What do you do when your erythrophobia – or other type of social anxiety – is once again rolling over you like a bulldozer, relentless and inescapable? When you feel like the eyes of the entire world are focused on you, judging you? When all you want to do is hide from the world, withdraw to your cave and never come out?
Do you have a defense mechanism that works? One that strengthens your self-esteem and helps you overcome the “episode” and move on?
I’m guessing that if you had a reliable method that worked, you wouldn’t be here on this blog, reading this. And I’ll be honest: reading on might not even help you further. Just because I found a method that works for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will for you. Everybody’s different.
My method works very, very well for me. Yes, it took time to get here – there are, in my experiences, no fast and hard cures for social anxiety of any type – but the success speaks for itself. I’m now living an almost entirely blush-free life. And the times when I do have an “episode”, I can overcome it with relative ease and very little anxiety and stress.
It’s actually quite simple: I’ve found three mantras that help me put everything back into my desired perspective. A perspective that lets me remember what is truly important in life, that celebrates my strengths and lifts my worry of other people’s opinions.
Those three mantras are…
- Be grateful.
- No expectations.
- Let it Go.
Last week, I detailed the first mantra, “Be Grateful”, and how and why it works for me. Today, I’ll be exploring the “No Expectations” mantra, and how it changed my life.
Expectations Won’t Always Be Met
In my opinion, expectations are a dangerous, self-sabotaging thing – at least when we focus them on other people. I’ve found that the less you expect of others, the less you will be disappointed. Also, the less you expect things to be or go a certain way, the more paths remain open to you, and the more you (re)act in your own interest – not someone else’s.
People with low self-esteem – which, as we well know, is part and parcel of social anxiety – tend to rely on others for praise and approval. We have trouble finding praise for ourselves within ourselves.
When approval is denied or simply not given, we are disappointed. Crushed. We blame ourselves because we weren’t good enough, smart enough, witty enough. We continue down the spiral of self-loathing and ever-dropping self-esteem for far longer than the person we think we disappointed even remembers the event.
So why expect their praise in the first place? Why cripple ourselves, our selves, this way?
A Recipe For Disaster and Heartbreak
Here’s the thing:
Nobody owes anybody anything in this world, beyond the tolerance to live and let live, and not restricting each others’ rights and freedoms. They really, truly don’t. This may sound sad and lonely, but it’s actually incredibly freeing.
Yes, rules of conduct and society dictate a give and take in relationships. And it’s wonderful when they exist in this pattern – especially when you don’t expect them to. Isn’t it a wonderful thing to be surprised in a good way, instead of disappointed in a bad?
But no other person can make you happy, if you can’t do so yourself. Expecting someone else to make you happy forever is unrealistic, not to mention extremely unfair. Why should they shoulder this burden for the rest of your life? At some point, they will fail to make you happy, and you will blame them for your unhappiness because they disappointed you – a disappointment which only rose because you had such unsustainable expectations in the first place.
Things will spiral downhill from there in a vicious circle of blame, frustration, anger and unhappiness on both sides.
Expectations Cripple Our Potential
I’ve found that when I work myself up into an “episode” about something or fall into a depressed mood, it’s often because expectations I had weren’t met. My thoughts go something like this:
- Why hasn’t my boyfriend called me yet? Doesn’t he want to talk to me?
- Why won’t my BFF come to the party with me? She promised! Doesn’t she want to spend time with me?
- Why doesn’t my boss acknowledge my hard work? Doesn’t he appreciate me as an employee?
See how we (“we”, since I’m assuming I’m not the only one who has these thoughts) expect others to lift us up all the time? When they don’t, we automatically believe it’s because there’s something wrong with us. We don’t take into account that the boyfriend may be busy at work, that the BFF might not be feeling well herself, that the boss believes his silence is approval enough. We don’t allow people their own moods and shortcomings, but expect them to deal with and compensate for our own.
We also make them responsible and crucial for our triumphs. Without their approval, we don’t unleash our full potential – because our own approval is worthless in our eyes.
Wouldn’t it be easier to fulfill our own expectations for ourselves? To seek our own approval instead of anyone else’s?
Yes. Yes, it definitely would.
The Satisfaction Of Expectations We Have In Others Is Out Of Our Control
What others do, think or say is out of our hands. Why waste time and energy in expecting certain outcomes that you have no control over?
- I can’t control when my boyfriend calls me.
- I can’t force my BFF to come to the party with me.
- I can’t make my boss praise me for doing a good job.
- I can stop sitting around waiting by the phone for my boyfriend to call, and do something more productive instead.
- I can go to the party by myself.
- I can praise myself for a job well done, for meeting my own demands.
- I can call my boyfriend.
- I can hang out with my BFF, just the two of us.
- I can ask my boss what he thinks of my performance.
You get the picture. Once you let go of a single expectation of how others should act towards you, a world of options opens up. And you get to choose the one that works best for you at this moment. You take control back into your own hands instead of laying it in someone else’s.
(This is all assuming there have been no promises or commitments made on the subject at hand. If they have been made, you can – and should – expect them to be met. You’re allowed to expect your spouse’s fidelity. It’s okay to expect someone to show up on time. And it’s okay to feel disappointed when such promises or commitments are broken by the other party.)
Have Expectations Only In Yourself – Or Let Them Go
When I recite the “No Expectations” mantra in my bad moments, I’m trying to figure out what I’m expecting from whom. If I’m expecting something from another person, I consciously adjust my thoughts to meet those expectations myself.
That’s what I want you to do, too. The next time you feel like someone disappointed you, try to figure out what you were expecting from them. Then, be honest with yourself: are those expectations based on your need for validation from others? If so, readjust those expectations to meet them yourself – see my examples above.
It’s not about not having any expectations at all, ever. It’s about focusing those expectations on the only person who can really truly satisfy them – you yourself. Or, if you can’t satisfy them, learning to let go of expectations you have in others.
Of course, the art of letting go is another sharp-fanged beast entirely, so much easier said than done. But it can be tamed, and I’ll tell you all about how I do it in my next post.
Until then, I’d love to hear about your stories and experiences on expectations. Have they made your life easier or more difficult? Do you get mad, sad or anxious when others don’t act the way you expect or wish them to?