“Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance.” Unknown
Several years ago, I decided I had issues with surrender. I was often angry or resentful believing my life was not playing out as it should have been.
I found a great measure of peace by performing a wonderful exercise I first learned of in Abraham-Hicks material.
I took a large rectangular piece of paper and drew a vertical line, top to bottom, down the middle. On the left side, I listed things I felt responsible for and on the right side, I listed what needed to be turned over to a higher power (universal intelligence).
It was an odd take on the idea of a job description, but it worked for me. I considered what types of things I had power over and surrendered much of the rest. When I did this, life became much easier.
I did not let go of my tendency for disappointment, though, and I started looking at types of situations where I became disappointed.
I found that my thinking fell into five main traps. My core issue seemed to revolve around having expectations for how other people should behave.
1. I’d think, “Please be happy (sad, proud, indignant…) with me so I can feel justified having my feelings.”
I recognized that I had a tendency to look to other people to validate my own feelings. When I would go to the movies with a friend, I would direct my glance away from the screen frequently to see if my friend was enjoying the same parts of the movie I liked.
When I achieved a professional or financial goal, I remembered wanting my family to be proud “for me” and to congratulate me on things that made me feel proud.
I wanted other people to mirror my emotional state, and I had to remind myself that they own their emotions and expressions, and I own mine. I learned that I cannot depend on other people to validate my feelings. I also understood that my feelings cannot be expressed by anyone except myself.
Now, rather than look for others to validate my emotions, I realize I should simply experience them more fully. It’s good to laugh or cry or smile to ourselves whether someone else can see us or not.
2. I’d think, “If I support you emotionally, you should support me.”
If Emotional Intelligence were a highly regarded requirement for college entrance, I would have gone to an Ivy League institution, for sure. I have a knack for soothing ruffled feelings and for getting people to talk about things they want to talk about but can’t seem to express directly.
I have often wished others could do this for me.
But I have learned that we can’t expect this. We have to remember that we own our feelings, expressions, and abilities, and other people own theirs. Not everyone has the ability to make people feel better by attentive listening.
Instead of being disappointed with giving more than I get, I try to look at how I can apply my sensitivity to mitigate my own hurts.
3. I’d think, “People should act kindly toward others because I want everyone to get along.”
Sometimes, I’ve observed myself recoiling if I witness a restaurant patron acting unkindly to a waitress or a driver cutting off another driver a hundred feet ahead of me. Again, I have to remind myself that I am responsible for my feelings, actions, and expressions, and other people are responsible for theirs.
We are not personally responsible for making up the shortfall in simple acts of kindness someone else might experience. We can only aim to be examples of compassion, humor, patience, and any quality we would like to see more of in the world.
4. I’d tell myself, “I am not ‘judging’ anything or anyone. I am simply refining a preference.”
I rather not think of myself as judgmental. Yet, judgments flow through my mind constantly.
I’ll tell myself that I need to make some judgments in order to make satisfying choices. I’ll tell myself that I’m not making judgments. I’m just refining preferences.
I have to acknowledge, though, that I don’t always confine my thoughts about what is good or bad, what is “preferable” or not, to me and my life. I’ll think this person should lose weight, or that person should drink less alcohol, or this person should treat his children better.
When the judgment first forms in my mind, I will feel a natural sort of entitlement to the opinion. After all, I have good values, maybe an enlightened perspective in some matters. But the judgments will still lead to disappointment and suffering.
Why should I feel entitled to have any expectations on how someone else should live? This, too, is a practice of remembrance. I have to remember I own my feelings, emotions, and expressions, and other people own theirs.
If I believe in moderation, I can give attention to not over-eating or drinking. If I believe in kindness, I can form an intention to ask after people or respectfully offer help.
5. I’ll tell myself that I’m entitled to feel my feelings and use this as an excuse to spend extra energy holding on to an experience.
There is often an interesting line to navigate between allowing myself to grieve a possibility not coming to fruition and romanticizing the loss. Truly, the loss is real, but it’s temporal.
While acknowledging that it’s okay to feel sad, I do not want to give the feeling extra energy either.
For me, holding on to an experience, or feelings about an experience, is fueling an expectation. I’ll get to thinking that things will always be a certain way or that I will always have the same feelings about something. But situations and moods are temporary, and an expectation that they’re permanent or probable can inhibit us from living life and enjoying the present.
I’ve learned that getting beyond disappointments often involves moving beyond expectations and taking responsibility for living our own lives; owning our actions and emotions and letting others own theirs.
With Love From the Trench Kitchen,