There are two schools of thought on how to manage your expectations of people.
There are those who say expect the worst and be happy with anything better. The other viewpoint is that if you look for the best in people, you will find it.
So how should we approach our expectations of the toxic person in our life?
I started to address this in the last post, It’s Not Fair. The first tip I gave for coping was lower your expectations. Let’s look at this more carefully before we attempt to answer the question above.
First, what does lowering your expectations look like? This seems pretty self-explanatory, and for the most part I believe it is, but because it probably does not come naturally to you, as it didn’t for me, I want to talk about this a bit.
I have a personal example that may help explain.
Last Tuesday my former husband emailed me telling me he would be in the area earlier than usual and would be coming by to pick them up early– if it was ok with me (he often has trouble with actually asking). I responded that the kids were still doing their schoolwork and I did not think they would be done prior to the normal pick-up time (since starting this new school, getting done before 8:00 p.m. is considered a major success).
He responded that that was fine and that he understood. I felt like it was a reasonable exchange and thought it was over. Then I saw a text that he sent my daughter. She asked him about 40 minutes before he was to arrive when he was planning on coming. His response? “Mom won’t let me come before six. I am waiting at [restaurant] for you guys… 🙁 ” (Yes, including the sad emoji.)
Huh. So to my “face” he was reasonable and responded appropriately, but to our daughter, I simply wouldn’t let him come early. Was this technically true? Kind of, but you can see what’s happening here, right? A partial truth with a less than honorable intent.
My kids have a phone for emergency situations and to communicate with me while I am at work. I had been hanging on to it since I had received his email because I thought that this might happen, but when he responded well to my response, I gave it to her thinking that we were in the clear from any drama that might arise as a result. I still sometimes seem to get tricked into thinking he will do the right thing, and forget to lower my expectations.
I don’t get frustrated like I used to though, and this addresses the “why” behind the lowered expectations.
I remind myself of this mantra and remember that this is what I need to expect. I am not condoning it, nor do I think it is ok, but I realize that he is going to do what he wants to do and I cannot prevent it. Instead of fighting against it, trying to reason with him, or making an issue out of it, I remember that this is who he is and I don’t expect him to change. I then intervene to redress only when necessary.
No, it is not normal and it is certainly not how I would manage my children’s behavioral issues, but this is the only way to cope with this kind of behavior from a toxic person. If you don’t lower your expectations you will be constantly frustrated. It is not healthy for normal interpersonal relationships, but it is healthy here. It is healthier for you to not get worked up over all the ways he tries to get to you.
Like I said in my last post, it doesn’t seem fair to just let this stuff go, but don’t expend your energy trying to change the unchangeable. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting to get a different result.
This is just one recent example out of many where I have recognized the need to keep expectations low. It is certainly not the worst. You will be surprised by all the creative energy they put into creating drama and attempting to push your buttons, but just like when someone attempts to tease you, hoping to get a reaction, the best reaction is to not react.
Preserve your energy and your sanity. Lower your expectations.