By Dr. Barnes Boffey
How many hours in our lives do we spend trying to fulfill expectations others have of us in which we had no part in creating or agreeing to? The answer is simply “too many.”
As children we learn that to be loved and accepted and praised, we need to figure out what is expected of us by parents and others and then act in a way that meets those expectations. We know when we do that because we hear, “Good boy!” or Good girl!” or “I’m really proud of you.” It seems logical. Our teachers and parents and other adults lay out expectations and we are obviously responsible for doing our best to meet those expectations. When we don’t the chorus changes to “I’m really disappointed in you right now.”
The transition to adulthood and both the freedom and responsibility that accompany it is marked by the realization that many of those expectations are unrealistic, self-serving, or simply have nothing to do with the actual people we are becoming. But if we have been waiting for others to create those expectations over all those years, it’s often hard to create our own without feeling we have done something wrong, or that our disappointing others is a sign or ingratitude or disrespect.
Nothing is father from the truth. Our job as children growing into adults is to sort through the expectations of childhood, holding onto those that we want to integrate into our adult lives, and moving beyond those which are no longer useful. As we create our own lives, we also create the expectations against which we want to be judged.
True adults are in short supply. And just because we are ready to participate in the above process does not mean that others will be ready; it does not mean they will let go of their expectations or cease judging us. It takes a truly courageous decision to begin to create the criteria by which we are willing to be judged and also to gently refuse to be held to expectations which we have not created or agreed to.
“Sweetheart, I know you are mad at me for not going to the store on the way home, but I don’t remember either being asked to or telling you that I would. Your judgment does not feel appropriate in this situation.”
“I know everyone expects me to be the one to talk to grandma about her negativity, but I am no longer willing to accept that role or feel like I have done something wrong when I ask others to share that load.”
In short, I aspire to say that in my personal relationships, I will no longer willingly participate in the process of being judged by criteria and expectations I had no part in creating or agreeing to.” Easy to say; hard to do!