I’m sitting in the midst of yet another week where folks seem hellbent on limboing under my already perilously low expectations.
I’ve heard it said so many times, typically by someone smug and tipping an imaginary or real hat, as they intone words they act like they made up but are just parroting. “Happiness is reality minus expectations.”
Typically, a bunch of people will nod sagely in response to this. And then they’ll go on to carry that message off to somewhere else. Where they’ll share it at just the right moment, hoping that other people will find them wise and profound.
Once upon a time, I would have nodded sagely, too. And perhaps found myself spreading the idea somewhere else. Saying a paraphrase like, “the best way to be happy is to not hope for too much, to keep your expectations low.”
It was, after all, how I dealt with life at 19 after an extended stay on a locked ward. I’d suffered three major traumas from the ages of 12 and 19, and up until that point, I hadn’t really received treatment for PTSD. Or even been told that I had such a thing. Instead, I self-medicated and coped any way I could, which was usually in really unhealthy ways.
After trauma number three, however, and the stressful experience of having a nervous breakdown and being inpatient, I reached a tipping point. I had to find new ways to cope.
And looking back, I see that one way that I certainly coped was by lowering my expectations for other people. They had been hurting me for years, any time they managed to gain my trust (which became increasingly more difficult every time something awful happened to me). And it was the betrayal that stung more than anything else.
So I moved forward with the expectation that other people would treat me badly if they could. But that the bad treatment wouldn’t hurt, so long as I didn’t expect otherwise.
There’s a reason that people think equations like these sound wise. My new outlook worked quite well for a while. People were approximately as shitty as they normally were. But it certainly hurt me less. I took it less personally. I didn’t see how it could be any different.
It’s funny… because I never entered into polyamory looking for it — or much of anything, really (I agreed to open a monogamous relationship primarily because my partner wanted to) — but I found that having more people close to me, in the form of my own partners and metamours (my partners’ other partners), provided me with so much perspective that I wasn’t expecting. On how people could treat me. And treat others.
It was quite an eyeful. A lot to think about.
Most striking — and hardest to dismiss — was how widely the way people seemed to treat me ranged. Some people were very entitled, took much more they gave, didn’t seem to be self-aware enough to know they had flaws, and were very critical of other people (which of course included me). And others were giving, warm, positive, and forgiving (of others or of both themselves and others).
And as hard as I fought forming new expectations, as hard as I moved them as low as I possibly could, once I had experienced people who were kind to others, once I had enough of them in my life, it was nearly impossible to notice that other people were unkind.
And I realized at that moment that I couldn’t become impossible to disappoint. In a world where there was so much good, it was unrealistic to not notice bad things and be affected by them.
But you know… that doesn’t look good on a T-shirt. And it won’t make you look smart on the Internet.
This post is part of a recurring feature called Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser. To see the full series, please click this link.