If you had a choice between a small box that you had to squash yourself into or a big, open and airy space to settle yourself into which would you choose?
So why do we always try to squeeze ourselves and life into the ridiculously small boxes we create for ourselves with our expectations?
Our Boxes Make us Exhausted
So many of the exhausted people I see as clients tend to hold many overly high expectations – of themselves, the world and others. This is one aspect of the Holding Personality that I talk about in relation to those who are most predisposed to chronic fatigue and adrenal depletion. Those who fit the category of the Holding Personality tend to hold themselves up to their expectations and in doing so exert a lot of energy. Also, when expectations are not met this can result in worry, fear, anger, frustration and generally a need to make it different, resist what is and DO.
This is all very exhausting.
Expectations can range from believing that one should always achieve a certain standard in the workplace to the general expectations that if I do ‘this’ then ‘that’ will happen. In relationships we have expectations that others should know what we need without our having to say it or that we should always be able to meet the needs of our partners. Some of these expectations are conscious. Many are not. Conscious or not we can find ourselves pushing to achieve them or depleting our energy resisting the outcome when it is not align with our expectations.
Where Do These Expectations Come From?
Many people develop expectations to feel safe. With expectations we have something to aim for and this makes life slightly more ‘predictable’. We may feel more ‘in control’. With expectations life is black and white and ‘simpler’. The downside of this is that if the expectations do no come about as we had hoped then we can feel like things are out of control and we are not safe. If we can’t fit ourselves or life into the box we had expected it all to fit into this can create consequences that shake us up.
So we then resist and fight the alternative.
Many people developed expectations growing up in households where there were various rules and conditions in place e.g. “You should always be polite”, “You should not raise your voice”, “You should always put effort into your appearance”, “You should eat all the food on your plate”. The unspoken part is “…otherwise you are not acceptable”. Ultimately, we internalise these conditions and rules, often without question and very unconsciously, and make them our own. Intrinsically we receive the message that I must do these things in order to be good enough and acceptable.
Of course, then we will feel anxious when we are not able to meet these expectations.
You Created Them so You Can Change Them
The problem with expectations being unconscious is that we tend to not question them. If you have always lived in a cave then you will expect that the world is dark and there is not much to see until someone takes you outside and you realise there is a different way to see the world. So, too, are our expectations only one way of seeing and living life. If we make them conscious we can also choose whether or not they are serving us.
Furthermore, our expectations make assumptions about life and these assumptions are based upon a limited understanding of what is unfolding. So very often when things do not turn out as we expected we only realise in hindsight that, actually, it all worked out really well. Without an understanding of the bigger picture it can be difficult to accept that maybe our limited expectations are not in our best interests.
You hold the copyright on your expectations and you can re-write them.
Move from Expect to Accept to Ease Exhaustion
An attitude of acceptance can go a long way to conserve energy by assisting us to stop railing against what is and to encourage an experience of spaciousness and being rather than striving and doing. Acceptance is not binary – black/white or either/or. Instead it is the ability to hold “both "X" and "Y” e.g “I may be late but my friend still accepts me” (versus "I must never be late as this makes me a bad person") or “I am not able to complete this tomorrow but it is actually going to be OK” ("I have to finish this today") or “I am not going to be able to go on that holiday and I am disappointed but maybe there is a bigger reason why this is not meant to happen now.”
Expectations involve judgements but in acceptance we suspend judgement as we just do not know what that bigger picture is and whether what is happening is actually ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the long-run. What is the point of wasting hours being mad about the holiday that did not work out and trying every angle to get it to work out when you then later realise that because you did not go you were able to be at that coffee shop where you bumped into that person who became so important in your life? Acceptance is about both not knowing/understanding and still feeling safe/trusting. It does involve some degree of spirituality or faith but with a little practice you can cultivate this attitude as you start to seek out the gifts in all experiences.
Most importantly, acceptance creates a much larger space for you to be in as you soften into or embrace ‘what is’ without judgement. This creates ease and less need to adapt yourself or make ‘what is’ different to what it is. There is less need to squash it all into the box. Less need to resist and less need to become exhausted.
The Parable of the Chinese Farmer
This parable illustrates the attitude of trust and acceptance:
A Chinese Farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbour says, “That’s bad news”. The farmer replies “Good news, bad news, who can say?”
The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say.
The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg. “So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbour. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.
In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared.
Good news of course.
We never know. So very often, without realising it, we have opinions about what is happening related to our unquestioned expectations. However, we can only know later whether how things are unfolding is good or bad. And so very, very often it is all unfolding in our greatest and highest good.
Accepting my adrenal fatigue was the moment that I started to heal. It was then that I connected to the gifts in what my body was trying to communicate. I opened myself up, suspended judgement, connected, listened and found my truth. Letting go of my resistance to what was directly opened a spaciousness to just be and an ease to heal and experience the way forward in my greatest and highest good. This is what I share with my clients too.
So next time you try to squeeze yourself or life into one of your little boxes have a bit of a laugh at yourself and then create that open, embracing space to hold whatever is happening and let it unfold with a bit of faith. It is very possible that while you are conserving your energy a gift is busy unfolding in the most unforeseen way!