Category Archives: My Life

The Painful Trap of Unreasonable Expectations

Black and white; ones and zeroes.  As a person who enjoys working with computers, understands and enjoys programming languages, and is guided primarily by logic, that is how I see the world. Black and white; ones and zeroes.

At least I used to. There was a time in my life where there was no room for gray areas. Everything I experienced had to pass through that determining filter, absolutely everything and in every area of my life; my self-image, my marriage, the people I interacted with, their words, attitudes and personalities.  Everything.

Something was either good or bad; it was either for me or against me.  Everything had to be that clear and that logical, and I was the judge of it all.  If something didn’t follow that logic internal panic would ensue.  Like a computer that’s running a faulty program, I could almost sense my brain throwing out an error. “Does not compute.”

Stern in my ways, self-righteous and judgmental, I would scorn at others who would speak or behave in a manner that wasn’t up to my standards. But I wasn’t this way only towards others.  I acted this way even towards myself.  I measured myself against my own standards, and many times – many times – I failed miserably; because you see, I am human, and as a human being I made mistakes.  As a human being, I often landed in those gray areas for which I had no room or tolerance.  Being a perfectionist at heart, this made me feel angry and bitter, both at myself and at the world.

My perfectionist attitude led me to have unreasonable expectations of me and of the people I loved the most.  I would compare their behavior against impossible standards without taking into consideration the countless variables that could affect them; and then I held them accountable for failing to meet my expectations.

As a result of this, I became unlikable and disagreeable. Not a fun person to be around.  Friendships were practically non-existent.  My own wife avoided me because she never knew when I was going to tell her that she had failed to meet my expectations or didn’t measure up against my impossible standards yet again; I had done that so often, you see.

I almost lost my marriage because of this and that was my wake up call.  I remember the day like it was yesterday.  After she had announced to me that she could not take it any longer and was thinking of leaving, my whole world was turned upside down.  I demanded to know why she would consider ending our marriage after we had spent so many happy (in my opinion) years together.  Granted, I knew that they weren’t perfect years, but they were happy for the most part, weren’t they?  When she listed her reasons my heart sunk. She spoke of the pain and fear that my attitude caused her.  She told me how she felt like she was walking on eggshells when she was around me.  And she told me that as a result of this, she felt like she no longer loved me.  I could no longer hold the stern, unyielding mask that I had been wearing all those years, and I felt it crumble to pieces.  How fragile it was.  How tired it had made me.

It’s as if the blindfold that I had been wearing for as long as I can remember had suddenly been removed.  I suddenly had great clarity and saw for the first time just how much pain and stress I had unintentionally caused her.  I also saw how difficult and how stressful I had made my own life.

This was the beginning of my – our – recovery process.  I had already been working on other aspects of myself that were more obvious, but this one I hadn’t even thought of because up until that point I didn’t see it as a problem.  Rather, I saw it as a good thing, an intention to strive for excellence.  The recovery process wasn’t easy or quick.  Much time passed before my wife and I felt emotionally connected once again, before she even felt comfortable being around me once again.  And I can’t get tired of expressing how grateful I am that she stuck around and gave me another chance.

Since then I have learned that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but that we must remember our individuality.  We must allow each other the ability to walk our own path.  The concept of excellence is not absolute, because each person’s standards vary greatly from the next.  Who’s to say that my standards are better? Then again I would not like it if someone else judged me according to their standards, and certainly not without walking a mile in my shoes.

I can only look at myself, my journey, my abilities and my limitations, and even then my reaching for excellence should be based solely on my effort, and not on the results that are produced.  When things don’t turn out the way I expected I now ask myself this question, “Did I try my best?”  If the answer is yes, I am satisfied even if the results are not what I wanted.  If the answer is no, rather than beating on myself for it I remind myself that I am human, and make it a point to do it again perhaps trying a different approach.

Needless to say I am a happier man.  Rather than judge, I now support those around me in their own journey.  Rather than criticize I now look for the good in a person or situation. Not only does it free them from being held prisoners of unreasonable expectations, but it frees my heart to allow more love to flow.

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The Stigma Associated With Sacrifice

Have you ever met a person who says “I’ve sacrificed xyz for xyz” with a smile on their face?  I haven’t.  I can usually tell by the tone of their voice or the look on their face that the feeling associated with their sacrifice is not a positive one, and I’m beginning to think it has something to do with the stigma associated with the word itself.

The dictionary defines sacrifice as:

An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

That makes sense to me.  But why then do we have this somewhat negative emotion associated with it?  Shouldn’t the emotion elicited from the true recognition of the worthier cause be joy or something similar?

I thought about this, and realized that generally when I say that I’m making a sacrifice I may feel a somewhat negative emotion because I may be focused on what I’m losing or giving up rather than on the worthier cause; I may be, therefore, feeling the loss or absence of what I’m giving up instead of the joy of why I’m giving it up.

The stigma generally associated with sacrifice is one of loss, suffering, or going without. This in itself has the potential to create feelings of resentment or self-glorification.  I may consider myself a nobler person because I’ve made sacrifices.  Therefore, you must look upon me as a nobler person, too, and praise me for my ability to make such a sacrifice. On the other hand, if I‘m focused on my loss, and the worthier cause for which I gave up something ends up going south, the feeling of loss may turn to resentment.  “I sacrificed [fill in the blank] for this? What a waste!”

I’m sure not everyone views sacrifices this way, but my experience has been that when people (including me) speak of sacrifices, they generally do so with an almost sarcastic tone.   I’ve decided that I would like to change that about myself.  I would like to change my perspective so that when I sacrifice something for the sake of a worthier cause, I am so intently focused on the worthier cause itself that whatever it is that I’m giving up no longer even matters.

When parents work in order to earn money to support their family, aren’t they sacrificing something?  They certainly are. They are sacrificing family time, or fun time, or “me” time.  Yet we normally don’t call that a sacrifice.  Even parents themselves don’t call it a sacrifice.  Why? Because the focus is not on what they are giving up but on the worthier cause, taking care of their families.  No body even thinks of the time and energy that is being expended or given, because the focus is not on the loss, but on the gain that results from the loss.

These are the types of sacrifices that I’d like to make.  To others it may seem like I’m making a sacrifice, but to me it would simply feel like the most natural thing to do.  I want to get to the point where, having acknowledged and assimilated the worthier cause, the absence of what is being offered simply no longer matters.

How will I go about making this change?  I don’t know yet, but while I figure it out I’ll start by making it a point to change my perspective.  Perhaps that is all that is needed!

What does sacrifice mean to you?  What feelings have you experienced as a result of the sacrifices you’ve made?

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Breathe and Realize That All Is Well…

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On a gorgeous Saturday evening I was sitting with my wife outside a beach front coffee shop watching in awe as the sun set behind the calm, blue ocean.  A moment prior to that, we had been engrossed in a lively conversation about our plans, our goals and our future.

We talked about needing to move to a bigger house, needing to earn more money, needing to expand her business; but somehow as soon as the sun began to set, our lively conversation was replaced by a contemplative silence.

Everything around me faded away; the sounds, the street, the cars, the people, the buildings, even the beach and the sun disappeared and I was left with nothing but emotions.  I was instantly submerged into a deep appreciation for the countless blessings that I have in my life.

I realized that at that very moment I was truly happy.  At that very moment there was nothing else that I wanted or needed in order to experience the emotions that I believed a bigger house, more money, or more success could bring me.

I felt peace, love, appreciation, gratitude, exhilaration and immense joy.  I felt as if I was in a different realm, finally being able to see and understand the reality of things.  I did not want to come out from that trance. I wanted to remain there, experiencing this indescribable beauty.

A few moments later the hustle and bustle of the street began to gain volume, and I became aware once again of my surroundings.  I immediately turned to my wife and shared my experience with her; I expressed my longing for that feeling to come back, and my disappointment that it had been short lived.  Could I bring it back? It felt like it was gone forever.

But then I realized that nothing seemingly out of the ordinary had happened to take me there.  While it was true that I had entered this peaceful state while appreciating the gorgeous sunset at the beach, it wasn’t the sunset itself that took me there. I had certainly seen many sunsets at the beach before.  Moreover, if the sunset itself had been the cause, everyone experiencing it would have been likewise hypnotized.

Then it hit me. It was my contemplation and appreciation of the sunset that got me into that state. And this…this was something I could certainly repeat. A sunset was not the only beautiful or awe-inspiring thing around me.

There are thousands, even millions of such things around me every single day. The sound of a bird’s chirping in the morning, the butterfly that lands on a rose, the flowers that grow outside my house, the millions of stars in the sky, the smile on a friend’s face, the look in my wife’s eyes, my child’s voice calling me daddy.  All of these and countless more are things that could help me get to that state of pure bliss, if I only decide to contemplate and appreciate them.

Since that day, it has been my intention to re-live that experience at every chance I get.  It’s no small task because it requires focus, and one can easily get distracted by the endless pile of things to do.  But this is why I found it’s important to at least once a day take a break and breathe slowly for a few minutes, uninterrupted, and allow myself to enter into a state of contemplation and gratitude.

I invite you to do so now, as you finish reading this post.  Take a deep breath in and relax your body as you exhale. Close your eyes and think about something that elicits feelings of love, peace or gratitude. Bask in those feelings for a few minutes or for as long as you can, and let them permeate every cell in your body.  Smile as you do so, and know that at this very moment, all-is-well.

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Embracing A Better Version Of Me

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I grew up in a household where hard feelings were harbored against anyone whom you perceived had done something wrong to you, whether it was done intentionally or otherwise; a household where people didn’t talk about their feelings, but instead acted them out.

Instead of verbally articulating that someone’s words and actions were hurtful in some way, my family members would either bottle up their feelings never speaking of them and allowing them to turn into resentment and bitterness, or they would express their hurt by lashing out verbally and sometimes even physically, against the perceived aggressor.

But of course, it wasn’t only the perceived aggressor that felt the effects of the lashing out.  The bitter effects would be felt by everyone around, and slowly but surely, everyone around would be caught up in that cycle of anger, bitterness, resentment, and victimhood.

This atmosphere is bad enough for an adult to experience, but for a growing child it can be devastating.  In time the effects of such an environment become so deeply rooted in the subconscious that sooner or later the growing child begins to act in just the same manner he observed others behave.

By the time the child becomes an adult, these negative and destructive patterns have become second nature, and without knowing why, he or she becomes a living copy of the adults from his childhood, hurting and alienating the people he or she loves the most.

That was me not that long ago.  As far back as I can remember, I observed this destructive behavior in most if not all of my family members.  I became afraid that people would hurt me, and put up all kids of walls to prevent them from doing so.  As I grew older it became difficult for me to make and keep friendships, because I scrutinized every word and every action, to determine whether they were trying to hurt me somehow.  Most of the time, I decided that they were.  The stories I told myself included lies such as:

“I’m not good enough for them.”

“They are just pretending to be my friend because they want something from me.”

“They’ll probably stab me in the back the first chance they get.”

“They are judging me for my appearance.”

“I’m not cool enough, smart enough, […] enough to be their friend.”

…and many others.  Doubting or questioning someone’s loyalty, friendship, honesty, etc. was my predominant attitude.  I also felt that in order to keep the few friends that I managed to make, I needed to make them feel sorry for me; I did not feel like I was good enough for them just as I was so I caused them to pity me so that they would not leave me, by faking illness, sadness, and pain.  Of course that did not work for long because people eventually saw right through me or got tired of my pity parties.   No wonder I was alone most of the time.

That’s what I thought the rest of my life was going to be like. It took many years for me to realize that I was creating the very circumstances that I wanted to avoid.  I didn’t want my friends to leave me, but my behavior would push them away.

These thought and behavior patterns were not limited to friendships, however.  When I got married I had the exact same attitude towards my wife. I took everything way too seriously, and often took offense when she was merely joking or being playful with me. I bottled up my feelings and harbored resentment. Were it not for the fact that my wife was extremely patient with me and held on for so long, I wouldn’t have a marriage right now.

I think I always knew that I wanted to change; I knew that these thought and behavior patterns were destructive and hurtful to me and to those I loved.  I wanted to change, but didn’t know how to go about it.

Deep inside I knew it was possible, and I believed that I could do it if only I was shown the way.  Well, nobody came along to take me by the hand or show me the way; I had to look for it myself.

I started reading a lot of personal development material.  I watched personal development videos; I listened to self-improvement lectures and recorded seminars.  Over the years I learned many techniques that helped me to heal old wounds, forgive the people who hurt me intentionally or unintentionally, develop my self-esteem, learn to love and accept myself, and overall, let go of the past; in other words, I learned to quite literally recreate myself.

I had to muster up the courage to take a hard and honest look at myself and accept that change was needed; then I had to forgive myself. This was probably the hardest part of my journey.  Being a perfectionist at heart, it was extremely difficult for me to accept that I was imperfect. That I had character flaws that needed to be addressed and changed. That people around me, people I loved, got hurt as a result of my words and actions.

The process was painful and anything but easy, but the rewards have proven to be more than worth it. As a result of what I’ve learned and applied in my journey, I am a lighter, happier, more relaxed person. I am able to smile and laugh more and frown less, and I am no longer overcome with stress or worry.  I’ve also learned that I am more of an introvert, but this does not prevent me from making and nurturing friendships.

The person who has truly experienced my transformation first hand is my wife.  She now considers me the ideal husband, and after everything I put her through, after all the pain and anguish I caused her over the years, to have her say “I would do it all over again to get to this moment” fills my heart with immeasurable joy and gratitude.

Have I arrived? Am I now at the point where I can say that there’s nothing else to change? Far from it. But I am no longer afraid to take a look at myself, because I no longer fear finding imperfections.  I am more tuned in to my thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned to spot destructive or negative thought patterns, and I know what I need to do to change them.

I know that I am imperfect, but I also know that I am human, and making mistakes is a part of the human perfection. It is how we grow and evolve into better versions of ourselves, and how we begin to realize our full potential.

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