Have you ever suffered from an attack of the “shoulds”? How did you feel afterwards- heavy? Depressed? Anxious? Tense? Pissed off? Sad? Alone?  Whatever it was, even if the “should” was momentarily motivating, I would imagine the longer term impact left you feeling worse rather than better.  Especially if your “shoulds” follow you around like your shadow, never leaving your side.

Somewhere along the line, many of us developed the notion that harsh self talk was going to keep us “on track”, but psychologically speaking it actually undermines our sense of confidence that we can trust ourselves to know what we need.  Compassionate self talk can get us to the same end point, with much less turmoil and a boost to our self esteem. When we practice speaking to ourselves from a place of compassion, we are validating our present circumstances and using tender or encouraging messages to move ourselves forward.

When the “shoulds” enter into the realm of our relationships, we know that we are in for trouble.  Our expectations of self and others can deeply interfere from having a more realistic and broader perspective of the situation at hand.  We can become defensive, hurt, or critical, undermining the capacity for intimacy and connection.  If we are honest with ourselves, often the “shoulds” are connected to past experiences or relationships, perhaps triggered by something in the hear and now that reminds us of the unfinished business.  To address those unmet needs from the past, we need to be clear about what our expectations were and how we can help ourselves in this moment to grieve and heal from the hurt.

Expectations are frequently the guest of honor in our suffering.  They can bind us to our suffering, and rather than growing spiritually it can harm our body, mind, spirit and self.  If we seek liberation, learning how to revise our expectations is the path we must wander down.  Examining our expectations may involve endings, an ending of a habit which may have served us in some particular way but no longer does, an ending of a relationship or experience.  However, when we chose to end something because we have revised our expectations, typically we are not left with unfinished business.  Especially if we end through a compassionate, yet clear, voice.

So today, think about an unrealistic expectation that you have held for yourself or someone else.  Where do you think it came from?  Taking time to journal through writing or art- ie, capturing your internal experience and making it external, may help you process it.  Now, think about how you might revise that expectation, even if it is just a tiny bit, and observe how you feel inside.  If you feel a little lighter, you are likely on the right path.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.