'If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed' - Sylvia Plath
The quote rings true, and I’m sure we all have at least one tale of feeling let down by someone. However, what I come across regularly in my work is how often we set ourselves up for disappointment. What high expectations do you have of yourself and are you aware of them? We are conditioned by society and our upbringing to think in certain ways, perhaps taking on our mother’s wishes, “be kind”, or our fathers façade, “everything’s fine”. What do these types of messages tell us? In these cases, we might believe we should never show anger or challenge anything, or that we must not show weakness or ‘pretend’ we’re well. Is this okay?
How often do we feel “disappointed” with ourselves when we can’t manage something we think we should be able to manage? Mental health difficulties have been hugely publicised over the last few years, hopefully going some way to reducing the stigma attached to being open about our own difficult feelings. However, is it not that the stigma exists inside us, “I should be able to cope”; “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.
When we are going through a difficult time, perhaps feeling low, anxious, or lonely, it is very understandable that we are not able to cope in the ways we might have previously. I am a huge advocate of self-compassion, and I believe this is what can help beat our high expectations of ourselves. However, firstly, we need to be aware of any unrealistic expectations, and take the context of our lives into account. When we are struggling due to, say, a relationship breakdown or a medical problem, it’s logical that we may not be able to be as fully functioning as we normally are. Small things may slip, such as the housework, our motivation for our job, or anything. Yet we are very hard on ourselves.
I encourage you to notice what you are telling yourself about the ways you ‘should’ be behaving, thinking or feeling. Are they realistic? It’s helpful to challenge them, be open to thinking more realistically, and be kind to yourself in your struggles. It’s not that you can never be the same again, as there is always support out there - talking with a counsellor can help you put things into perspective; it’s that right now things are different.
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About Joanne Dampier
Qualified, experienced therapeutic counsellor, (Bsc, MSc, MBACP). Working in London and Bexley/Sidcup, Kent. Interest in adult male trauma resulting from childhood abuse.