Freeing ourselves from self-limiting expectations
Updated: May 11
Trying to live up to the expectations of others is something that affects all of us. It's a critical theme that appears in my counselling and training rooms, and there's a clear link to lowered wellbeing. A few weeks ago, I noticed it happening to me too.
As a business owner, advisers emphasise the importance of a social media presence; there is talk of "know your audience" so you know what the right content is, how to post at the correct times, and all in aid of growing your online followers. It all sounded like excellent business talk, but why was I feeling like a fraud and unmotivated when doing all the right things? I decided to stop all social media activity and connect with this feeling. What I learned has changed everything. To understand my current experience, I will share a little about my past that I haven't often spoken about in a professional setting until now.
In the beginning
My drive to train as a counsellor and deliver training in mental health resulted from the barriers I faced in my recovery journey. As a young person, I met many hard times (more on that in a future blog), which left me shattered inside. When reaching out for help, I received responses like, "it's all in the past now, though, isn't it?", "you have to learn to move on", "the past can't hurt you", "you're likely always to have anxiety" and, "I give up on you". Some of these responses came from well-meaning people that hoped, wholeheartedly, I would be able to move on with some encouragement, but these comments felt like a dagger to the heart. A broad misunderstanding of trauma and mental health, in general, are the reasons why I stopped sharing what had happened to me, and this delayed my recovery.
Searching for ways to heal myself, I turned to books and eventually, I did talk about my early childhood trauma but many years later. After much recovery in all its messy forms, it's clear that what is genuinely curative is hope, understanding and connection.
Taking action to make a difference
I retrained in counselling and mental health to help people like me who had lost hope or didn't know who they could trust. Empathy is proven to build healing connections, and this comes from having the ability to hear what someone says, accept it as their truth and understand how it would feel. With lived experience, connecting with another's experience in this way comes naturally because the likelihood is, I've been there myself. I often hear phrases like "this is going to sound bad" or "you may think this is weird," but I'm yet to hear something that I can't relate to, thanks to my own experience. My recovery has made me a better counsellor than I could have ever been from learning through books alone, without question.
"Until I met Joanna, I had never felt understood by anyone...I have met with other healthcare professionals, however none expressed the same level of empathy, compassion or understanding as Joanna was able to." - Steven
Coming back to why I felt like a fraud when posting on social media, I realised that my lived experience is something that I don't tend to bring out, and when I do, it feels wrong. After much reflection, I discovered I was carrying a self-limiting expectation that professionals are supposed to have their shit together all the time! Full disclosure- I don't. The reassuring truth is, nobody does. It's human to struggle, and it's through struggle that we learn and adapt. We don't see each other's battles, which is why it's easy to think that it is abnormal and something we should hide.
Now, I live a life free from chronic anxiety and the affects of childhood trauma. I now realise that the meaning of "success" is personal to each of us. For me, it's not about more followers or better social media presence, or pretending to be someone who has never struggled; it's about using my experiences, both professional and lived to promote long-term healing.
As Ghandi so succinctly puts it-
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world".
So with this opening blog, I invite you to shake off the expectations of others and embrace the parts of you that are hidden; they're the parts that probably need you the most.