Has many ups and down for all of us no ones life is plain sailing.
Recently I read a letter entitled 'Welcome to Holland' a letter written by a parent, parenting a special needs child. The message it conveys is the parent was 'expecting' something different to happen; expecting a child but wasn't expecting to have a child with special needs.
What do you see, hear, smell, taste, think or feel as you read?
Welcome to Holland
It's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So, you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland."
Author: Emily Perl Kingsley
For me the poignancy of this letter is 'expectations' and how when we expect something to happen the reality of this can be so so different from what we imagined i.e.. expecting to find self walking down a particular path in this case in Italy but find yourself walking a path you never considered walking before Holland ....
Many of us experience unfulfilled expectations in our lives for example:
None of us expect our child to die before us But children die every day.
We don't expect our parents to die when we are a child .... Parents die every day.
We expect our children to grow up get married ..... Some children don't get married.
When we marry we expect to be so for life .... Couples split up and get divorced every day.
We expect our children produce our grandchildren Some children don't have children of their own.
We expect we will wake up every morning ..... Every morning some one somewhere doesn't wake up.
We expect the bus to come when it says it will ..... Busses are late every day.
We expect to have a holiday every year .... We may loss our job and not have the money for a holiday.
We expect the fridge to stay cool ..... Somebody somewhere fridge broke down and does work.
I could go on but you get the picture!
Our expectations can be a script we follow and when life doesn't present and fulfil the script as we'd imagined this can and often does lead to disappointment, confusion, pain and sometimes anger if the anticipated external reward or script isn't forthcoming and we end up with something we didn't expect and we didn't want.
Its not just a matter of wanting and not getting however, our expectations are tied in with our dopamine levels according to Professor Wolfram Schultz when we 'expect' a certain thing to happen we anticipate a reward something pleasurable to come into being when we imagine pleasurable things our brain chemistry releases the chemical dopamine on that expectation.
If we have an unexpected reward then our dopamine levels increase greatly for example we have a win at the races, bingo or the lottery ticket we bought payed out a few thousand pounds we experience that rush of excitement, emotion and exhilaration, life feels sweet for a short while.
When the opposite happens we can feel sour because our dopamine levels fall greatly and we can feel dejected, in pain, anxious and over time depression can set in if our expectations are regularly left unfilled. Since it is thought dopamine also plays a part in our self-actualisation process it is dopamine which is one of the foundation building blocks to us being open to experience, curious about our world and the world we live in and how interested we are in the world we live in.
Our expectations play a large part in how we perceive our world and the world we work, rest and play in. Unmet expectations can feel threatening and can lead to negative coping strategies for example we have a stressful day at work and to support that stress we enjoy an alcoholic drink when we get home to feel better, we take a drink and our stress has calmed.
However, the work stress remains high so we enjoy a drink every night over a week or two because the work stress doesn't dissipate it gets worse or stays the same. To release the same amount of dopamine after a few weeks have passed we need to increase the amount of alcohol to gain the same feelings to release the same amount of dopamine or we eat a small bar of chocolate or a few sweets. Before we know it we've consumed a whole bottle of gin, vodka or drunk 10 pints, a large packet of Haribo's, a large bar of chocolate or full packet of biscuits to feel the same amount of release and to feel good for a little while but in the end we need more and more of the stimulus to gain the same good feelings and before we know it we've got a drink problem and/or put on several stone's in weight before we've become consciously aware of what we were actually doing in reality.
If we were to carry on like this the once positive coping strategy has now become negative and has overtaken the work stress and has now become the bigger issue in our life because our foundation script of what work would be like or our expectation of how we would personally perform at work hasn't somehow met the standard we had expected for our self.
So you can see how our expectations can be very detrimental to our health if they are left unmet!
This is where living in the here and now has far greater benefits to our well-being rather than anticipating, imagining or living like we've always lived. By going with the flow of our actual living, the reality of life in how it is rather than following some unconscious script of how life 'should' must' 'got' to be or how we 'expect' it to be!
Living how we've always lived is a good thing if it works and we experience minimal stress and imagining is always a positive thing isn't it by imagining we can create, invent and reach for and if they are positive and work for you there is no need to change them for the sake of change.
However if our scripts, expectations and imaginings are negative then it might be time to change them for a more fulfilling way of being.
Learning to identify our scripts and expectations to go forward and manage our expectations can take some effort as individuals.
Being who we are without getting lost in the cultural norms or societal mores the expectations of others or worn out personal scripts, using up valuable energy which could be put to better use to keep dopamine levels naturally balanced and incorporating more of what we want and need personally.
If you are struggling with life's conundrums counselling can offer time and space just for you to explore what your scripts are, what your expectations are and if expectations can be met and fulfilled or how you fulfill them and the pressures of the expectations of others.
Together we can explore if your expectations and those of the people around you are realistic or do they set you up to fail before you've even started walking?
Counselling space and time offers you full acceptance of who you are and the path you are walking and where you are on your individual path.
If you want to explore your personal scripts and expectations contact me to gain compassionate & caring support together in partnership we can find answers to questions you've not even asked yourself yet!
Food for thought
Sometimes when we expect nothing our life is filled with unimagined riches, treasures and pleasures such as contentment, joy and happiness.
To your mental wealth always.