I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of English friends who are winging it here from the UK as I type. I keep checking the flight arrival screen on my phone to see any new information. It has been 12 years since seeing these friends, which feels like a mini-life time. We have two kids now and they are married and have struggled with some health issues.
As I scurry around the house to make it all ‘presentable’, which is loosely defined that way by me. I wonder aloud what I ‘should’ do to make it better, what I ‘ought’ to do to meet their expectations. What I ‘must’ do in order to make their visit ‘the best ever’. I realize I am falling for the trap of unachievable expectations – again!
When meeting with clients, the ‘shoulds’ come up fairly quickly as people are describing their worries, challenges, dreams, hesitations and struggles. I may quip, “Be careful, don’t should on yourself”. It is so much easier to say this than practice it. The is the ‘we-are- all-flawed’ reality of all therapists, really.
I heard it so clearly when others speak it but, don’t always catch it when it falls from my lips. Partly because, the majority of time we are internally vexed with our worries and we don’t say them out loud.
There is a lot to be learned from writing down our own thoughts. In our digital world, many may scoff at the idea of hand writing down our worries but, there is something very tangible and defining when we are able to write them down and then they have boundaries around them.
Those ‘shoulds’ show themselves more clearly as high expectations that are often someone else’s values that we are carrying around with us as a compass for our choices. I find that when I do this, I guess incorrectly, meaning people really don’t need me to do things their way or I get resentful that I have assumedthat is what they want and have pushed my wishes aside.
In those cases, I find, that the empowerment I feel in rewording my statements from ‘shoulds’ to ‘would-likes’ certainly match my values better. I am more able to set boundaries around what is reasonable and achievable from the too-high dream scenarios.
So, as I dash off the airport, house still a dusty house, it is still our home. I am feeling more calm that my friendship means more in the time we spend together than in their assessment of my housecleaning skills. I am slowly able to redefine my expectations and feel ready to enjoy our friends.