Freedom from ‘norms’ and ‘expectations’

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.   – Carl Rogers

When we inevitably hit critical points in life, such as separation from a loved one, bereavement/loss, trauma, life-stage transitions, career changes, life-work-balance issues or social anxieties, we often struggle with how to move through these phases and break the negative cycle we feel trapped in.

Sometimes we can turn to addictive behaviours that offer temporary but false relief.  At other times, our unresolved feelings can cause conflicts and confusions about who we are and what we want – or they can turn inwards and cause anger, drive us to burn-out or to self-sabotaging behaviours.

It can sometimes be helpful to look at the bigger picture of our lives and to explore our problems in relation to the context of cultural values, belief-systems and expectations.

All cultures have dominant belief systems and inherent ‘messages’ about what it means to be a ‘normal’, ‘healthy’, ‘worthy’ person.  Western culture prizes qualities such as ‘self-sufficiency’, ‘productivity’ and having a ‘useful’ and ‘successful’ life.  It values ‘individuality’ over ‘community’ and ‘independence’ over ‘connection’.

The myriad of demands involved in living up to the expectations of others and of cultural norms can underpin perfectionist drives and either leave us spinning with overwhelming anxiety or render us frozen from overload and depression.

In our efforts to conform to what it means to be ‘healthy’, ‘successful’ and ‘in control’ we are encouraged to compare and measure ourselves against others’ standards and norms.  We constantly find ourselves rating our sense of normality, health, competency, acceptability and adequacy.  Feelings of perceived inadequacy or personal failure can lead to overwhelming, exhausting and, sometimes, destructive, vicious circles.

As if the demands of domestic, social and professional life aren’t enough, we can also experience the compounding effects of having experienced early, disrupted attachment, developmental or shock-trauma that can further impact on how we adapt to and manage our life challenges.

Inevitably we can feel very alone with our problems and taking the first step in talking to someone can feel very daunting – especially in the light of our cultural expectation to stay in control and keep on top of everything!  But I invite you to take that first step……