Am I Enough? How to Identify and Respond to Expectations

Most of us wonder if what we’re doing or who we are is enough. Whether we’re at a
holiday party, family gathering, or in the throws of our workday, expectations persist. We may
notice them when we respond defensively to a colleague who questions our competence, or
when we’re running behind schedule and we blame the traffic. Although our environment plays a
significant role in the daily pressures we experience, our ability to identify and respond to our
internal expectations can answer the question of whether we’re enough.
Expectations often express themselves through emotions such as feeling inferior, hurt,
ashamed, embarrassed, inadequate, guilty, or disappointed. Comparison and resentment often
seep into our thoughts and we begin to develop automatic negative beliefs about ourselves.
Over time, we stop asking ourselves if we’re enough and we start believing that we aren’t
enough. Emotions and thoughts blend together into automatic beliefs, and our self expectations
become a cruel cycle of “You should be doing _____.” and “Of course you’re failing at _____.”
Ultimately, our expectations challenge our identity.
Reflection is essential here. Stepping back and asking ourselves what actually are the
expectations, where do they come from, and how do they align with our knowledge of ourselves
and our value system begins the reflection process. Often, when we start to explicitly identify
our self expectations and beliefs, we start to see their fallibility. Many of our expectations stem
from our family of origin (the family we grew up with). The expectations may come from family
culture, such as a strong work ethic or money management principles. While some of these
expectations were well-intended, they can contribute to our sense of not being enough.
Negative beliefs such as “You don’t work hard enough,” or “You’re responsible for others’
emotions” can leave us feeling like we just don’t have what it takes.
Our first and most critical step is to acknowledge how we’re feeling. What are our
emotions? With emotions, getting specific is helpful. For example, rather than saying, “I feel
sad,” we might add, “I feel sad and lonely.” Or rather than saying, “I’m angry,” we might realize
that our anger is an expression of our underlying emotion, such as feeling hurt or betrayed.
Then we ask what we’re believing about ourselves. Maybe I feel hurt, because my family didn’t
acknowledge my work accomplishment. On an automatic and emotional level, we believe we’re
not enough to deserve our family’s recognition. Next we ask ourselves what are the
expectations. Perhaps the expectation is, “I can only be content when I receive my family’s
recognition.” When we don’t receive their recognition, we keep working and working and feeling
like we’re not enough. We’ve let our family down and we’ve failed ourselves.
In summary, awareness is key. If we don’t know how we’re feeling and can’t validate our
emotions, we struggle to find a path forward. Next, we identify our automatic negative beliefs
and emotions, and how those beliefs were formed in our families of origin and other life
experiences. But once we’ve worked through these important steps on awareness, where do we
go from here? Part 2 of this post will lay out next steps for once we’ve developed awareness of
our emotions, beliefs, and expectations and are ready to move forward. Stay tuned.

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