I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts by friends and acquaintances who are feeling especially down and worthless lately. Some of them suffer from anxiety and depression, which I understand is caused by brain chemistry – but in my opinion, I think these conditions are often exacerbated by the false expectations our society has of us. And these expectations affect most of us, to one degree or another, making us feel like failures at life.
We’re “supposed to” have the perfect home, of course always pristinely clean and decorated like a magazine photo. The ideal career, providing us plenty of money (if not time) and prestige. Well-behaved compliant children who happily spend most of their waking hours in school or doing homework. A young and slim but curvy body, dressed fashionably and with tidy Barbie hair. And a long list of other “must-do” and “must-have” things that make us a paragon of etiquette, conformity, and consumerism.
What a load of crap!
Many of us see beyond the shallow surface of these expectations and revel in our creativity, wildness, and spirituality. We embrace our loving natures and see through pop culture into what really matters most to us – on our good days, anyway.
Yet living day in, day out in a culture that (almost) never talks about our real passions and struggles wears on us. Many of us begin to feel like the toys in the old Christmas special, the ones relegated to an island, perpetually lonely and misfit. The long-term effects of this can have an adverse impact on our mental and emotional health, whether or not we suffer from a chronic illness.
How can we avoid feeling like misfit toys? How can we stay authentic and strong in our own deepest values, which might have nothing to do with those of our society?
Here are a few tips:
Gather in like-minded community. No matter how niche your passions, there are likely others who share them. Find them online. Seek them out in person. One by one, create a tribe whose values and interests line up with yours. Cherish them. Support one another and spend time laughing and crying and dancing – or whatever floats your collective boat.
Ignore the mainstream media. The thing is, none of us really “has it all together.” We’re here on Earth to learn and grow. The images of the perfect family or career or home or whatever? They’re mostly ways of advertising products. Let go of the images you see and revel in your unique life.
Practice gratitude. Instead of looking at your flaws or what’s not working in your life, examine your blessings. Express thanks for your joys, both the biggies (like being loved) and the small daily ones (like that first steaming cup of coffee or tea). We’re taught to seek what’s wrong and fix it, so training your mind to look for blessings will take time, but it’s absolutely possible. And it will help.
Help someone else. The more real you can be with those you interact with, the better. Authenticity ripples outward. Reach past the normal boundaries and share a smile or a joke with a frazzled checkout clerk. Tip well. Admit when you’re struggling. Give little gifts or compliments to people who seem unhappy or stressed. Helping another will give you warm fuzzies, which uplifts your own feelings of worthiness.
Let something go. You know that thing that you think you “should” do but never quite achieve? Like all the laundry being done and folded, or a home-cooked meal every night, or cleaning out your car? Let it go. Release it and feel how that little piece of stress lightens your load as it floats away. Next week, find another one and let that sucker go, too. Bye-bye, unrealistic expectations!
It can be especially hard to conform to expectations around the holidays. Forget it. Celebrate your way. Enjoy your family and friends – the ones who love you and want to spend time with you. Minimize your time with the judgmental ones.
Do what feels good to you, and let go of the rest. Truly. You’re not a misfit toy. You’re a complex, creative, fantastic human being. There’s no need to try and comply with expectations that leave you feeling worthless. You can stop, and the world won’t end. Try it.