I struggle a lot with my expectations of people. I’ve written about it here before. It’s an ongoing thing; one of the lessons I’ve grappled with since I was very young.
When I was young and people let me down, I assumed it was my fault. I thought there was something about me – I didn’t know what it was – that alienated people and I accepted that as fact. I grew up believing I was unlovable. Again, I didn’t really know why, but I took my cues from the way important people treated me – my mother, other adults, kids, and the reality that my birthmother gave me away. That seemed like proof-positive to me that I was indeed, unlovable, certainly unwanted.
I felt that way well into my 40s. Less so, perhaps, but when people treated me badly or let me down I just chalked it up to me being hard to love. I’ve lost enough friends to populate a small town. It got so it wasn’t really even a surprise anymore, just another loss. My lot in life.
Three years of therapy and 10 years on some powerful drugs went a long way to convince me otherwise, and alleviated the depression that went along with those thoughts and feelings. I’m perhaps not the easiest person to love, but I’m not unlovable, either. No one is.
We are all worthy of love.
So now I realize that it’s not just me, but my expectations are still too high. I keep getting tripped up by them, even though I know better. Because people let each other down. That’s just what happens. As the young, mostly unhelpful, but very nice policewoman said to me last weekend:
Most people really only think about themselves.
She’s right. I would like that not to be true – about myself and other people – but I think that’s really it. It isn’t so much that we don’t care about other people – we do. In theory, and sometimes even in practice. It’s just that for the most part – for whatever reason – we don’t go out of our way for others, even people who matter to us.
I can think of a couple of situations in my life in which someone rose to the occasion for me and really tried to make a difference. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for others a few times, at least.
Mostly, though, we just plod along, and try to get through on our own as best we can. At least, that’s been my experience. I can think of quite literally hundreds of situations over the years in which people have let me down so completely that the thud reverberated for weeks in me. It goes the other way, too. I can think of times I let people down, especially when I was deep in the abyss of depression. No one’s perfect, and when it comes right down to it, we are all fundamentally alone.
It’s become increasingly clear to me over the years that being disappointed really has nothing to do with my friends, or co-workers or people in general; it’s all about my expectation that I should matter to anyone other than myself.
That’s the mistake I keep making. And here’s why:
I’m a people-pleaser. Always have been because of the way I grew up, mentioned above – always trying to figure out how to get people to like me/love me. Scanning every word, every movement, every expression for a hint at how to give them what they want so that maybe they’ll like me. A chameleon, changing shape and color to be pleasing to the person I was trying to connect with.
I was astonished as an adult to realize that other people don’t do that, for the most part. Some do, most don’t. No one cares what I want or need, at least not to the extent I’d like them to, even people I’m close to. They’re not trying to please me in the same way that I’m killing myself for them. While I’m knocking myself out to figure out just the right birthday or Christmas gift, or rushing to answer an email or get a card out to someone for an occasion, or worrying myself sick over why I’m not hearing from someone for a while, they’re just getting on with whatever. Not thinking about me, not worrying about me, even if they care about me. They put themselves first.
I alienate people cuz I expect more than that. I really think it’s just that simple. I kill friendships by caring too much, trying too hard. I wear people out, and I must have seemed very needy until I finally wised up. Now I think I’ve gone in the other direction, actually.
I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of the snow “wall” in my driveway (I love me a good metaphor!) and I think that’s what it represents to me – the ways in which I’m cut off from other people, mostly through my own choices and life circumstances in the last few years, but not entirely. A few people in my life have had a part in erecting that wall from their side.
I’m doing better at pleasing myself and worrying less about pleasing others, except when it pleases me to please someone I care about. I still get caught up in expectations, and I still get let down when I least expect it, but that’s probably just the way it’s always going to be. That’s just who I am. An idealist. And that’s what being vulnerable is all about, isn’t it? Keeping our hearts open is risky, cuz we can be hurt, but it’s also the only way to connect and heal the rifts caused by life.
It’s the only way to melt the wall.
It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Life goes on. This too shall pass. We’re all just doing the best we can, including me. What’s called for is forgiveness; not blame, not anger, not shame or retribution. Just forgiveness for our broken humanness.
As with everything else, at least for me, it’s a work in progress.