"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Friday, 23 January 2015

How to Reduce your Expectations to Reduce Anxiety

Image of water flowing over edge of rocks with sea and mountains in background with text: Expect Nothing, Appreciate Everything
Do you plan out every detail of how you want things to go?

Do you run scenarios in your head about what will happen?

Are you disappointed when it doesn’t work out as you envisaged?

“Not everything will go as you expect in your life. This is why you need to drop expectations, and go with the flow of life.” – Leon Brown

Expectations are when we believe that something will happen or go a certain way, and we anticipate a preconceived outcome.

Expectations can be a driving force behind negative thoughts and feelings.

There are different types of expectations: our expectations of others and their expectations of us; our expectations about events or situations and how they will turn out.

Some of these expectations are conscious: when we hope that something will go the way we want it, or assume it will. And some of them are unconscious: when we have already experienced something and thus anticipation about what to expect.

Problems occur when these expectations start to take over and we become disappointed or frustrated when they aren’t fulfilled - or we don’t fulfil those of the people around us. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, resent, anxiety and may even result in disengaging with individual people, or social groups.

“All the disconnected people I know are trying to be something they are not, and do something they cannot.”- David Gayson

When I moved to Holland to be with my partner I realised that both my partner and his group of friends had expected me to find my own way here, whereas I had expected to be supported by my partner and his friends when I arrived. When this didn't happen I felt rejected by them on a very personal level. Although the further expectations from them was that I would turn up and join in anyway, so I had to put my feelings aside and go along to be accepted by them and my partner.

In this situation I had expectations of people, and they had expectations of me - and neither were met. It caused upset all round and led to eventual disconnect in my relationship as I felt let down by my partner’s lack of support, and he felt let down by my unwillingness to join in. I didn’t feel understood, and he didn’t understand, and a circle of resent and frustration grew.

It can also happen on a smaller scale, like when we expect a certain reaction from someone. We anticipate what they will say or that they will respond in a particular way. And if we don't get the response we are looking for we can be thrown off, and feel disappointed. And sometimes we can react to that feeling and make the situation worse.

For example, my partner bought me concert tickets to see a singer I loved and expected me to be overjoyed about it. But I worried instead about arranging a babysitter for our child, and the location of the seats at the venue, which were very high up (I suffer vertigo). He had expected me to be elated, and I wasn't, so he was disappointed, and responded with annoyance and then withdrew. When I saw this I then felt guilty and chided myself for not being happy about it. So the entire situation of expectation produced a negative circle of reactions. 

“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be.”  - Mandy Hale

Having expectations can affect all areas of our lives: from school to work, in relationships with friends and lover, and also as a parent and a child.

When I became a mother I wanted to be the best mother I could be. I put myself under enormous pressure to perform a certain way to fulfil my own expectations and those of society. I had expectations of what motherhood would be like, but none of them matched up to what I was experiencing. I struggled with the responsibility, which made me feel bad about myself, and my ability to be a mother. I felt like I was failing. It affected my ability to show up and be the kind of mother I wanted to be. It killed any joy I felt about being a mother, and the time I spent with my child. It left me short tempered and frustrated, which made it difficult for my child to engage with me and me with them. It led to feelings of inadequacy for both me and my child.

It was only when I realised how I was living to some predefined set of ideals that I was able to go about changing them. I let go of all the preconceived ideas I had about what type of mother I thought I should be, and started to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. I started to relax with my child, and to reach out and connect.  

In all of these instances the common factor is that an outcome was expected. 

“If you expect miracles in your life, then release any attachment to the outcome.” - Joe Vitale

The first step in changing this is recognising we are expecting an outcome.

The second step is to stop thinking ahead and planning out in our minds how something will go, or how someone will react (positive or negative). We need to remain open, and be okay with whatever might happen, without trying to foresee an outcome.

Once we have done that we can focus on the moment, the here and now, and not on something further down the line. If we show up with an open mind and no predefined idea about how something should go, then we are open to all and any eventuality - and particularly the opportunity enjoy it.

This is how we go about living in the present and embracing it. 

“Expectations are what you expect, not how things are.” -  Eckhart Tolle

By reducing our expectations of everything and everyone around us, we can reduce the negative impact of those expectations and avoid feelings of disappointment, frustration, and also anxiety.

In relationships we can connect, rather than disconnect, giving each other room to be who we are, not who we think each other should be.

The only response we can anticipate is our own. We control nothing and no one outside of ourselves. We have a choice about how we react, and how we wish to show up in any given situation. The best option is to relax and be ourselves.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

How to Avoid Being in 'Victim Mode'

Image of sun lit clouds and moon in a blue sky with text: Remember, you have a choice. Do more than survive - thrive!Do you ever feel like you don't have a choice in the things you do?

When things don’t work out, do you feel like it's not your fault?

Do you ever feel like everything works against you?

Then you might be in 'victim mode'.

“By not accepting responsibility for our personal circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.”- Steve Maraboli 

‘Being in victim  mode’ meaning thinking in such a way that that you feel the world is against you, and that if things don’t work out it’s always due to someone or something else; external factors are responsible and you have no power to change them. It can also be when you feel choices are made for you, and you feel you have no say in your life, or elements of your life.

There are genuine times when things aren’t in our control and we are abused in some way and we are an honest victim, but this blog post doesn’t relate to that. I am talking about when we don’t recover from those events or moments, and we stay in them - even wallow in them, using them as an excuse not to move forward and do the things we want and need to do for ourselves.

We might attach a certain meaning to an event or situation that has traumatised us, and never allow ourselves to move on from it. Our view on the world then becomes tainted; we look at everything in our lives from this damaged perspective, validating our inability to move on by this event or situation, using it as a crutch or excuse.

“In challenging circumstances we can either choose to be a survivor or we can choose to be a victim. Considering that they both take the same amount of effort, the choice you make will determine your path forward.” – Mary Holloway

It can be tricky to recognise this mindset. It can creep up and display itself in many forms, such as procrastination, fear, negativity, anxiety and depression. It can vary in its degrees when it shows up and can completely shut a person down.

I have been living a long time in a foreign country. I struggled with settling here. I felt that the decision to come here wasn’t mine, and that I had no choice if I wanted to be with my partner. I told myself that I had to move countries and particularly settle in this small village if I wanted to be with them. And once here I felt I had no power to change anything in my life and fulfil my needs. I felt I was duty bound to attend social events and family functions. I felt it was expected of me to fulfil everyone else’s desires, to make them happy, and whenever I felt angry about it (which was often) I blamed them: I blamed them for my choices, my sacrifices (as I saw them), and my unhappiness.

It took me several years in therapy to realise that I DID have power in my life, that I did have choices, and that I was responsible for them. That I didn’t have to go to any of those events - that I could say no.

“By saying yes to when you need to say no, you cripple the most important relationship in your life: the relationship between you and you.” – Nea Joy

I realised that I had been the one who had talked myself into coming here; I had been the one telling myself that I would lose my partner if I didn’t; that their happiness was more important than mine; that if I kept on giving up everything I held dear, eventually I would be appreciated for it, and loved for it.

It coloured my view on the entire situation and place. I became chronically unhappy and unpleasant to be around, which in turn made me start to dislike myself. I would feel anger because I believed someone else had made me come here and put me through this. And then turn I would feel guilty about expressing that anger, and I would then turn that anger on myself. I built resent towards my partner, and self-loathing towards myself for putting myself in this situation - a vicious circle of negative feelings.

It was only when I started to be honest with myself about my feelings and about the choices I had made that I started to be able to change them. I started to think about what I wanted, and what I didn’t want. And I started to make defined choices and changes. I took my power back. I listened to how I felt – inside – and started to move forward by acknowledging and accepting how I felt.

“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” - Dr.Phil

By acknowledging my part in ‘letting’ these things happen to me, going along with them even though I knew I didn’t want to, I reduced the feelings of anger and frustration. I was able to feel I had power to make choices and decisions again.

I still find myself in this mindset from time to time, particularly when I have let the Negative Internal Dialogue get the better of me. But the steps I now take are:

  • Hearing that dialogue and recognising it as destructive;
  • Identifying what is creating it – am I doing something I don’t want to? What’s making me feel bad?
  • Countering the dialogue with the truth of the situation;
  • Reminding myself what I can do to help myself by going through the choices I have;
  • Focusing on what I can do and take action.

Taking action is the key to imprinting a new thought process and showing yourself you are capable, and dispelling the negative voices that might say otherwise.

“The path to success is to take massive determined action.” - Tony Robbins

This applies to both large steps in your life, and small steps. It could be just calling someone, meeting up with them, or arranging to do something you want to do. Or it could be getting a job, or setting up a business. Whatever it is, if it confirms the power we have, it helps us feel that we are living and thriving, not just surviving.