How do We Free Ourselves from Other People’s Expectations?

One of the ways in which we are socialized by our caretakers growing up is that they reward us or punish us for our behavior. The result of this is that we grow up looking to others for evaluation of our behavior. Were it only our behavior it would be all right, but often we look to others for an evaluation of ourselves. Am I a good person? Am I a bad person? Do I have a right to exist?

Many of us end up constantly looking into other people’s eyes to find out who we are.

It creates considerable anxiety because other people have their agendas, and their response to us is not coming from a place of clarity. Their response is coming in relation to their own needs. It is not surprising then, that we end up with a considerable amount of attention to interpersonal relations. For most people, it is a very emotionally charged web we live in, and in order to become secure, we attempt to place people and define them in ways that are comfortable for us. So we enter into conspiracies with one another to define each other in very simple and stable and consistent ways.

We build our expectations about who each other is. Often, we become trapped in other people’s expectations about us. We learn how to treat each other in habitual ways, and we develop characteristic ways of behaving with other people. Often you can look at another person as they come down the street and see who they think they are. The way they dress, the way they walk, the way their facial muscles appear. There is an amazing amount of redundancy in telling each other who we think we are, and we enter into a conspiracy with one another that says, “I will make believe you are who you think you are, if you will make believe I am who I think I am.”

The predicament is that if either of us tries to change, the other one punishes them. If you try to grow in a relationship you often find yourself punished for that. But here we are in a retreat focused on growth, and the growth has to do with inner transformation that changes the meaning and the nature of our identity. If you have many layers of identity, but somebody only knows you on one of them, and then you attempt to bring forth another one, it’s often very threatening to another person.

We have to start to see that part of the work of freeing up a relationship has to do with our own mind, and our expectations of each other because even though it is efficient for us to remain the same, it is also very stifling to our growth.

Now it is true that one could be transformed inwardly without changing one’s outer game at all, but it is unlikely that will be able to be done. The process of spiritual awakening changes one’s values about human relationships. As we begin to sense that our own awakening is increasingly significant in our lives, we start to see the world in a very different way.

Similarly with other people, your relationships begin to mean different things, and you begin to look around for what is called “Satsang” or “Sangha.” It refers to being around a community of other people who are sharing the inner journey. Like, you come here and it’s much easier to explore the inner work along with the rest of us. So you begin to look to other people in terms of whether or not they are sharing what is happening to you inside. If you’re not careful it can be a very violent period.


-Ram Dass

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