Where is My Perfect Happy Life?: Realistic Emotional Expectations

“It doesn’t make sense. I am doing everything I’m supposed to do. I take my medication, ride my exercise bike a few times a week, eat more veggies and fruits, talk about my feelings (even though you know I hate that), and come here regularly. But I still feel depressed!! It’s not as bad as it was, but I’m not happy.” Bill, 35 years old

“We’ve been working on my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms for what feels like forever. Now I know what to do. When I get triggered, I follow the steps: 1) recognize I’m triggered by identifying somatic symptoms, 2) look around me and name five things I see, 3) stand up, walk around and take 3 slow deep breaths, 4) text a friend. I’m triggered less often, but it still happens. I want it to be gone!” Cali, 20 years old

“My wife and I were divorced over five years ago, and it feels like everyone else but me has moved on. She’s happily married, the kids easily go back and forth between our homes, even my parents say it was a healthy decision. It’s not that I wish we were still together, but some part of me feels stuck. I’ve processed through all the steps of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), so what else can I do?” Ward, 47 years old

Sometimes counseling feels like it should be the end-all-be-all solution that magically fixes our lives. If we follow all the steps perfectly, then we will feel happy, confident and strong all the time. As my wisest teen clients will tell you, that’s just not realistic. Bill might always have a lower emotional baseline, perhaps Cali will need to be aware of triggering situations, and Ward could be unhappy with his divorce for longer then he hopes. A healthy emotional life is full of joy and sadness, reminders of past pains, and seasons of movement and stillness. Where do you need to let go of unrealistic expectations and trust you’ve done enough?