“We will always tend to fulfill our own expectation of ourselves.”
– Brian Tracy, best-selling American author and motivator
“You’re in a room,” I begin. “A small room and the only furniture is a table with two wooden chairs. In the centre of the table is a large piece of plate glass separating the two halves – almost like a window you must look through to see the person seated in the other chair.”
I will sometimes use hypnosis in my self-esteem sessions to help clients break through emotional barriers. In this particular session, I asked a male client to visualize his wife, whom he’d been having difficulty communicating with, seated in the empty chair across from him.
“I see her,” he exclaims. “She’s seated across from me now wearing a blue dress.”
“Now look down,” I direct, “and you’ll see a wax pencil on the table – the type the deli uses when they wrap up cold cuts. Your wife is there now and she’s looking straight at you. As you pick up the pencil, you feel compelled to write or draw something important on the glass.”
“I’m drawing a smile on my wife’s face – she doesn’t smile much anymore.”
“Are there things you’d like to say to her? If so, write them on the glass.”
“Yes, there are both words and phrases like be happy, less critical, affectionate, less demanding and more understanding. I write, ‘Say that you love and appreciate me more often.’”
“Is she doing anything while you’re writing these words on the glass?”
“She’s writing something, too. Wait. She’s finished. She’s walking away now.”
“In your mind, get up and walk around to her side of the table. What do you see?”
“Words,” he replies and then his lip begins to tremble. “Be happy, less critical, affectionate, less demanding and more understanding. Say that you love and appreciate me more often.”
I chose to share this dialogue (with permission) because I think it speaks volumes about the unvoiced expectations that we place upon the people in our lives, especially life partners. Too many of us believe that in order feel happy or satisfied, we need the people in our lives to be a certain way and we become frustrated by their seeming unwillingness to comply.
In relationships, frustration can arise from what I term “unavowed expectations.” These are expectations that have been set forth yet never expressed or, if expressed, never affirmed.
How often have you figuratively written an expectation for someone without discussing that expectation with the person or considering whether it’s realistic or even desirable?
We’re not mind-readers, though our actions often suggest that we believe otherwise. If you’re in the habit of creating unavowed expectations, then you’re probably in the habit of making false assumptions about why others respond to you in the manner they do.
Awareness – a principal component to building and maintaining high self-esteem – is born out of a desire to bring clarity and a sense of purpose to all of our interactions. Clarity takes courage and a willingness to break the assumption cycle and to speak up. When we learn to be open and honest with ourselves, it’s easier to be open and honest with everyone else.
You may be holding in mind an idealized image of your partner – who he or she should or could be if only he or she would act in accordance with your wants and needs. Have you ever contrasted your partner’s words or behaviour against this image and found him or her lacking?
Too many of us believe that in order to feel happy or satisfied, we need the people in our lives to act a certain way, and we become frustrated by their seeming unwillingness to comply.
Think about your relationships for a moment: the ones you have at work, the ones enjoyed with friends and, in particular, the relationship with your life partner. Can you remember a time when you felt especially disappointed or frustrated – when your partner failed to deliver in a manner you expected or required? Was there clarity around the issue? Did you express in clear and certain terms your expectations and receive a confirmation of understanding in return?
Clarifying expectations is an ongoing process.
If you’re constantly experiencing frustration or resentment in your relationships then ask yourself whether you, your partner, or the other individuals involved in the relationship have ever clarified the expectations.
In reality, it is not the individuals but often our own unfulfilled expectations of them that create stress and resentment. Elliott Larsen, the civil rights activist, echoed this thought when he wrote, “Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.”
Are you feeling frustrated or stymied in your relationships? Ask yourself whether you’ve clarified your expectations. If you haven’t, ask yourself why not.
With a little open and honest dialogue, you may find your partner expects the same things that you expect. You may also find that behind the glass, free of your wants and needs, is the person you’re hoping to find.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His most recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca