Are your expectations hitting the kill switch to your happiness?
Throughout the years of working with couples and individuals struggling with interpersonal relationships, addictions, anxiety, depression, or simply adjusting to their ever changing lives I have witnessed the turmoil caused by unmet expectations placed upon themselves and others. People tend to be strongly connected to their expectations, regardless if the expectation is positive or negative. In addition, many individuals will often times gravitate more consistently towards negative or positive expectations.
What is a negative expectation? Expecting the worst or expecting too little from an individual or situation. The development of this thought process is often times constructed as a protective shield. For example some protective negative expectations are:
- They will probably leave me
- This diet won’t work for me
- I bet the cancer has gotten worse
- My child will never be able to excel
These thoughts are often times justified with, “if I expect the worst I will be prepared and if the worst doesn’t happen I will be pleasantly surprised.” On the surface this appears to be a solid plan of attack. However, while expecting the worst to happen in the future we live in present despair of what may or may not happen, which may cause:
- Isolation and limited support – this negative outlook can often times push people away (aka Debbie Downer).
- Chronic irritability – moodiness is a natural emotional response of constant negative thinking.
- Limits potential and possibilities – people may not try or give up hope if they continually assume they cannot achieve or overcome an obstacle.
What is a positive expectation? Expecting perfection or too much from an individual or situation. This thought process is also often times developed as a measure of protection. Unfortunately behind this protective shield is a mountain of significant avoidance. For example some protective positive expectations are:
- I have the perfect child that could never disappoint me
- You are going to be great, with so many treatment options cancer is not a big deal these days.
- Because my spouse truly loves me, they will understand and meet my needs (i.e. child rearing, frequency of intimacy, household chores, gifts, etc.)
- Since I’m making such a big financial investment in this weight loss program I won’t cheat or struggle with staying on track.
In comparison to negative expectations, positive expectations also limit our ability to accurately experience the present moment. Expecting too much or perfection can lead us to avoid, or be ill-equipped to manage problems that may arise. While positive expectations are generally meant to be encouraging and supportive, they frequently cause the following reactions:
- Immense pressure on ourselves and others – The amount of pressure people can experience in response to positive expectations can be so intense that they are unable to enjoy their accomplishments due to residual amounts of pressure.
- Dismiss or overlook the realities in life, avoiding problems – Stunting healthy personal and interpersonal development that may come from addressing the realities of life.
- Frustration and unhappiness – Exaggerated expectations will eventually lead to disappointment, simply because not everything in life is going to be perfect or go as planned.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow
The next time your happiness has been killed, or you just notice you are in a constant rut, stop and ask yourself, “What expectation in this moment is causing this tension?” Fight to not immediately defend or judge your expectation. Once you are aware of your identified expectation put it up against the following test:
- Is the expectation true?
- Is the expectation helpful?
- Is the expectation realistic?
What are the positive and negative expectations that are killing your happiness in the moment? If you or someone you know needs help filtering through personal or relational expectations contact me at Michael@ashenfeltercounseling.com. Stay tuned for 4 Expectations that are Ruining My Marriage and Career Success & Marriage Failure.