Are You in This World to Live up to Everyone’s Expectations?
Mary is always worried about living up to other’s expectations. She doesn’t want to disappoint her friends or frustrate her family. She feels a strong sense of obligation to meet the needs of others—even when she doesn’t really want to.
Her co-worker needs someone to cover for him; Mary is quick to say “yes”. Her friend needs a ride to the store, and she says “sure”. Her Mom asks her to help with a sewing project and she says “okay”. Sometimes she feels burdened by all of these obligations. When others ask her for a favor, she almost always agrees to help.
On the one hand, Mary is a caring and kind person. Everyone thinks that she is wonderful! But on the other hand, Mary feels like she is always running ragged. She frequently wonders—Why don’t others think about my needs? Can’t they see I’m exhausted? It seems like she is always taking care of other people’s needs, and no one takes care of hers.
Do you know someone like this?
I sometimes think that some adults feel like they were born with a sign on their forehead that says “I am in the world to live up to everyone’s expectations”. This quest starts at an early age. Her parents love sports, and so she plays soccer even though she doesn’t really like it. When she pleases her parents, she receives approval and appreciation. The pursuit for praise can be unrelenting. It can be addicting.
I have a close friend whose parents swooned over her high grades and academic achievements. At times, she felt like a performing seal. She sometimes wondered--Did her parents love her? Or were they just interested in the reflected glory from her accomplishments.
Some parents believe that their children “owe” them. They suppose that because they took care of their kids, they are obligated to them.
Mary’s problem is not that she likes to say “yes”. Her problem is that she doesn’t feel free to say “no”.
She isn’t in this world to live up to other people’s expectations!
For some adults, this is a radical thought. They have never really questioned this role they play. They just assume that they have to play it.
The first step towards recovery is to question this assumption. You don’t have to say yes! Now, the second step is to change this habit. This is easier said than done. Here are some positive steps to take:
- Pause before you agree to do something. For some folks, yes is just an automatic response, and then they feel stuck! Before you answer, take a breath in and out, and then ask yourself “Do I really want to do this?”
- When you don’t want to do something, practice saying “no”. This is hard! It is uncomfortable and awkward. Practice saying “ No, I don’t want to”. (Notice—I didn’t say that I couldn’t do it for some made up or real reason). Making excuses is a cop out. It is important to learn how to decline a request, simply because you want to.
- Notice how you feel. Notice how other’s react. How did you feel when you declined someone’s request? How did the other person react?
- Don’t expect a brass band when you say no. If family and friends are used to counting on you, they will probably be disappointed and perhaps surprised when you say no. They may be unhappy about your newly found assertiveness.
- It takes time and practice to change old habits. Despite your newly found assertiveness, periodically you will fall back into your old ways. If you say yes and then realize later you really don’t want to help out, you can change your decision! That is not a federal offense. You can always let your friend know that you said yes without considering it, and now you are changing your mind.
- Don’t expect others to take care of you. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself. Just as it isn’t your job to take care of everyone else, it isn’t his or her job to take care of you. That’s up to you!
Have you kicked the “yup” habit? What has helped you?