3 Steps to Managing Your Expectations of Others

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Photo by Timur Romanov on Unsplash
I believe the spiritual path of self-improvement is the most important reason for this life on earth, I often find myself exasperated by others. Especially in our current worldwide situation, all the fear and uncertainty is leading to some nasty accusations and name calling all sides of the political spectrum. Part of me gets so frustrated, because I want to say, "Come on, guy! We are the good side. We are the loving side. Get with the program!"

Obviously this would fall on mostly deaf ears, because human nature does a couple a things: 1) we tend to think our way is the right way. That makes sense. Otherwise why would we even be following it, right? And 2) We don't notice our own flaws well. Knowing that I am guilty of this, too, makes it very difficult for me to take an authoritative tone on issues and concerns. We all come with different perspectives and experiences and levels of growth, and if I am expecting the world to see things my way and my way only, then I am sort of missing the point of spiritual self-improvement.

I tend to be fairly lenient and easy with kids and teenagers. I see the pain and the confusion and I can empathize with their difficult backgrounds. When someone hits 18, though, I sort of expect them to be sound, moral, and self-led citizens. That's really not fair. The more I think about it, the more I realize just as we all start at a different level professionally or economically, we also start at a different level spiritually. We are not just empty vessels responding to the environment around us (sorry Aristotle). We each start off with our own unique personality and ability to give and receive. There is no judgement here. I was the second child. I was demanding and expected as much as my brother got, if not more. This led to multiple power struggles and probably a pretty hard hit on my self-esteem. I used to pity myself greatly over this, but then I realized that I was sent to the world with a particular set of skills to hone, and maybe learning to tame my ego was one of them. 

It seems to be a trend lately to raise bratty girls and then say they are just destined to be Lady Boss's. I think we need to be very careful with this. While I don't believe you need to tame your child's spirit, an unchecked ego can make an unpleasant person, both inside and out. But maybe they were destined to be Lady Boss's. Maybe that is their particular set of skills. What I think we forget, is all the ways the world measures the worth of a person means very little to the eternities of existence. A person's bratty heavy-handedness might make them an asset  here, but in the afterlife who are they really going to be?

Things are shifting in the spiritual world around us, and I am not sure what it means. I feel old alliances-those spirtual connections to people-changing and it is still strange to me. People whose spirits I feel comforted by, even if I rarely see them, seem to be pulling away. It isn't painful-just different. Now you could argue that perhaps it is I who is pulling away and I am just projecting it onto them. Maybe. Or maybe we are all connected by invisible silken cords and these are weakening. Who is to say? Perhaps the mission we served together is winding down. I eagerly await my next group of spiritual sisters. I get the weirdness when the words are spoken on an Earthly level. 

We have these expectations of people to meet our standards. To be on our level, to be with us, you must think, feel, and act, this way, this way, and that way. I know a lady who when we speak of religion says, All paths lead to God, but she has evolved beyond Christianity. On the one hand, I sort of understand where she is coming from. However, on the other, is one level really higher or beyond another? Maybe each person has a path which has been tailor-made for them to follow. Maybe Christianity is a higher path for some, particularly if they need to develop certain spiritual aspects of themselves. So while I completely understand and at times agree with her, at the same time, when I start thinking this, I think I am being very self-centered and self-important. Some people are very uncomfortable with the idea that all paths lead to God. They believe there is one way, and you are in grave danger if you don't agree. When confronted with this viewpoint is is important to remember often people are most concerned about the souls of people they care about. You have to live your own path, but try to be understanding of the bigger picture.
Comparisons don't work. Let me say that another way. Spiritual comparisons between souls do not work. 

That said, we still live in this physical world and have expectations of others. I have thought a lot about what I can expect from others and it comes down to the idea of boundaries.

1: Inner circle. The inner circle is those closest family members (and maybe a friend or two), who get to be near you almost daily. Our expecations for them are different because we have a deeper intimacy and level of sharing. My expectations for those within my inner circle are honesty, valuing my need for privacy, and meeting worldly expectations (helping with bills and the household). I expect to be accepted for all my crackpot ideas and beliefs, but also expect honest and constructive feedback and criticism. There is no room in the inner circle for jealousy or one upmanship. That is not to say it doesn't occur. We often use our inner circle for dumping of negative emotions, however, if this happens too often, it can destroy the bond. 

2. The Second Circle. Second circle people are those family and friends who do not live with us and who do not need to know all our daily information. They may be the coworkers we have contact with regularly, the neighbor we meet frequently for playgroup, the relative who lives a few miles away, the church friend, or the coffee buddy. I expect honestly and acceptance from this group. Loyalty is a common factor to remain in this group. This group provides comaraderie and support beyond that of the family. We can be tempted to dump on them, but it is usually a bad idea. If they were safe for dumping, they would be in the Inner Circle. 

3. The Outer Circle. The third circle are those others you interact with on a regular basis, but who don't really play a huge role in your life. Perhaps the coworker you chat with by the coffee maker, the cousin on facebook, or an acquaintance at church. I expect politeness and professional competency from this group. This means, I still don't need my cousin on Facebook to tell me I am going to Hell because I believe differently (rude), but I expect a greeting and how are you when we meet. If I really like someone I might share more honest information, hoping to move them into the second circle, but that has to be reciprocated. If they are unwilling to take the step as well, they are making their own boundaries pretty clear. 

Then of course, there are the outsiders. We are polite to those fellow humans.

These circles help me to keep the correct distance I need between myself and others. When I am not aware of my interactions, I tend lump everyone into two groups: The Second Circle and outsiders. Thus I tend to push close members out and pull outer circle people in too close for their own comfort. I am still working very hard on this area of my life.

So now that we have this idea of being on different paths of spiritual growth, and the understanding that different people fulfill different roles in our lives (and we in theirs--and isn't it the worst when you both have different expectations for which circle you each fit in?), it is time to figure out how to manage our expectations of others.

1. Are they acting within the boundaries and expecations of their circle? For example, I expect my kids to be honest with me. However, I also try to respect their privacy. On rough days, my husband and I bitch at each other. This cannot happen every day, and name calling and screaming absolutely violates expecations. 
So let's say my husband comes home and starts complaining about the house and the kids and the President of the United States. If this happens all the time, that is unfair  and something's gotta give. If it is a one-off then perhaps, I need to be understanding and see if HE needs a little down time or an ear to listen to his troubles.

2. Are they just making personal choices I don't agree with? For example, I can be judgemental at times. I think routine circumcision of male infants is wrong. However, if I try to put that expecatation on others, who prefer to remove the foreskin off their newborn son's penis, I am going to ruffle a lot of feathers. We all come to the field with a different understanding of how the game is played. For example, with circumcision, Janie's mom had her brother circumcised: the doctor said it was healthier back then, the baby book Janie picked up said it wasn't a big deal and there were pros which really convinced her, and her doctor really stressed the pros. Janie is going to want to circumcize her baby. Whereas, Katie read a lot of books which stressed the pros of remaining intact, noted the circumcision rate is other developed countries was rather low, and her pediatrician didn't mention it as it was hospital policy not to push elective surgeries. Well, she is going to come to a different decision. Both dearly love their little boys and want what is best for them. so when I find people making decisions and choices which I might not agree with, but don't really affect me, I have to chill a bit.

3. Is this person doing the best they can? Yes, I like cheerful servers when I go out to eat. But if her boyfriend just dumped her, her boss just yelled at her, and her socks are wet, maybe just getting out to the table and filling your coffee is the best she can manage right now. Maybe Chris dates a string of flaky girls he finds in dance clubs then complains he can't find the one, but maybe that is all Chris knows to do. We don't punish a two year old for impatience, because it is developmentally appropriate for them not to have patience. We use short easy words to guide them and work on managing our own patience to get through the moment while modeling the same behavior we want them to show. When we find others are not meeting our expectations, it is vitally important we step back and consider if what we are asking is within their realm of abilities at this time. If the answer is maybe not, then we need to scaffold with our help to get them to where we want them to be or, particularly with strangers and those outside the Inner Circle, change our expectations.

Setting up my own understanding of what role a person has in my life and stepping back to consider where they personally might stand in their own personal development has greatly helped me maintain appropriate expectations as well as boundaries.

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