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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 recognize contempt in a dysfunctional family

contempt
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If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you may have been treated with contempt. When your parents looked at you with disdain rather than love, that was contempt.

In his research, Dr. John Gottman calls this combination of emotions (anger and disgust) one of the biggest relationship killers.

Outward displays like eye rolling and a curled lip characterize contempt. It’s what Pete Walker refers to as “negative noticing” in his book Complex PTSD.

Outward displays like eye rolling and a curled lip characterize contempt. Click To Tweet

Growing up, my father treated me with a great deal of contempt. He never gave me any teaching or guidance; then when I did something wrong, he would sneer and belittle me.

I realize now how ridiculous it is to expect a child to know how to do something she’d never been taught. But that’s the backwards logic of the toxic parent.

The real meaning behind contempt

On the surface, contempt expresses superiority and disgust toward its subject. However, I’ve learned from mentors and other experts that it may reveal the opposite underneath.

This makes sense when I think about my ex-husband who would literally shoo me away when I expressed any kind of emotional need. (I had married someone like my father, who withheld affection and avoided emotional intimacy.)

His contempt likely arose out of fear around his ineptitude when it came to relating on an emotional level.

In this way, contempt appears as a display of superiority. But there may be subconscious feelings of inferiority behind the display.

As children, however, we’re not sophisticated enough to understand that. Even adults who don’t study these things would have trouble grasping the concept.

How such treatment affects the child

I rarely, if ever, experienced my parents gazing at me with love. They either ignored me or treated me with contempt.

I recently came across a photo of an aunt-in-law looking at my child self with adoration. I realized in a flash that my parents never looked at me like that.

The photo drove home the fact that someone who had only recently met me treated me with more love than my parents did.

contempt

Being raised on contempt conditions you to allow others to treat you that way. And you develop a harsh inner critic who piles on the shame as well.

This is why we have so much trouble relaxing or enjoying ourselves. We feel we must be doing something to prove our worth.

When we stop producing, we call ourselves lazy. Or we procrastinate because we never received the encouragement needed to push through challenges.

As a result, we have no idea how to give ourselves that needed encouragement. Similarly, if you never received praise for a job well done, you will not know how to give it to yourself.

Your parents did not have to call you names for you to know how they felt about you. Displays of contempt would signal your unworthiness of support and simple engagement.

Your parents did not have to call you names for you to know how they felt about you. Click To Tweet

Since we blamed ourselves for our parents’ contempt, we constantly tried to win them over. We felt if we could do the right thing, they’d finally love and accept us.

Due to our dependence on them, we had to believe they were right. We couldn’t risk thinking the ones responsible for us had such terrible judgment.

So, we internalized their contempt and turned it on ourselves.

Why parents might display contempt

It’s obvious our parents acted out of their own unhealed inner children. Why else would an adult feel the need to belittle and demonstrate superiority over a child?

Those parents we treated as supreme beings at the expense of ourselves were no more than bratty children who lacked the most basic emotional intelligence.

And if you’ve grown up and away from your dysfunctional family, I’m willing to bet they still are.

How to stop needing closure after a toxic relationship

closure
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When a relationship ends, people often seek closure. When you leave someone due to their toxicity, freedom is often not enough. In fact, you cannot feel free without answers to lingering questions.

Closure refers to a feeling of resolution and understanding following the end of a relationship. But when does the need for closure hold you back from moving forward?

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. That’s the same mindset that kept you in the relationship, despite all the signs this person would never change.

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. Click To Tweet

With that said, is it possible you’ll never receive the resolution your heart desires? More importantly, can you move forward and heal without the elusive closure you seek?

Do we need closure in a relationship?

The need for closure keeps you focused on the past relationship. It leaves your healing in the hands of the one who wounded you in the first place.

The idea that someone committed to misunderstanding you will suddenly give you validation makes no sense. And why would you trust them to tell you the truth after all their lies and manipulation?

The need for closure could be your self-saboteur protecting you from the hard work of healing. It lovingly convinces you that if you only extract a few choice words from this person you’ll be okay.

But healing never rests on one factor. It’s multi-faceted, ongoing, and ever-evolving. And it’s a journey that ventures within.

Seeking closure can disrupt this journey and re-traumatize you. When you go back to the toxic person and get gaslit or manipulated, you re-enter the dysfunctional dynamic.

Seeking closure can disrupt the healing journey and re-traumatize you. Click To Tweet

That can lead to backsliding into self-doubt, guilt, and emotional dysregulation. You become susceptible to their control and power games, and lose your hard-earned autonomy.

Resolution comes from within

closure

Desire for closure can be a form of emotional avoidance. Rather than sitting with the difficult feelings that arise after a broken relationship, you tell yourself answers to certain questions will solve the problem.

Often, the regret we feel after leaving a relationship has to do with how much we put up with and for how long. We mourn over the time invested and the loss associated with our sunk costs.

We try to redeem this wasted time and energy by finding answers to unanswerable questions. But, there is often nothing we can do to make sense of this loss. Except to take the hard lessons and move on.

The promise of closure can distract us from this seemingly grim fact. Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing.

Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing. Click To Tweet

It’s a one shot deal we believe has the power to solve all our woes. But healing results from a daily practice of facing our emotions, setting boundaries, and establishing a solid relationship with ourselves.

The truth is, closure comes from within and can never be granted by anyone else. It came when you finally decided to walk away from that toxic relationship.

It serves you to remember the source of your pain will never be the fount of your resolution.

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?