“I am so done with this relationship”, my client Joan said to me after a bitter feud with her mother. “I have put so much into this relationship, tried so hard to make it work with her for the sake of my father and our family”. “I can’t rely on anyone for advice or support, not even my own husband!”
An artist by profession, she lamented on the toll her relationship with her mother had taken on her emotional health but also her professional career. Feeling drained and wrung out to dry, she felt she had nothing left to give, but practically nothing left to keep for herself either. She felt unable to focus on her music and could no longer find joy in her song writing, singing or performing. Isolating herself from her music community and audience, she sought to regain her sense of self and faith in her work and her passion.
Joan’s questions as she started therapy were — why is my mother this way? why is that how much ever I may do is never enough? and lastly, why is it that I care so much?
These are questions that I have frequently seen others ask as well, with little variance. Often pegged on the other person, we seek to unearth reasons and explanations and excavate patterns and behaviors, hoping to find some peace and resolution among ourselves. As if we could ever locate a sense of peace and fulfillment in ourselves from demystifying others.
Instead, we may need to work on understanding how it is that we come to rely so much on others to nurture ourselves? Why do we allow others to have so much of an impact on our lives? Why do we find ourselves disappointed and wounded when others fail to live up to the expectation we have of them?
- It is extremely hard for some of us to accept and see others as imperfect and flawed.
We like to think of others as capable, reasonable, sensible, intelligent, and virtuous–which they very well may be. But along with that may also come aspects of inability, unawareness, inflexibility, rigidity, poor logic, and (to put it mildly) stupidity! For some, more often than others. We all deal with our own burden of stress inclusive of health issues, financial worries, or work conflict and are entitled to missing the point, and so is true of others. After all, we can all relate to moments in our life when we felt overwhelmed or indifferent to others in a manner reflective of utterly illogic and defiant of sensitivity or sensibility.
Hence, holding others to such high standards consistently leads us to feel persistently disappointed by them. Yet, we frequently do and end up feeling frustrated and resentful, when others don’t meet our needs or expectations.
But, you may ask- Shouldn’t I expect things from someone important to me? Isn’t it reasonable to expect certain things from people in certain relationships?
The answer is YES! It is completely reasonable to expect things from others. However, it is also important to calibrate your expectations of others based on their choice and decisions towards you. This allows you to have more flexibility in your relationship with others and makes it less likely for you to be surprised by their behavior.
From my friends, I may expect loyalty, care, concern about my well-being and the ability to provide help should I need it. AND I may also expect that despite their best intentions and ability, my friend may not be able to help me each time I reach out, or may have other things going on in their life that make it difficult for them to extend their support towards me. This is important information for me, for it teaches me which friend(s), I can expect to be responsive and receive help from, and which friend(s) are likely to be absorbed in their life and issues, despite their best intentions.
Ask yourself: Are my expectations of this person reasonable? Based on my knowledge of this person, am I asking for more than I can expect?
- Using others to fill our unfilled needs
Whether we consider ourselves to be versions of Einstein, Freud, Hellen Keller or Picasso, we all have parts of ourselves that are insecure, raw, and driven by fear. Or we may encounter circumstances in our life, that threaten our strength by tugging at our vulnerabilities.
For some, this may be a deep rooted fear of loneliness and being alone to manage and figure things out. Or an intense fear of rejection, of being considered unworthy of another’s love and affection. Some of us are deeply fearful of failure, or the concern that we are in some way flawed, inferior, or less than.
All of these fears impact the way we see ourselves and the world. We long to soothe those parts of ourselves that are raw, and overcome our insecurities and fears so as to present our best selves to the universe. In this endeavor, we often band-aid ourselves together deceptively with accomplishments, fame, success, scholarly pursuits and recognition. But deep down, those needs and desires may continue to haunt us, and unconsciously we may respond to their heed, often enlisting the help of others to do so as well.
As Joan worked through her fears and became more in touch with deep-rooted worries of never being good enough to make decisions independently, she considered how much she relied on her spouse, and when she connected with her own fears of mortality and death, she pondered over the debilitating anxiety of losing her mother and the actions she frequently took to deceive herself of the knowledge of passing time and the inevitable loss of her mother (when it would come).
Answering these questions for yourself may lead you to understand what it is you fear and why, and how your fears are surfacing in your relationship and expectations of others.
Self & Relationship expert Dr. Vijayeta Sinh, Ph.D. is committed to helping men and women understand and appreciate healthy and satisfying relationships. Her advice has been featured in Reader’s Digest, NBC News, Business Insider, Nylon, Primer, The Inquisitr, and Bustle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.