Everybody puts pressure on themselves at one time or another. Pressure to be a better person, be healthier, do more work, be a better wife, husband, parent, the list goes on. But how much of this pressure is healthy, and how much of it just results in more stress, tension, and anxiety?
What Is Pressure?
You get an idea in your head, or you have a belief: I need to be successful, I need to accomplish these things by a certain age, I need to get married, I need to have children… Whatever those beliefs are, they are only thoughts. But they can feel so real and so necessary.
They can stem from social pressure and expectations, the beliefs of your parents and significant other, or what you see all of your friends doing. As humans we are so easily influenced by people around us, especially those that we care about.
And these people that care about us and have these expectations may have good intentions. They only want us to be happy and live a fulfilling life. But when does it become a life that we are living for somebody else, and not for ourselves?
You are the only person standing between those expectations and how you choose to act out your life.
Where Does Pressure Come From?
Pressure can come from two sources:
- External pressure- from any source other than yourself: media, social pressures, family, friends, social media, news.
- Internal pressure- expectations that you create yourself. This internal pressure can be influenced by external sources that you then internalize as your own beliefs and expectations.
How do you deal with this pressure coming from all around? How do you even know whether you are creating this pressure, or it is a result of the things you have been told by other people throughout your whole life?
Take Time To Reflect
You can’t address the pressure in your life without first identifying it. Take some time to reflect or journal about what types of pressure you are putting on yourself. Maybe it is pressure to have a successful job, eat healthier, get married, have more money, or live your life a certain way.
I want you to really think about what your expectations are for your life and how you may put undue pressure on yourself to meet these expectations.
Once you have identified the types of pressure you put on yourself, then you can start to reflect on where these beliefs come from. Do your parents have the expectation that you need to have a specific type of career or job in order to be happy? Or maybe you see all of your friends getting married and feel the pressure to do so yourself?
As silly as these thoughts may sound, they are all too realistic when it comes to the social pressure and expectations that can influence how you view yourself and your life.
Now, reflect upon what types of pressures you have created for yourself. Some of these may be what are called self-fulfilling prophecies. According to Wikipedia, a self-fulfilling prophecy is
“a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-fulfilling_prophecy
An example of this may be that you got good grades as a child, and your parents and teachers reinforced the belief that you were smart. The children in the class who did not do well may have had the belief reinforced that they were not smart. The teacher and parents then treat these students accordingly. As a result, the students come to think of themselves as these adults think of them. These beliefs then may become deeply ingrained and you may view yourself as either smart or not, depending on the reinforcement of the beliefs.
Have you experienced any of this reinforcement in your life? Have you ever performed well (or not well) and were labeled as such, and then this label kept you trapped in this belief and expectation of yourself?
Here are some examples of labels/self-fulfilling prophecies:
- Not doing well in school
- Performing poorly
- Troublemaker or criminal
- High achiever
All of these are just labels of static behavior and expectations that people have put upon you and you have put upon yourself. The problem with these labels is that they are not YOU. The only constant in life is change, and to put static expectations on yourself is unrealistic and keeps you trapped.
How Do You Get Out Of The Pressure Trap?
Start by becoming aware. If you have not gone through the suggestions in the previous section, I will break it down for you here so you can understand the importance of identifying and acknowledging the pressure traps you have created for yourself.
- Identify the pressure/expectations you have put on yourself
- Identify the source of these pressures:
- Does the pressure come from external sources or labels other people have put upon you?
- Does the pressure come from internal sources or labels that you have reinforced in yourself?
- How are these pressures/expectations limiting you? How are they causing you to stress yourself out and burn yourself out?
Reflection is such a helpful tool for really noticing and challenging the unconscious patterns we constantly live our lives repeating.
Often we are so afraid of change and facing these patterns that we continually avoid looking at them. I am guilty of this so often and when I can find the time to reflect on my beliefs and expectations for myself, it is so immensely helpful.
Your beliefs, expectations, pressures- whatever you want to call them- are only thoughts. They are not facts and they are not reality. Often we are our own toughest critics and cause so much undue suffering just because of how we think we should be living our lives.
Take some time to check yourself and your beliefs, and you will be surprised at how much you live your life on autopilot, just believing all of these thoughts to be facts.
It can be a tough journey, but I know you are more than capable if you are willing to put the work in. If you’re looking for 1:1 support along this journey to stop putting so much pressure on yourself so you can feel calmer and happier from within, schedule an appointment with me for therapy now.