Friday, May 11, 2012

Great Expectations

This has been a week where I feel I've been bombarded by the concept of expectations. It happened to be a central theme of this month's local needs part in our congregation, as well as it being at the core of this week's lesson in the fighting anxiety program I'm using. It's been one of the most challenging lessons thus far for me to deal with because of how conflicted it makes me feel. On the one hand I recognize that it's something that's plagued me and held me back for most of my life, and on the other hand I feel like some are worth clinging to and I can not mentally back down from them. For those of you that are able to get through what I'm about to write, I really am interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic. For those are you that choose to opt out, I don't blame you.

The first page of this week's lesson contained a list of objectives, among them were some points I agreed with and some that I'm having trouble reconciling with my primary mode of thinking as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. The main one being the goal "to recognize that our attitude, beliefs, and mis-beliefs are responsible for much of our stress, anxiety and depression." I understand that it's important to try to face the world with realistic expectations. Life won't be fair. Not everyone is going to want to be friends with you or will even like you. People will disappoint you. But I really don't like what I'm being told there. The most recent example I could see of this in my life was the break-up of my marriage. Based on my expectations as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, my mate should not lie to me, my mate should not fool around with someone else, etc. And yet that and so much more is exactly what happened. So the stress, the anxiety, the depression that resulted from that is from what, my unrealistic expectations? I'm simply adopting a victim mentality and I'm wrong for thinking this is not how it should be?

People will disappoint you, it's a fact I completely and totally mentally accept. But when someone completely and utterly blows it, I'm left sitting there clinging to my belief of what they should have done and feeling like I'm not wrong at all for having my expectations. It's as if the two ideas can't co-exist. But, I guess that's where forgiveness comes in. That's one of Jehovah's expectations of us too. It's the only way I can imagine being able to reach acceptance of both the fact that people will disappoint and that people have standards to live up to that they should be able to follow.

Or perhaps it's true that our beliefs sometimes are the cause of our anxiety or depression, but it doesn't mean those beliefs are wrong. I think sometimes as humans we tend to take something and run with it. Jehovah has the expectation of us that we give him our best. That's not an unrealistic thing for Him to ask of us. But everyone's personal best is different. Someone could very easy take that basic belief, of us having to give Jehovah our best ,and then build unrealistic expectations for themselves around that belief. Attainable goals are one thing, but it would be completely unrealistic for someone in my position, a single mother of two to create the expectation that my best should be going to Bethel, or my best should be serving where the need is greater in another state or another country, or I should be pioneering.

That brings me to another aspect of the topic, at least in my case I think only a small fraction of my problems with anxiety come from my expectations of others. I would say the much larger issue is my expectations of myself, and dealing with the question of what will other people think? I can trace this type of behavior and thinking all the way back to when I was a very small child. I commented recently on another friend's blog about how when I was very small I used to want to design my own board games but I would often get frustrated and give up because I couldn't make it perfect. I also remember wanting to write as a child and young teen, but I was most attracted to writing either science fiction or something historical in a medieval setting. And every time I would even try I would get overwhelmed by all the little things I didn't know, that I expected I should know in order to write it well, or accurately. It seemed like the people who wrote the best stories had been highly educated or had done extensive research that was just beyond my patience to do, and unless I could match that level it would never be any good, so I abandoned almost every idea that came along until I just stopped generating them.Thankfully I've found other creative outlets over the years, and it gives me great joy to aid my children with their creativity. It's my hope that if I can continually encourage them they will continue to exercise their imagination and have healthy directions to channel it.

The opinions of others has mostly been a stressor in my parenting and my spiritual activity. Again unreasonable expectations of myself rears its ugly head. For years now I've been telling myself that I was raised around the truth, I've been baptized __ number of years and I should be at a certain level that I'm just not at. I feel like if I give a comment that's just a simple, answer the question type of comment, in the minds of others they'll hear it and think I'm strange or behind where I should be. I love working in service when I can go to a door by myself, because I'm far more nervous about my partner hearing me make some sort of mistake or not be very good than I am of the householder. And to compound it I know that sort of thinking is unreasonable and people would just be happy I'm doing what I can, but it's like I can't make myself move past it. But I'm hopeful I can work past it.

I've definitely made some progress on the parenting front. There was a period of a few years where every time I would catch someone giving me or my kids a look, especially if they were acting up, I'd take it very personally. I immediately thought it was them thinking critically of me or them. Sometimes it would even prompt me to discipline or punish them just to show the person I was doing something. Which would then make me feel guilty because why on earth should I parent based on the expectations, or perceived expectations of another person? I'm slowly but surely coming around to the point of view that what other people think, doesn't really matter. I need to do what's right for my children and myself as long as it's within line with Jehovah and his principles. I shouldn't compare myself to my parents. I'm not them, and my children aren't me. If someone wants to turn around and glare at me because my kid is making a little more noise than they'd like, I'm now entirely likely to glare right back at them until they turn back around. Don't think know staring is rude?

So anyway, these are basically all of my thoughts on the subject of expectations. They're still slightly jumbled and they're something I struggle with, sorting what's realistic and healthy and what's not. But I think this helped. Any of you that waded through this mess, please let me know who you are, and next time we meet I owe you cookies. Seriously.


  1. Thank you for writing this very thought-provoking article. Expectations - mostly of myself - are something I've struggled with, too. I started to write a lengthy comment here, but I think I'll just email my thoughts to you instead. Please be assured that you always have the loving support of Jehovah and your friends. Keep hanging in there!

    1. Sorry I'm just now responding to this. Yesterday was kind of a weird day for me. But I wanted to thank you. :) It's strangely reassuring to know other people can relate.