Standards and Expectations: Are You Good Enough

notesThe media is full of experts giving people advice. They tell us how to be good parents, loving spouses, supportive friends. The press is full of tips for handling our aging parents, our difficult bosses. The problem is most of it doesn’t work.

There are many reasons why superficial, impersonal advice doesn’t have deep and permanent effects. In my opinion it is because these recommendations are based on generalities; a one size fits all, lowest common denominator approach. But for specific situations, these ‘experts’ can’t give any answers since they don’t know:
1) What the underlying issues are.
2) What each person is trying to achieve.
3) How the person being advised feels.
4) The expectations they have towards the people they are trying to relate to.
5) The unique context and circumstance in which the advice is applied.

I do not encourage people to give advice out of context. I try to help my clients find where their problems fit in their lives. In doing so, my clients discover choices they didn’t know they had. I don’t broadly say, “Leave him, He’s no good for you.” I encourage them to push their comfort zones by taking appropriate risks. For example, there is a risk in staying together and a risk in separating.

However, before I can discuss their choices, I have to do some exploration. The client may know what they would like to have happen, but they cannot find a way to make it so. So I want to identify the obstacles, so the client can remove them. To identify these submerged barriers, I rely on focusing questions.

For example, a client might ask:

(Client) “How can I get my wife to give me affection?”
(Therapist) “What is the worst part?”

(C) “I’m stuck. I’ve done everything I can think of.”
(T) “Do you see yourself as a good husband? You have to feel worthy of love before you can seek affection from others.”

(C) “How do I do that?”
(T) “What has to happen first?”

(C) “I don’t have a clue.”
(T) “You have to know what your own standards of a good husband are. Otherwise you strive to achieve unrealistic expectations and end up failing. We often base our expectations of success on examples or the role models you learned to follow. You have to know what your own definition is of a good husband, father, son, sibling, employee, friend are so you can determine what steps to take”

(C) “How do I do that?”
(T) “By setting your own standards of good enough. If we look for others to tell us when we are good enough, it’s like running a race where someone keeps moving the finishing line. A good husband does A, B and C. Then after you do it, your spouse says ‘A good husband does A, B, C and X, Y, Z.” This will leave us feeling frustrated because no matter how much we do, it is never good enough. Being good enough involves taking risks to live up to your own standards of success.”

(C) “But I don’t want to upset my wife. I’m afraid of failing as a husband”
(T) “What does it mean to be a successful husband?”

(C) “I don’t know..give my wife everything she wants?”
(T) “Well our wants are endless, as soon as we get everything we want, we will want more. You have to have courage.”

(C) “How do I get courage?”
(T) “What has to happen first?”

(C) “I don’t know.”
(T) “You have to know what courage is. Courage is the willingness to take a risk, to push your comfort zone and do something hard, like risking disapproval and do it anyways. The act of making something happen is taking a risk, which regardless of the outcome, will you giving feelings of accomplishment, success, confidence, maturity and self-respect.”

Couple in therapy image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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