my life where there is purpose and meaningful service.

 

Seligman refers to “pleasures” as the instant, sensory treats that are usually short lived. They stimulate our senses and give us a sense of pleasure and enjoyment, for the short time they last. Whether it is eating, shopping, watching television, or having a bubble bath, they are associated with our “consuming.” They give us an instant connection with the present moment and an emotional lift.

 

"Gratifications" are less emotionally intense. "Gratifications" are ways of spending time that are grounded in our values, interests. They slide us into an experience of flow (as long as they are at an optimal level of challenge for us), where time stands still and where we lose our self-consciousness, absorbed in doing what is meaningful for us.  While less emotionally intense, gratifications leave for us an afterglow of deep contentment and satisfaction, an experience that we are living our purpose.

 

The challenge for us may be to schedule into our time a combination of gratifications and pleasures, that help to focus our attention on filling our life with an experience of fullness and purpose.

 

The setting of goals has been found, over and again, to be a powerful tool in helping individuals to focus their attention and staying motivated, even small goals for the day can help us to feel focused and in control.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Everyday we walk alongside others, sharing their journey, hoping to serve, encourage, and support them.

 

Many of us find it challenging to find ways of supporting others who learned to “fill–up” on love/appreciation/self-worth from something external to themselves, whether due to their social/family conditioning, lack of opportunities... We may feel the weight of their expectations and fluctuate between feeling resentful, guilty, and compassionate towards their inner experience and needs.

 

I hope these 4 steps will support you in navigating a way of supporting others that also appreciates that

whether it’s in finding fulfillment, discovering their purpose, unfolding in personal growth, “creating what is meaningful,” we can never be 100% responsible for creating this for somebody else. And, that you yourself also deserve to focus your energy on connecting with those "gratifications" that relate to your sense of purpose and fulfillment.  

 

 

 

 

“The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don't let them put you in that position.” Leo Buscaglia

 

"When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life."

Jean Shinoda Bolen

 

"How do you let go of attachment to things? Don’t even try. It’s impossible. Attachment to things drops away by itself when you no longer seek to find yourself in them."

Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

References:

 

Seligman, M. (2017). Authentic happiness. [S.l.]: Nicholas Brealey Pub.

 

Wegner, Daniel M.; Schneider, David J.; Carter, Samuel R. & White, Teri L. (1987). "Paradoxical effects of thought suppression". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53 (1): 5–13. 

 

 

 

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