Anticipation is a word that doesn’t often get associated with a negative feeling, it’s generally spoken about in terms of excitement. However, the anticipation I am talking about is the kind you don’t normally talk about or relate to in a positive way. It’s the negative worrying about the future, the worry about being summoned to the principal’s office because of your child’s anger, it’s the dread of facing work knowing they are identifying which positions will be cut, the fear of facing the doctor with a strange lump in your breast. It’s the anticipation of a loss you’re not prepared for.
It’s generally not spoken about because people know that others can’t relate to it because it hasn’t happened yet. If you do speak about it people tell you not to worry about it (a futile expression). There’s just a sense of dread, doom and a little bit of hope that the worse is not to come. How you handle this is a measure of your ability to be aware of your emotions and to actively manage them without exploding and yelling at others.
I was once a worrier, I call myself a reformed worrier now. Having a child who was diagnosed as ADHD meant that I spent many days and nights worrying about him, what his report card would say, whether he’d be able to control his temper or emotions, would he try drugs because he was so quick to do things before really thinking about the consequences. These are all valid worries that didn’t make my life any easier or his any better. I micro managed him for many years and now I regret doing that so much because it meant that he had to struggle to learn self management and problem solving when he moved out of home.
Anticipation can be another form of anxiety. The silent kind. We are expecting the worse. We are grieving before the loss. The loss of a person, if they do something life threatening. The loss of a dream if it doesn’t go to plan. All of these feelings have a stake in a future which is out of our control and keeps us from enjoying what we have right now.
We are the only species on this planet which is able to anticipate our own deaths..all others have the ability to just carry on until it’s time to die and leave the grieving to the ones we leave behind.
There are five stages to grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Unfortunately these emotional stages can be experienced even before the loss! Have you ever begged God or tried to make a deal so that something would work out OK? “Please God if I could just get this job then I promise I will never be so reckless again!” “Please God if you let Sue live then I promise to dedicate my life to cure MS!”
We anticipate the loss and then slip into one of the stages and jump in and out of the others until the threat is gone or the loss is realized. What about the daycare mum that is told that little Sam is bullying the other children, she can’t believe it, he’s so lovely at home, he’s her sweet little boy. She then lives in a world of anticipatory stress unconsciously horrified she’s created a monster instead of the sweet little boy she thought she had. When she sees him bully another child at a friends place she’s horrified and yells at Sam and drags him home crying. Her view of him has changed and her safety threatened by the fear that she’s not good enough as a mother and others will judge her for it.
What we fear the most is the loss, the lack of control we have in our lives, that our world and life is impermanent and ever changing is the paradox we cannot and will not accept. In this lack of acceptance is our fear and pain.
What if we changed our outlook to accept this reality, that we can’t control everything, including the behavior of others? How would that feel if you could do that right now. Think of something that is worrying you… Where do you feel that worry in your body… Ask yourself what am I hoping to control here, what outcome am I fearing? What if you could accept that outcome? What’s the worst thing that could happen? How do you feel when you think of that? What would you feel if you didn’t believe in that thought, that something bad is going to happen? If you could clear your mind of that anticipated negative outcome how different would you be behaving? What would others notice about you?
Get a sense of the alternative state and emotions you would be feeling if you let go of your need to control the anticipated negative outcome. The belief that it can’t happen to you! That you can control others or their behavior or what they say about you. None of that can be controlled!
You know you have finally reached a peaceful place if you can examine your worries for the real or imagined losses and release the need to control the outcome, the need to fight what is the actual reality. You then become more resilient when the loss does actually happen. Though you can expect that the loss will hurt and you will grieve, if the loss occurs (as is natural). You also release your worry about the future and focus on the moment you are in right now.. This too shall pass..
My peace comes from not fighting what is real and letting go of an imagined future… Accepting each moment as it arises and watching what I feel and what I say to myself and challenging my thoughts when they slip into the imagined future.. Peace at last.