If you’re familiar with the story of Achilles, he was one of the greatest warriors and heroes in Greek Mythology, I refer to his story to illustrate a point.
Achilles’ heel was the only part of his body that his mother failed to dip into the River Styx (a river with magical water that would protect him). Unfortunately, the heel that she held him by was the one part of him that didn’t get the protective “coating” and left him open, vulnerable, and exposed a weakness to the world. And, as the story goes, all it took was one very well-aimed arrow from an enemy to his heel that caused his ultimate demise.
The connection I have to this story is that everything about Achilles was about strength and being invulnerable. Achilles seemed impossible to harm or damage, all except his heel. With all the love and good intentions, Achilles’ mother could not make her son totally invulnerable to harm.
How many of us would love to be able to take a little dip in a magic river to protect ourselves completely-- even our heels? If we could just douse our hearts with a carafe of magical water. While we haven’t found magic like that, perhaps we can look more closely at our magical thinking instead.
Some pain and disappointment are a natural part of living and being vulnerable, but how many times have we been hurt because we have expected people to have certain qualities and behaviors before they have demonstrated them. Because of expectations, we offer to others authority over our emotions even to the point of questioning ourselves and our place in this world. Expectations are an investment of emotional space and, to some degree, can be an unspoken commitment. In order to form an expectation, we must be committed to the belief that the future of something will unfold as we dictate it.
Can you get real about your expectations of people, situations, and environments?
Getting Real in Self-Reflection
Consider the expectations that you have of other people, situations, and environments around you. When you feel disappointment or hurt, step back for a moment and jot down the circumstances.Capture your emotions accurately. In my book, Dear Vulnerable, I have a Feelings List to help you be accurate in that process.
Step away and come back to it after you have de-escalated the feelings surrounding that process. What are your expectations? The key to this reflection is to understand What it would mean to you if your expectations are met? And, how do the expectations, if met, change how you feel about yourself?
In my coaching and mediating career (and in my own personal self-reflection work) I have learned that the expectations we have of others often reflect what we desperately need within ourselves. When people or relationships meet our desired expectations, we feel that we belong, we are valid, and we are desirable. When our desired expectations are not met, the opposite feelings can tear through us; I am not valid, I am not desirable, and I do not belong.
“Many expectations are really about the anticipation of a strongly desired feeling that we believe will change how we fundamentally feel about ourselves.” - Jada Berteaux
Is this why we hold on to unhealthy situations when all evidence supports letting it go?
This path to self-validation is fraught with disappointment because it is, of course, not based on Self. The expectations we have of others are dependent on actions outside of ourselves. They are dependent on the actions of those for whom you have the expectations. And, just like you, other people have free will, priorities, and desires that may not be in accordance with what you expect.
The Achilles Heel Expectations Shift
With this knowledge in hand, we can spring into action to greatly improve our current reality or strategically create a new one---this is what I’ve dubbed the Achilles Heel Expectations Shift---turn on your vulnerable heels and spring into action for life change.
Tears of Expectation
As a conflict resolution consultant and coach, part of my work is to help people identify internal and external conflict. I love when people first seek to identify what they are bringing to their conflicts. In other words, coaching them to self-identify what drives and triggers them.
I remember a client who went from job to job with the strong expectation that his managers were responsible for making him feel welcome. Yet, no matter how welcoming the managers had been, he criticized each and every one of them for falling short of his expectations. Without fail, he isolated himself from other colleagues and left his positions feeling upset and like he was an outsider.
With such a strong need to feel like he was welcome and by having an unrealistic expectation that others would have the time or willingness to work day in and day out to meet his expectations, he created an environment that was the opposite of what he said he really wanted---to belong.
His pattern was:
- Unrealistic expectations were shuttled from one job to the next
- Holding other people responsible for how he felt about himself (until our coaching sessions he did not understand that he was even doing this)
- Having a lack of balanced expectations on himself that would guide him to integrate more successfully and happily into new work experiences (owning HIS power!)
This is one example but substitute this man’s job relationship scenario for any other kind of relationship. Swap the feelings of wanting to belong with a need to feel validated or desired, or any number of other substitutions. In doing so, you can start to identify with an expectations pattern that you may have in your life.
Unless you are a throwback to Greek mythology, you’ll probably not have the opportunity to be dunked in the magical River Styx (as much as I wish this were possible for all of us!) Instead, embrace these six Achilles Heel Expectations Shifts in 2020:
- Look up the word expectation from a few different sources and journal about any new understandings.
- Journal about your strong expectations of others for a week using the following format:
- My expectation of (person/situation) is (expectation)
- When my expectation is met, I will feel (feelings). Be very specific with the emotion/feeling you want to experience.
- How will the other person assure that you will continue to feel that way? Is this realistic?
- Manage your expectations by first understanding what drives you to have the expectations. What are possible reasons why you have such strong expectations of others?
- Commit to your personal Achilles Heel Expectations Shift for 2020 by acknowledging your desire to shift away from unrealistic expectations of others and of yourself.
- Expectations are investments of emotional space. Invest in expectations of yourself that are balanced, filled with grace, and increase your openness to the world around you. What expectations do you have of yourself that allow you to become the person you want to become?
- Make a list of others you need to free from unrealistic expectations you have for them that are only to make you feel better about yourself. How does it feel to LET GO?
- Stay aware of how your unrealistic expectations of others are blocking your power to call joy and balance into your own life. Unrealistic expectations and lack of vulnerability are closely intertwined. Start by Achilles shifting your expectations and watch your vulnerability capacity grow!
Want more self-discovery tips on HOW to become more vulnerable?