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Issue 3 March 2006

Sanity Saver#5: Get Real About What You Can Actually Expect of Yourself

Most of us are caught in a tug-of-war between who we think we should be and who we are; between what we want to do and what we’re actually able to do. In other words, we’re at the mercy of our guilt demons. Our feelings of guilt often prevent us from taking care of ourselves. These feelings often stem from unrealistic expectations.

When you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that you have impossible ideals that you strive to live up to— ideals like, “I must always put other people’s needs first,” or “I should never disappoint anyone.” These kinds of standards are not only impossible to meet, but also they wreak havoc on your life.

When you let yourself be driven by perfectionism, guilt and unattainably high standards, you become irritable, grumpy and unable to function well.

Guilt is a major roadblock to taking care of ourselves. There’s always a list of things that have to be done that takes precedence over attending to our needs. Then there’s the fear of disappointing someone if you occasionally make yourself a priority. But stop and consider for a moment: when you put yourself last on the list and allow your guilt to run your life, the person that you continually disappoint is yourself.

The truth is, you have to come first, at least some of the time. I know this probably makes you uncomfortable since it goes against everything you’ve been taught as women. Yet, the reality is that it’s only to the extent that you love and care for yourself that you’re truly able to love and care for others.

Take heart, there is something you can do—in fact, you must do. First you have to identify the ideals that are your underlying motivation. Most of us have an idealized image of what good parents, career women, good daughters, good wives or girlfriends should be--we are haunted by these images of perfection. Rather than confront the comparison between our idealized images and our actual self, many of us feel inadequate and guilt-ridden because we can't match up to our own impossibly high standards.

You have a choice: you can either adjust your standards so that they more closely match reality or you can change your behavior. In the majority of cases, I would suggest you get rid of those ludicrous expectations.