Lately the conversation in therapy has been centered around guilt, shame, and expectations. Through a series of discussions I’ve come to realize that most of the frustration and anguish in my life has been from setting unrealistic expectations for myself that I can’t live up to. Mostly expectations that no one else really care’s about.
Here is a graphic that my therapist gave to me that REALLY got me thinking about how unhelpful guilt is different then helpful guilt.
Unhelpful guilt is caused by actions or behaviors that break unrealistically high standards
That’s the part that really struck me. “Unrealistic high standards”. Do I have them? What are they? I thought for several days about it. When I sat down with my therapist, we talked about the way that I’ve created these expectations for myself that weren’t based on who I was, but in who I thought others (society, culture, family) wanted me to be.
I grew up with the idea that the way life was supposed to go was, you’re born, you go to school, you get a career, have a family, get old, retire, and die. That if I just followed the traditional path, that life would be easier. That I would find happiness. I just needed to work hard. Get a job with a salary, insurance, etc. And I tried. Job after job. Career choice after career choice. Each time was the same. Some time between 4 and 6 months of being at a job, I would get so sick of it, that going felt like torture. It felt like bee’s were trying to come up from my chest. I would get this buzzing in the back of my head that just wouldn’t stop until I quit.
How was I supposed to have a career?
So for years I’ve been beating myself up, trying to live a life I wasn’t meant for. I’m not a worker bee. I never was. What I should have learned to do was tap into my creative intellectual side more and create my own “career”. I should have trusted in myself more and followed my own path. Much of the suffering I’ve felt in my life has been due to the unrealistic expectation I had of myself.
I know it now though. The question becomes, what am I going to do with this new understanding?