You Create Your Own Obligations

July 14, 2017

We’re constantly bombarded with all kinds of obligations, from the ones we have to face at work, to those at home, such as having food prepared every day. In the demanding society in which we live, we have to be attractive, hard-working, always on top of things,  good parents, etc.

Obligations are the expectations that we have to fulfill if we want to feel like better people. But think about it for a moment: who imposes your obligations on you? Who are those expectations really coming from?

You might say that the lifestyle we all live is responsible for all the daily obligations that we have to face, and that we should adapt to it. But if you stop to think a little more, you’ll realize that most of our obligations are really self-imposed, and that they’re meant to fulfill other people’s expectations instead of our own.

How many times have you been obligated to do something you didn’t like because it was something you “should” do? The word “should” is a part of many of our irrational beliefs, and it implies a hidden need that must be fulfilled if we want to be happy, or at least not sad.

Thoughts that point to obligations

Disturbing emotions usually arise because of an obligation. As cognitive psychology points out, what we think is the direct cause of how we feel, and in turn, how we feel influences how we think. Thus, if we feel anxious, depressed, or angry, we’re probably creating an endless amount of obligations in our mind.

man with eyes closed

These obligations can be about ourselves, others, or the world in general, and they speak to the false idea we have of how things should be. They close the door to unconditional acceptance, which is the key to emotional well-being.
When obligations are directed towards ourselves, we think that we should be a certain way instead of another.
We don’t accept ourselves the way we are, which creates a deficit in our self-esteem, on top of feeling anxiety over trying to fulfill all those self-imposed expectations, or depression over not being able to fulfill them. “I should have acted properly in this situation,” “I should do my work perfectly every day,” “I shouldn’t fail.” These are just a few examples of disturbing thoughts that we might harbor when we obligate ourselves to be someone we’re not.

Obligations directed towards others, and the world in general, result in anger. Wanting other people, or life, to fulfill our own personal criteria is as unrealistic as trying to make the sky turn magenta.

Every obligation hides a false need within it, which we banish from our minds in order to feel more complete.

Obligations towards ourselves hide the need for approval and perfection. “I should do my job perfectly because I need to get recognized at this company.” When we try to make our environment act in a specific way, we have the need for comfort. “Traffic jams shouldn’t exist because they bore me, annoy me, and make me late for things,” etc.

Swap “I should” for “I’d like to”

If we’re able to modify our inner dialogue to fit better with the world the way it is, we’ll find a way to make ourselves happier. And this change shouldn’t just be a verbal one; we have to believe in what we’re saying and act accordingly until our unhealthy negative emotions turn into healthy ones.

All the obligations that are demanded of us are imposed by ourselves, even if we think there’s no way to escape them. If you think about it, nobody is putting a gun to your head to make you live the life you have.

woman with arms open

Everything we do is the result of a personal decision, and that’s why the only thing that has to change is ourselves.

You might be thinking that there are unavoidable obligations like going to work and taking care of our children. But if you’ve chosen a particular job and you’ve also chosen to be a parent, you’ve once again imposed obligations on yourself. All of your actions have consequences, and if you want to continue paying the mortgage or raising well-behaved children, then you have to act accordingly.
Nobody made you choose the life you have today. Rather, it’s the result of a handful of decisions that you made freely. 
Even if you often feel obligated to choose one path or another, in the end, you make the ultimate decision, whether it’s because you liked it the best, you were influenced by someone or something, you wanted to, or you were afraid.

In order to not feel so obligated and anxious, start by changing your inner dialogue. Every time the word “should” appears in your mind, quickly exchange it for “I’d prefer” or “I’d like” without falling into the trap of demands. And finally, the words “I’d like” should be accompanied by, “but the world isn’t going to end if this doesn’t go the way I want it to,” or “if it doesn’t work out this way, I’ll have other options.”

With a bit of practice and internalization, you’ll start to feel much more peaceful in such a demanding world.

Living Without Expectations