We all talk to ourselves, and what we tell ourselves matters. At the best of times we hold expectations for ourselves and others that can increase anxiety, self judgement, and feelings of failure. When things are stressful or overwhelming, often our expectations stay the same, or increase, without any accommodation for what we are experiencing.

Maybe some of these thoughts sound familiar to you:

– “They all look so happy in this picture! Why can’t our family get along like that!”

– “I should be doing more, everybody else is being so productive during this quarantine.”

– “I don’t have any reason to feel so down/anxious/sad/tired, others have it so much worse.”

It can be so easy to look at social media, even if we’ve had positive interactions with our kids, spouses, siblings etc., and say “I should have done more, I should have thought of that, I should have, I ought to, I have to…..”

Should, ought, must, have to, are all keywords that can serve as a signal for us that we are holding some kind of burden over our own heads, either something that we’ve come up with on our own, or something that someone else holds for us and we’ve taken on. These keywords let us know that somewhere there is a part of us that is responding to a good, universal need to feel loved, accepted and understood, but doing so in a way that increases our sense of failure and anxiety. Often our response to what those parts of us bring up, is to either drown it out (distracting ourselves in a lot of creative ways), or act on it, do more, try to be more, criticize ourselves more.

Those words do not have to be a demand to do more, be “better,” or beat ourselves up. They can be a signal to offer ourselves some grace, compassion, and understanding. We can acknowledge that it’s a part of us that feels or thinks those things, not us in our entirety. We can get some space from that emotion without ignoring it, asking ourselves, “what is it that is bringing up these thoughts, what is it that they are trying to do?” We can allow ourselves to see it as an opportunity to thank that part of us that lets us know when we’re feeling “not good enough” (as opposed to trying to fight it off, or shut it down) and to let ourselves know that, even if parts of us don’t believe it right now, we have inherent value, and that we are worthy of love and acceptance.

If you find yourself struggling with the weight of expectations, anxiety, sadness, or anything else, please know that you are not alone, we are here to help.

Steve Gibboney
Staff Therapist

Categories: Mental Health