“When it comes to relationships, expectations are the enemies of love”
Like most, I began life with loaded expectations of my parents, idolizing and idealizing them. They fed me, bathed me, listened to me, and cared for me, so for all I knew, they were magic. Eventually, in my late teens, I realized that they were actually just human beings like me. I was lucky because this process was positive, allowing me to relate to them with a newfound clarity and sense of mutual respect. The consequence of seeing our parents as human beings is that we see them as flawed. We realize that, like every person on earth, they have limitations and shortcomings. No parents are an exception, including my own. The work, then, is learning to accept that and figuring out how to reframe our relationships with them moving forward.
Last week, we published Ruby’s Diary, a series about practicing self-care while navigating Borderline Personality Disorder. In Part Two, Ruby has a conversation with her father in which she begs him to take active steps towards becoming a better listener. Gordon vows that he does listen, whether she feels that way or not, and Ruby insists that there is a difference between active and passive listening. This was not their first time discussing the issue, but it seemed as if they reached a dead end every time. Ruby wanted Gordon to act a certain way, Gordon believed he was already doing so. I have had this exact conversation with my own father before, expressing my frustration over my unmet desire to really be heard by him. On one occasion, this conversation led to a nasty fight, which culminated in his request: “stop trying to change me”. Those words resonated with me then and have stuck with me since. They helped me in my process of radical acceptance, which allowed me to release some of my expectations of him. Because, the truth is, we do not have the power to change anyone.
REFRAMING OUR IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS, WITH OUR PARENTS OR OTHERWISE, IS SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SELF-CARE WORK WE CAN DO, AND IT BEGINS WITH THE PRACTICE OF RADICAL ACCEPTANCE.
Reframing our important relationships, with our parents or otherwise, is some of the most important self-care work we can do, and it begins with the practice of radical acceptance. In Part Three of Ruby’s Diary, she recounts the different moments in which radical acceptance “clicked in” for her: the moment she accepted that her parents might never change, and the moment she accepted that she and her ex-girlfriend could never be healthy together. Her acceptance doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her parents or that she doesn’t love her ex. It just means she is allowing space for the healing that was not possible before when she was resisting the difficult truth of the situation.
I am not saying that we should have no expectations of our parents, partners, mentors, or best friends. In fact, having expectations is vital and is an expression of self-respect—they just need to be simple and realistic. We should expect that these figures respect us and not abuse us, that they will try to understand us and care for us in the way they know how. And if someone does not meet these expectations, it is important to honor yourself by acknowledging that, either by confronting them or withdrawing from the relationship if the violations are too severe.
BY ADJUSTING OUR EXPECTATIONS THROUGH ACCEPTANCE, WE MAKE SPACE TO APPRECIATE PEOPLE FOR WHO THEY ARE, INSTEAD OF RESENTING THEM FOR WHAT THEY ARE NOT.
Radical acceptance is not just an act of self-care; it is also an act of caring for our relationships. Constantly feeling disappointed by others only causes pain and fosters resentment—what we appreciate about the people we love gets eclipsed by what we wish was different about them. By adjusting our expectations through acceptance, we make space to appreciate people for who they are, instead of resenting them for what they are not. Ruby went through this process with her parents: in Part two of her diary, she tells her therapist that she doesn’t feel visceral resentment for them anymore because of her acceptance of their limitations.
When we appreciate the flawed humanness of the people in our lives, we realize that we need to be the primary ambassadors for our own wellbeing, as we trust that our self-care will be supplemented by the care of others. Then, we can honor their care, even if it’s not what we expected it to be.