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How to stop expectation from ruining your life

expectation
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

It’s often said that comparison is the thief of joy, and expectation is the close cousin to that robber. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you compare reality to what could have been and feel you come up short.

Instead of accepting things as they are, we stay focused on the future. We see happiness somewhere outside of us only after certain conditions get met. We wrongly believe we have more control over the future than the present.

An antidote to expectation

Mindfulness can help us stay present and avoid the negative effects of too much expectation. Rather than gratitude (which can be overrated), mindfulness lets you accept the here and now without judgment or criticism.

There’s profound peace in allowing yourself to dwell in the present moment rather than ruminating over the past or future.

It can be an opportunity to practice acceptance of your emotions. Maybe it’s okay to feel disappointment and anger. It’s possible these feelings need our attention more than doggedly pursuing a goal.

Because that goal you think will be so fulfilling may not feel like much when you get there. We tend to overestimate how happy we’ll feel after we achieve something.

That’s why when you reach a goal you thought would make your life perfect, you often feel deflated. For the most part, happiness is an inside job and changing external circumstances may not have the impact you desire.

External motivation

Your expectation may also be based on something outside of yourself. Sometimes society plants ideas in our heads. We don’t stop to consider if that’s what we really want.

These socially-sanctioned expectations can include finding the perfect partner, or working as a digital nomad. You may be experiencing frustration and disappointment over something you didn’t really want in the first place.

I recently worked with someone who expressed a desire to find a circle of friends. When we looked deeper, she preferred to be on her own but felt pressured by societal norms around friendship.

I’m not suggesting we live lives of solitude without connection. However, at the beginning of a healing journey, you may want to prioritize time on your own to go within and get to know yourself better.

Becoming your own best friend takes precedence over friendships with others. And it helps you choose the right people for you because you know yourself better.

Trying to make friends without first understanding your needs and wants and how to express them can backfire on you. You may default to people pleasing and become friends with people who don’t really see you and who take advantage of you.

Expectation as opportunity

expectation

Too much expectation can actually limit your outcomes. Rather than opening up to all possibilities, you are hyper-focused on the desired result.

When expectation mismatches reality, take the lesson and redirect your mission. Adjusting your sails when the wind blows your boat in a different direction can help alleviate the pain of disappointment.

One final note: expectation can keep us in chains when we cling to the hope that other people will change. Especially in dysfunctional families, refusing to accept peoples’ limitations can really stunt your growth.

You must let go of the fantasy that people who have behaved the same way all your life are going to change now. And you must take control of your healing so it is independent of what other people do.

You must quash the expectation that toxic family members will one day see and understand you. It would be nice if that happened, but your wellness is not contingent on other peoples’ reactions toward you.

How to do self care when you’re a c-ptsd survivor

Most of us know the importance of self-care. However, for those of us dealing with c-ptsd, self care can feel elusive.

Much of the literature around self care focuses on setting boundaries or managing time. As though if we only carved out more time for ourselves we’d have self care in the bag.

But, for many of us, lack of time is not the only issue. And boundaries are far more complicated than simply saying ‘no’.

I’ve heard people say self care makes them feel lonely or guilty. I also know that when you grow up with unmet needs you have no idea how to meet those needs yourself.

When you grow up with unmet needs, you have no idea how to meet those needs yourself. Click To Tweet

When you’re discouraged from attending to your needs and instead made to focus on others, self care can feel impossible.

You’ve been conditioned to ignore or suppress the signals your body gives that tell you what it wants. So, you push through to exhaustion, and sitting still feels unbearable.

You find it hard to believe you have value if you’re not producing or giving. You can’t imagine you’re valuable simply because you exist, and that you deserve to have your needs met.

You find it hard to believe you have value if you're not producing. You can't imagine you're valuable simply because you exist. Click To Tweet

Self-neglect as self-protection

In a counterintuitive way, self-neglect was a form of self-care as a child. That’s because any expression of a need got you punished, rejected, or abandoned.

So, it felt safer to not have any needs at all. You minimized them, pushed them down, and did your best not to have them.

Now, after a lifetime of ignoring them, you’re supposed to magically know how to take care of them. It doesn’t work that way.

The common advice around setting boundaries, for example, makes it sound so simple. You just let people know what you will and won’t tolerate.

However, this simplistic advice rarely takes into account the terror that backlash against your boundaries can produce.

They rarely give you follow up on what to do when someone belittles your attempt to set boundaries. Or rails against them.

And all your fears around setting boundaries get confirmed. You experience the rejection and powerlessness that felt life-threatening as a child. And you feel like that child again.

Without knowing the reasons why boundaries are so hard to set, you can hardly set them effectively. Setting boundaries feels life-threatening because, as a child, they were.

Without knowing the reasons why boundaries are so hard to set, you can hardly set them effectively. Click To Tweet

Your inability to set boundaries kept you safe. That’s because as a dependent, you had no way to care for yourself.

Therefore, you had to keep your caregivers happy in order to survive. Because if they left you, you’d be dead.

So, let’s not sugarcoat how incredibly difficult setting boundaries can feel for the c-ptsd survivor. And let’s thank our inner child for keeping us safe by refusing to set them.

Self-care and c-ptsd

self care c-ptsd

Self care for the c-ptsd survivor may look different than bubble baths and spa days. It starts with discovering what you want when you’ve been forced to suppress your desires.

I encourage people to make a list of things they like using their senses as a guide. What smells, touches, tastes, appeal to you, for example?

Another way to connect with yourself is to set a timer for five or ten minutes and simply sit there. This mindful awareness means you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them.

You may be surprised at the information you get during these mindfulness sessions. The feelings you’ve suppressed have a chance to come to the surface and speak to you.

Tune into your body and ask it “what do you need right now?”. Sometimes I need to give myself a hug. Or stop and pay attention to my surroundings as a grounding practice when I feel anxious.

My body rarely says it needs a manicure or facial. The common self care practices that come to mind when we think of the phrase may not apply to the c-ptsd survivor.

Rather than sitting at a desk to write, I sit in a comfortable spot with a blanket over my legs. I remind myself the great Roald Dahl used to write this way, too!

self care c-ptsd

Going for a walk can be a great way to gain clarity and slow down the hamster wheel of thoughts. There’s evidence walking emulates EMDR therapy and shares some of the benefits for c-ptsd survivors as well.

How to deal with a narcissist or toxic person

toxic person
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Do you have a toxic person in your life who lacks empathy and compassion? They refuse to understand you or take responsibility for their part in any problem.

These people manipulate rather than communicate honestly. They gaslight you as a way to control you and the narrative. It’s always about them and what they want.

That’s who we’re describing when we use the term narcissist in this post. They do not need an official diagnosis for you to know they are very bad for you.

The narcissist or toxic person might be in your family. They could be a spouse or ex-spouse, someone you work with, a friend, or romantic partner.

You may have several of these people in various areas of your life. And sometimes you need to detach from them for your own mental health.

Other times, it’s not possible or desirable to go no contact with the narcissist. You may have to co-parent with an ex-spouse or encounter a toxic person in the workplace.

So, how do you deal with these people whether or not estrangement is an option?

Silence in response to the toxic person

If you’ve made the difficult decision to cut ties with a toxic person in your life, they rarely go quietly. Narcissists are not in the business of accepting or complying with your wishes.

If you've made the difficult decision to cut ties with a toxic person in your life, they rarely go quietly. Click To Tweet

When you finally draw that line and go no contact, it’s usually after years of trying to forge a functional relationship. Going no contact means you’ve faced the truth that no such relationship is possible.

The narcissist will use hoovering to suck you back in. You will feel compelled to explain and justify yourself, to make them understand.

But there is no understanding with the toxic person. They are not interested in you, but in getting what they want. And what they want is to control you and get back to the way things were between you.

In my experience, there is nothing you can say or do that will make them understand your point of view. Silence works on the narcissist because it withholds the supply they desire.

The gray rock method

Gray rock is a psychology term that refers to you becoming as dull and lifeless as the object in question. When narcissists prompt you to explain or plead for understanding, you only provide fuel for their toxic fire.

Gray rock is a psychology term that refers to you becoming as dull and lifeless as the object in question. Click To Tweet

You may know already that no amount of talking will get the narcissist to see your side. Instead, it may fill you with self-doubt and reverse steps forward you’ve made in your healing journey.

If you’re in a situation where no contact is not yet possible, you can go “gray rock” instead. It means you refuse to engage with them in any meaningful way.

At first, they may challenge you on your new way of communicating. They might mock you or try to get you to engage the way you used to.

If you can withstand all that and continue to act like a gray rock, they will cease to have power over you. They will likely give up trying to bait you and move on to a better source of supply.

But, isn’t silence and gray rock phony?

toxic person

If both of these options feel inauthentic, they are. However, it’s not possible to have an honest and intimate relationship with a narcissist or toxic person.

It's not possible to have an honest and intimate relationship with a narcissist or toxic person. Click To Tweet

When you share your feelings openly and seek understanding, you get nothing but abuse. They objectify you as they use you to fill their own need for attention, control, and power.

No matter how good your intentions or how tactfully you approach them, your words will never have the desired effect.

They will never make a toxic person love you, understand you, express remorse, or share their honest emotions. These elements of true relationship are inaccessible to the narcissist or toxic person.

It is rare for this type of person to change or self-reflect. While you’ve been working on yourself, they’ve stayed where they are.

Silence and the gray rock method are modes of self-preservation. You’ve finally decided you can no longer play this unwinnable game.

It may come after physical illness brought on by stress. Or mental anguish that makes it hard to function. You may realize your very life depends on this self-protection.

Whatever the reason, you’ve finally accepted that reasoning will get you nowhere with the narcissist. It’s time to take care of yourself.

Hoovering: how to overcome the narcissist’s tactic

hoovering
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Hoovering is a term named after the vacuum cleaner brand. It describes the narcissist’s attempts to “suck” you back in after you’ve separated or they sense you detaching from them.

For example, I went no contact with my emotionally abusive mother years ago. Despite the fact I’ve blocked her messages on email and phone, she continues to try to reel me in.

It’s only recently I’ve been able to discern the difference between hoovering and sincere attempts at reconciliation. Before that, my mother’s messages, when they made it through, produced guilt and self-doubt in me.

Now, I realize her attempts at reaching out have been clear cut examples of hoovering. Let’s look at some of the differences between authentic connection and a narcissist’s manipulation.

What hoovering looks like

1. Hoovering is a way to draw you in so the narcissist can regain control over you. Instead of extending sincere empathy or compassion, they view you as an object to be handled.

Hoovering is meant to draw you in so the narcissist can regain control over you. Click To Tweet

2. Such contact can send you spiraling. You go from focus on yourself and your healing to focus on them and the feelings they produce in you.

Because hoovering is seductive, you may second-guess yourself and question why you’re being so hard on this person. That’s because narcissists can put on the charm when they need to.

3. While you’ve been working on yourself, your abuser has likely done zero self-reflection. Their communication is designed to manipulate you into re-entering the relationship. Even when they’ve done nothing to demonstrate they’ve changed.

4. They threaten to harm themselves, even commit suicide. My mother has threatened to take her own life countless times, but she’s still here. (Of course, if you think they’re in immediate danger you can call 911.)

Rewriting history

5. They act as if nothing is wrong between you. This prevents them from having to face the unbearable (to them) emotions that remorse and true reconciliation require.

My mother has used the tactic of asking if I have something that once belonged to her. She has also emailed to say she ran into someone we both once knew.

The former produced guilt that I did not have the item and fear that she would retaliate. The latter resulted in depressive feelings because this person reminded me of my traumatic childhood.

My mother was only thinking of herself and her need to draw me back in by any means necessary. As usual, she filled her own emptiness at my expense.

6. They may seem apologetic and make promises about changing. Test them, however, by expressing your valid reservations and watch how quickly they turn on you.

If you mention their past behavior, let the gaslighting begin. Rewriting history is the narcissist’s special skill.

If you mention their past behavior, let the gaslighting begin. Rewriting history is the narcissist's special skill. Click To Tweet

8. If they’ve been unsuccessful in re-establishing contact, they might send out their flying monkeys. These are people they enlist to do their dirty work, and contact you on their behalf.

What to do when faced with hoovering

hoovering

Don’t fall for it! Narcissists tend to attract sensitive, empathic, people. As a result, their contact will likely pull at your heartstrings and arouse guilt. That’s their plan.

Instead, hold fast to your boundaries. If you’ve gone no contact, remain so. Silence is the best defense against a narcissist.

Hold fast to your boundaries. If you've gone no contact, remain so. Silence is the best defense against a narcissist. Click To Tweet

There are good reasons you’ve detached from your abuser. Don’t let their tactics make you forget the whole history that got you here.

If you’re like most narcissistic abuse victims, it’s taken a long time to gather the courage to stand up for yourself. Keep your needs front and center and protect yourself against this harmful relationship.

Remember, while you’ve been working on yourself and healing, your abuser has been doing no such thing. If you let yourself back into their lair it will be a dark Groundhog Day soon enough.

Resist the urge to catastrophize. When my mother contacts me, for example, I go into a panic that she’ll never stop and I’ll never be free of her. How will she retaliate?

But the silent treatment works. She gives up until the next hoovering episode. Presumably, she’s getting her supply from somewhere else.

Supply is what narcissists seek from other people to try and fill their chronic emptiness. There is no honest human connection with these people; only what they can get from you. And it’s never enough.

References:

Medicine Net: What does being hoovered mean?

MBG Relationships: What is Hoovering in Relationships?

What are flying monkeys and how to deal with them

flying monkeys
Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

The term “flying monkeys” comes from the classic film The Wizard of Oz. The wicked witch enlisted these creatures to do her bidding. They followed her instructions regardless of their evil intent.

Interestingly, when she died, the monkeys celebrated. It seemed they weren’t inherently evil themselves, but followed her out of fear and conditioning.

In psychology, the term has come to describe people who do a narcissist’s bidding. If you’ve ever set boundaries with a narcissist, it will be a flying monkey who approaches you to smooth things over.

By smooth over, I mean gaslight, trick, guilt trip, and manipulate. I’ve been on the receiving end of flying monkeys in both in-law and family of origin relationships.

Dysfunctional families tend to cater to the most toxic person in the bunch. Much like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. The other family members do everything in their power to keep the toxic person happy.

My story

I set boundaries with my mother for the first time as a young woman. Soon after, I received a call from her sister, not to encourage, support, or understand me. No, she had been sent by my mother to cajole, guilt, and blame me for being out of contact.

Later, I married into a dysfunctional family who also enabled a scarily toxic matriarch. Again, when I set boundaries with my monster-in-law, her husband got sent to get me back on board with the family system.

These flying monkeys can come across as sweet and well-intentioned. But their sole aim is to get you into line at the expense of yourself. Like the monkey army in the film, they enlist to fight the witch’s battles.

Flying monkeys never have your best interests in mind. And they will damage you if you let them. They will erase all the hard work you put into setting boundaries and telling the truth.

How do narcissists get flying monkeys?

Not always through fear mongering or aggression. Some will manipulate to get sympathy so their supporters feel compelled to help them.

For example, my father-in-law played the role of enabler in their family. He probably felt it his job to rescue his wife. As a result, he believed her when she turned the tables and made me into the aggressor.

All the while the narcissist/toxic person is sitting back and watching someone else do their dirty work. They enjoy the feeling of being above the person they are persecuting. And gaslighting them into believing they are the toxic one.

Flying monkeys lack empathy, integrity, have weak wills, and only want to keep things the way they are. They may seek to avoid the wrath of the narcissist/toxic person. Or they want to appear as a fixer and enjoy the attention.

Whatever the reason, beware! You thought dealing with the narcissist was bad enough. Now you’ve got to fend off her flunkies off, too.

How to deal with flying monkeys

flying monkeys

1. Know what they are

Through this and other articles, learn about the phenomenon of flying monkeys. Remind yourself they need not appear evil to hurt you.

See through their sympathetic act and recognize the disconnect between soft spoken words and their true intent. That is, to get you back in line and abandon yourself in the process.

Your persecutor may have duped them into believing they are doing good work. They may think they are rescuing you by bringing you back into the family fold.

2. Listen to your intuition

Listen to your body’s cues. Mine told me that this person was not on my side and I needed to protect myself.

Flying monkeys can be people you thought you could trust. And that can feel heartbreaking.

3. Strengthen your sense of self

If you’ve grown up around dysfunction, you may suffer from low self-worth. Your sense of self may feel fractured which makes you easier to manipulate.

If you’re unsure of yourself, flying monkeys can gaslight you and make you believe you are the abuser. They will play on your self-doubt and help their puppet masters look good while throwing you under the bus.

The more you learn about narcissism and gaslighting, the more equipped you will be to deal with it when it comes your way. Stay strong in the face of the unbelievable.

Do not get swayed by people who refuse to face the dark truth. Reconsider spending time with those who deny obvious dysfunction. Some so-called positivity is toxic and can do more harm that good.