I don't even know how to write about it and it really is quite simple.
Maybe that is the best way.
Keep it simple.
Last night I took Youngest at a hockey game. I don't particularly like hockey and faced with watching the testosterone battle on the ice, or listening to the testosterone driven conversations about salary and successes by the dads around me, I chose to turn my attention to watching Youngest.
He wears his emotions for everyone to see. So I observed....
...the good things:
had popcorn and a drink
got high fives by players coming out of the tunnel (big smile!)
and the not good things:
did not get a t-shirt tossed into crowd
did not get a water bottle tossed into crowd
almost got a hot dog tossed into crowd, but shoved out of the way and hurt his leg (crushed look, followed by throwing hat on ground in frustration, and later tears as the 'leg hurt").
In the car he was quiet and I asked him what he was thinking about, what was the conversation he was having in his head right, now.
He erupted with the story of missing out on the hot dog, getting pushed, hurt and talked about which kids he knew who did get something. He complained there were not enough t-shirts, that one of his friends actually got two, and that he should have HAD the hot dog.
His internal dialogue was all negative, self-pity, frustration and full of "it's not fair."
I felt crushed. All I ever want is for him to be happy. But his choice of where to expend his energy, where to focus this internal dialogue, was never going to lead him there.
What were his expectations for the game? Were they realistic? And, if he hinges his happiness, his ability to enjoy an experience, on unrealistic expectations then he will most certainly walk away feeling "less than".
"I would have had a good time if...."
"It was ok but...."
Expectations....holy crap...there are so many ways to look at this.
All I could think about was how to help him.
Have I contributed to his expectations by creating 'perfect' experiences for him? Has my encouragement that you can do anything caused him to feel like if something MAY happen and doesn't the entire experience was worthless?
Should I be helping him set lower expectations so that he can experience the exceptions in a way that brings joy? How low do you go? How low is too low?
How does anyone get motivated if they expect nothing?
I see it when he plays baseball and doesn't hit or pitch as well as he knows he can. Is that different because he has experienced this success himself before so knows it is achievable? But if you hit well every time, does that become the "new normal" and then you set new expectations? That sounds like progress, which should be good, right?
Is one a goal and one an expectation maybe. You can work toward a goal with the expectation of achieving it and still not get there. So is that disappointment then valid? When does it move from valid to defining your personality as someone who feels nothing goes their way?
How did he become this child with these crazy expectations?
When he was three and learning to read he would burst out in tears if he defending my parenting to well meaning teachers who were concerned that we were pushing him too hard. He didn't need us pushing him....he was all over himself!
Maybe he came wired this way?
So I guess then, my job is to help him find ways to manage his expectations.
And this will help me too.
If we can spend some time thinking or talking through what we expect to happen before we engage, we can better identify if our expectations are in line with reality.
During my most recent visit with my family doctor, she told me my approach to relationships, expecting people to be who they say they are and do what they say they are going to, and communicate if things change, is very naive and immature. I was floored. Really? Does that mean everyone is a liar? Or does it mean that people have good intentions but when they don't or can't or won't follow through they have no responsibility to have a potentially awkward conversation about it?
If I expect others to say what they mean and be who they say they are and communicate if they can't be---do I model that behavior myself or just expect it of others?
It was the first time I had considered that maybe the problem was with me.
Maybe youngest and I are cut from the same cloth. Maybe this lesson in expectations is an opportunity for me to look inward at how I contribute to my own dissatisfaction and sense of self-worth.
When you feel like people continue to not live up to what they say to you, at some point, you have to start to feel like you aren't worth their effort.
My self-worth---my perceived sense of value---gets carved out one scoop at a time, until I feel hollow.
There is nothing left inside to give, even if you want to, when someone asks for help or you need to make a decision. No guiding compass, no strength to draw from, the brain shuts down, the body shuts down...just echos of doubt and fear and nothingness.
"I can't... I can't I can't I can't."
And that is when I end up in the dark spiral.
I don't wish that on anyone. But the links between family history and mental wellness are tenuously supported, and so I need to work with all my kids.
Being aware is the first step to understanding what you are doing and that will help you find different ways to think, act and respond when you are faced with situations that trigger these automatic negative thoughts.
Work in progress....HARD work in progress...daily....