I have a sister in another city who has a gift for making me feel like pond scum. I know she loves me, and occasionally she writes me thoughtful messages even expressing the ways she admires me. And yet, nearly every time we get together she says something critical or condescending that knocks the wind out of me, emotionally speaking.
Surrounding these painful and often awkward moments there are fantastic memories. This same sister also has a gift for making me laugh, and when we were kids we would always get the giggles at family prayer. When we get together we can talk for hours and we understand each other in a way only siblings do.
But each time after our separation I am haunted and hurt by whatever cruel thing she said to me. I weep over my disappointment that my sister, who is supposed to love and cherish me, could be so terribly unkind.
"Each time you approach a visit with your sister, with the expectation that she is going to be sensitive to you and masterfully overcome her character frailties and personal insecurities that cause her to be unkind, you will likely be painfully disappointed when she inevitably says something judgmental." says my counselor.
In AA they say that an expectation is a premeditated resentment.
I know that when it comes to the language of addiction, a lot of it is just semantics. But my "expectations" are killing me. I'm done with expectations. I'm done "expecting" people (including Pete) to be a certain way or "expecting" them to meet my needs. I love the Courage to Change book, and this articulates me feelings perfectly.
"Turning to an alcoholic for affection and support can be like going to a hardware store for bread. Perhaps we expect a "good" parent to nurture and support our feelings, or a "loving" spouse to comfort and hold us when we are afraid, or a "caring" child to want to pitch in when we are ill or overwhelmed. While these loved ones may not meet our expectations, it is our expectations, not our loved ones, that have let us down."
And no one fails to live up to my expectations more than myself. And in disappointment with myself some of my greatest resentments are born. By releasing myself and the people in my life from my expectations, I can accept them for who they are, today.
"Today the [addict] may or may not be able to give us what we deserve. And no one person will ever offer all that we require. If we stop insisting that our needs be met according to our will, we may discover that all the love and support we need is already at our fingertips."
Don't get me wrong, I believe in boundaries. I think by changing my mental vernacular to make my boundaries less about expectations and more about myself and my responses to my circumstances, I am more able to let go of my futile efforts to change other people.
I have a friend who focuses a lot of her recovery on her values. I'm not totally familiar with this model, but I like it. And I like it because I can replace my expectations with my values.
Instead of saying to Pete
"I expect you to attend recovery meetings."
I can say
"I value recovery. My relationship with you will thrive when you attend recovery meetings."
Why does it matter? It matters at this point because I have no control over him. I can only control me. And I've already decided how I'm going to live/be whether or not he values recovery meetings like I do.
I've spent my adult life "expecting" my family to be kind, accepting and compassionate, and been broken hearted every time they have not lived up to my expectations. I value relationships with kindness, acceptance and compassion. And I can do my best to offer those things to my loved ones. But I don't have to let my love and gratitude for my family members be held hostage to my own unmet expectations of them.
So my therapist counsels me.
"Go visit your sister. Laugh with her and be vulnerable. But don't set her up for failure by "expecting" her to meet your criteria for what a sister should be. Accept her and enjoy her. When she says something that is cruel, tell her that it hurts. [Boundary.] And then go right on letting her work out her own weaknesses before God."
(As a side note- if my sister had no redeeming qualities to offer our relationship, or if what she said was unbearably cruel or consistantly negative, I think it would be totally appropriate to not spend time with her as a boundary. I don't believe that relinquishing expectations means accepting bad behavior. It just means not trying to change a person to meet my needs. I am blessed with other women and friends who can offer me love and friendship. I can let my sister be who she is, today.)