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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boxing others into our expectations

I'm not sure if I wrote on this previously.  If I have, please forgive me.  But, a number of years ago, I was upset and even angry with a family member.  I expected this person to empathize with me or take my side as it related to the end of a relationship.  In other words, "be family" as I saw it.   As often is the case, in hindsight, my side of the (relationship) story was just that--my side.  In other words, I wasn't completely in the right, but wasn't completely in the wrong either.  In any case, at the time I didn't need a pious lecture from family, but instead a supportive ear.  That is to say, I wasn't in the best place at the time.   I could have used the support (or at least lack of explicit criticism).  Just a weak "I hear you" would have been sufficient.  However, the family member was too obtuse to what I needed or was still too sore at a bad interaction that we'd had previously to "be family".

I believe when we are open to it, time and life experience can give us a better perspective on people and relationships.  The situation I described above is an example of that.  I realized that I had expectations of "how family should be" and realized that I was boxing the family member into that expectation.   In other words, expecting the family member to show a side to personality which had never evidenced itself or been implied.   In short, based on previous interactions with the member,  I had an unrealistic expectation for what I saw to be 'support'.  In a way, it didn't matter if it was fair or not for the family member to have not provided 'support'.  What mattered was my expectations.  My expectations were inconsistent with the personality of the family member.

Instead of getting angry and 'punishing' the family member for not meeting my (unrealistic) expectations, I came to understand that I needed to get my expectations more in line with reality.  Once I accepted the nature of the person, I could decide how to proceed with them without being let down, disappointed, upset or angered.  My expectations were getting in the way of how the relationship could or should be.  Anyway, after consideration, I decided to exercise caution when engaging that family member.  In other words, put myself out there or open up to that person to the extent that would be safe given the limitations of our relationship.  This allowed me to continue the relationship free of anger or resentment.  Now perhaps I was disappointed in realizing the limitations of the relationship, but I was also happy to realize serenity to in the matter.

Essentially, I stopped trying to box the family member into my expectations, but chose instead to let the relationship flow naturally.

I call the concept: "Boxing others into our expectations." because the way I see it, when we have expectations of people that don't match the reality of our interaction, there is a tendency to want to fit the person into a box called "Expectations".  This can take two forms:

  • Manipulation
    • This is where we try to force, cajole, bribe, pressure or otherwise squeeze another person into meeting our expectations.
    • Figuratively we are trying to squeeze another person into our box.  
      • We may find a way to force them into our expectations box with enough pressure, but if it is an unnatural fit, the expectations box will not contain them.
        • The relationship will be forced and may be a fraud.
        • The relationship in all likelihood will not withstand too many bumps and when a big enough bump is hit, the relationship will explode out of the box.  When it does explode out of the box it will not be pretty either.
      • The person may not fit into our expectations box.
        • In the process of trying to force them into it we will damage the relationship with them (sometimes permanently).
        • When they we can't put them in our expectations box, we will be subject to disappointment, resentment, anger and possibly despair.
  • Delusion/Denial
    • This is where an objective look at situation would reflect that the other party is NOT meeting our expectations of our relationship.
    • Instead of accepting that the other isn't meeting our expectations, we imagine that they are meeting our expectations.  That is to say, we see our relationship to another as fitting into the expectations box, when in reality it is at best just partially in the box.
      • We see our expectations being met when they aren't or we deny that they aren't being met, when they aren't.
      • An example is when we see someone as a friend because we believe "we have so much in common".  In reality, they might be more of an acquaintance or a 'friend of a friend'.  Due to circumstances we may tend to run into this person a lot and they may be openly 'polite' to or even spend time around us for the sake of the group or circumstance.  However, when outside the group, the person may badmouth us.  We may choose to 'believe' they are our friend if we don't have many friends or if we have a tendency to want to seek approval.
      • One risk here is the other person may use the situation to take advantage of us.  For example, if they see us longing for a friendship where one doesn't exist, they may take advantage of us financially or otherwise in return for declaring to be our friend.
      • Another risk is of humiliation.  We may ultimately find ourselves humiliated by the one taking advantage of us or among others who are observing the one-sided relationship.

So how do we avoid boxing others into our expectations.
  • We make an honest assessment of others.  That is of their personality, of their strengths, of their shortcomings.  We don't to build others into something that they aren't or something that they aren't capable of.
  • We make an honest assessment of ourselves.  That is of our wants, desires and biases.  We don't want any of these getting in the way of assessing our relationship with another. 
  • We realize that our relationship with others is not fully in our control.  While we have some control over what we say, think or do (our side of the street), we ultimately don't have control over what others say, think or do (their side of the street).

So what is the takeaway:
  • It is reasonable to know what you want in a relationship with another.
  • It is reasonable to know your bottom line in a relationship with another.
    • What is healthy for you.
    • What you are willing to 'accept' in return for your participation.
  • Just because you want certain 'benefits' in that relationship, doesn't mean that they will be present.
    • The other party may not know be capable of meeting that 'expectation'.
      • Something in their background makes them deficient--for example, they can't relate to your struggling financially as they never have.
      • They have never learned how to be a 'good friend', 'good parent' or 'good sibling' as they never had a good model/circumstance to learn that.
    • The other party may not be willing to meet that 'expectation'.
      • They may have made a perfectly reasonable assessment and determined that the cost of meeting the expectation is too high.
      • They may be too selfish and be one who looks to take from relationships without giving in return.
  • Be honest about what they can give and what you can give.  Just like you would or should only take what you are comfortable with losing when gambling, it may be wise to have a similar strategy with regard to relationships.
    • Do not try to expect something of another that they can't or won't give.
    • Be willing to give what you are comfortable giving in a relationship with little or no expectations in return.
    • Be willing to give what you are honestly capable of giving with little or no expectation in return.

These are just a few of the principles I've learned and while they may not work for everyone, they work for me.  So, take note of them and use them (or not) as you find beneficial.  The way I see it:

2 Corinthians 9:7English Standard Version (ESV)

 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

If that philosophy or way of life is good enough for my higher power, it is good enough for me in how I handle all my affairs, including relationships.

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