This is the fourth in a 7-blog series about support for parents and caregivers of special needs children. It can also apply to other situations. Because the best person to find solutions to your concerns is you, prompts and exercises are provided to gently lead you in your best direction. Click to go to the first blog in the series or to the previous blog.
So far in the Circles of Support series, we have discussed a common belief system about relationships that most of us learned during childhood. We also explored a more pragmatic (or realistic) belief system that focuses on the function of people in our lives, rather than their defined relationship to us.
Today we compare the two systems, and examine how shifting our focus from the Idealized to the Pragmatic Belief System might help us to gain and maintain more and better support in our lives—whatever that means to each of us. This ultimately results in our feeling more at peace.
Let’s consider expectations
In the Idealized Belief System, the underlying expectation is that your spouse or partner is the primary person providing support—both emotional and physical—with your special needs child(ren) and other life concerns. The next key people are your parents and siblings, then close personal friends, and so on.
Makes sense, right? That is, it makes sense based upon society’s idea of how things “should” work. But many of our lives don’t match this Idealized Belief System, and therein lies the rub.
Expectations in the Pragmatic Belief System are quite different: Support again comes in layers, but the system doesn’t specify the relationship to you of the people in each grouping. Self and Spirit also play a huge role here; they didn’t even appear on the Idealized system. (We will address Self and Spirit categories in blogs #6—7 of this series.)
And when expectations aren’t met
So what happens when we adhere to the Idealized Belief System, but the people we believe are “supposed to” support us either can’t or won’t? They may have their reasons, despite our repeated efforts to help them understand our reality, and no matter how well or often we tell them what we want or need.
Over time, our unmet expectations can become an exercise in frustration, resentment, and anger. In the short term, individual incidents are simple to explain away or sweep under the carpet. But long term, a pattern of repeated disappointments can ruin relationships and rob us of our own valuable time and energy.
Or perhaps you do not have the people described in the inner circles of the Idealized Belief System. Perhaps you are a single parent, your parents live far away or have passed, you have no siblings—the Idealized Belief System could leave you feeling bereft or unsupported. You might think if only those people were in your life, things would be easier. Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
The bottom line is this: Emotional pain results, again and again, when our expectations of who should give us support are not met.
Shifting our expectations is key
We can’t change another person; we can only change ourselves. So, to eliminate unnecessary pain, we can shift our mindset from the Idealized Belief System to the Pragmatic Belief System. This change of expectations also frees up time and energy to pursue more productive avenues.
Wait. What?! Are you saying that my spouse or parent or sibling shouldn’t support me? If they don’t, then who will?!
This is where belief in a loving, higher power comes in. It doesn’t matter what your spiritual practice is, but to benefit from this series from here on out, you’ll want at least a smidgeon of belief. What you call it is up to you. Based on my background, I use the terms God and Spirit; others prefer Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, Source, or a similar name.
Good, you’re still here. Let’s continue. So you’re in this special needs situation and you need support. Lots of it. AND you believe in a higher power, even though you may have some doubts and certainly don’t have all the answers.
I’m not going to say “just have faith and it will all work out”
And aren’t you glad? Because it’s not that simple. Especially when you’re stretched to the max and feel like you’re already doing everything you can.
If someone had said “just have faith” to me during my most stressful years, I would have gotten angry and decided they didn’t understand a single thing about me or my life. Their advice wouldn’t have helped my intense needs, and the comment might have left me feeling even more hopeless and despondent.
So I’m not going to say that to you.
Instead, I ask: What is your life path and purpose?
Reflect upon your life. Do you believe you are a parent of a special needs child by accident? Did the circumstances you’re in just randomly happen by some bizarre combination of details and events?
Or, since you believe in a loving, higher power, do you feel that your circumstances are part of your life path? That your higher power gave you these precise life circumstances for a greater purpose—so that you and others could learn and grow? Could you consider that these life circumstances exist for positive reasons, even if you cannot currently fathom them?
If our higher power is indeed loving, deep down we know we wouldn’t have been given these circumstances without also being provided access to the support we need—as well as the personal power to bring about that support.
Others have a life path as well
Along with accepting our own path, we must also accept that others have a path that they must follow for their higher good. And it’s possible, just possible, that the people who are closest to us in the Idealized Belief System are not the ones meant to give us the support we desire. And that’s okay.
We cannot know another’s life path; that is between them and their higher source. It’s wise to let others live their own life without setting ourselves up for emotional pain and frustration.
If those in your Idealized Belief System consistently won’t or can’t support you, then it’s not their path. Accept that. Decide not to negatively judge these people, and instead forgive them.
Stop expecting, or trying to force, or yearning for, people in your Idealized Belief System to be supportive. Release them from the expectation that they should be any different from how they are.
That doesn’t leave us high and dry
Such advice may seem to fly against conventional wisdom. Why would we want to do this?
Here’s the beauty of it. Remember that our higher power gave us these life circumstances for our and others’ highest good, and will always love and support us. When we release others from unrealistic expectations, we free up space to accept other people who can and will support us.
The universe abhors a vacuum. When we stop expecting that support will come only in a certain way, we open up room for our higher power to work miracles and offer support in other ways.
It’s about trust. Release the Idealized Belief System if it isn’t working for you. Even if you can’t anticipate how support will come to you, divine wisdom will find a way. Your job is to create the opening through which it arrives.
In the next blog, we’ll discuss how our relationships may change when we shift focus from Idealized to Pragmatic Belief Systems and how we can navigate that.
Suggested Activity for the next two weeks:
1) In your journal or notebook, continue to record instances of big and little support you receive, as well as additional support you desire. Feel grateful for what support you do have, as gratitude makes space for even more to come into your life.
2) Continue to feel optimistic and accept that more support will soon appear in your life. Again, if this seems like a stretch, it may be helpful to say this affirmation aloud several times a day: “I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I have faith that more support is coming to me!” Feel grateful in advance for the extra support that is on its way, whether it’s something you journaled as a desire or is totally unexpected. Be open to new possibilities.
3) Refer back to those people you named earlier and using the image of the Circles of Support, fill in those people on this chart.
4) Then, journal about the consistencies and differences of the key people in your life. For example, do the spouse/partner, parents, and siblings on your Idealized Belief System translate to your Inner Circle in the Pragmatic system? They may, and that’s important to note.
But know that mismatches are common. Perhaps your co-worker is in the fifth circle on the Idealized Belief System, but makes it into your Inner Circle on the Pragmatic Belief System. Or perhaps your sister is in the second circle on the Idealized Belief System, but is a Naysayer on the Pragmatic Belief System. These mismatches are also important to jot down.
We will discuss mismatches more next time. For now, as much as you can, try to be neutrally accepting instead of negatively judging, as everyone has their own life path.
Now that we’re about halfway through this series, I’m curious… are you finding it helpful? Does it resonate with you? Is any of it confusing? Please let me know your thoughts here.
Until next time!