What is the difference between expectations, needs, and desires? Expectations are hopes and beliefs that are focused on the future and may or may not be realistic. A need is something that is necessary for healthy relating and living. Do you know what is essential for you to have a healthy relationship (i.e. fidelity, kindness, lack of drug or alcohol addiction, etc.)? What are your deal breakers or non-negotiables? A desire is a preference about something you would like to have or receive.
If you are continuously disappointed by the people in your life, perhaps you are doing them a disservice by expecting what they cannot deliver. Unrealistic expectations can lead to anger, frustration and resentment. By rethinking your attitude toward others, you can be happier in your relationships and life.
- Why adjust your expectations? One reason to take unrealistic expectations seriously is that studies have shown that people who harbor these expectations are prone to anxiety, depression and unhappiness. Being more realistic may improve your contentment and emotional health.
- The habit of expecting too much from people often comes from childhood. Many of us think in terms of perfection when we are younger, but as adults we learn the perfect man, the perfect child, the perfect friend, the perfect job and the perfect body are impossible goals. Did you learn this habit when you were young? If so, try to give others approval, compliments and reassurance in place of expectations.
- Make a list of those who often disappoint you. By acknowledging these disappointing feelings, you may see a pattern of people at work or home. (One caution here: if there is one area of your life where there are complex problems, you may not be able to have realistic expectations until other issues are resolved.)
- Understand expectations and dependence. We are often harder on the people who are close to us. When we depend upon someone, there are more personal consequences when they don’t come through. If your list is filled with people that you are close to, perhaps you rely too heavily on them. Not everyone has the same skill set. Reassess whether they have unreasonable responsibilities placed upon them.
- Make a list of the “good” qualities of the people you love. Perhaps a positive trait is connected to a negative trait that you did not see at the beginning of your relationship. (An honest person may wear their heart on their sleeve. An extrovert may be very opinionated. It is the old adage of a two edged sword!) It is easier to get a realistic view of someone’s personality than try to change a trait so that it is ideal in your eyes.
- Are you too focused on yourself? The psychotherapist Albert Ellis once said, “Where is it written that others must act the way we want them to. It may be preferable, but not necessary.” You might consider engaging in a sympathy or empathy-building activity. Attend a support group, volunteer at a shelter, help out at a hospital or any other activity where you are in a supporting role rather than an organizing role that gives you a chance to view real people and help them.
- Television and movies are not real life models! Hollywood depicts an unrealistic view of the world. Replace the “storybook ending” with time with people you love or choose options that depict people with both strengths and weaknesses. Caution: TV reality shows are not reality!
- What about self-help books? These books can be helpful for creating goals and positive thoughts but those goals can also be unrealistic. Take into account that those you interact with are often cycling through highs and lows and may not be their “best self” all the time.
- Don’t expect others to read your mind! Never expect someone to know how you’re feeling if you haven’t told them. Many times we expect people to understand how we feel just by looking or talking to us. People’s emotional mindsets may be entirely different, so they should not be held accountable for something they were unaware of.
- Consider realistic expectations a valuable skill set. As soon as you are able to redefine your expectations for people, you can use those skills in other areas of your life.
Unrealistic expectations can deprive you of a full, interesting, and satisfying life. They can form a set of limiting beliefs that get in the way of making meaningful changes. The good news is that you can reframe your expectations and have more satisfying relationships.
__________________ Sources available upon request.
Bonnie Harken NCLC, Founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women has spent the last 30 years assisting individuals begin their journey of healing. Look for upcoming programs at Crossroads Programs for Women. Begin your journey of finding renewal, hope, joy, direction and passion. Each program is a blend of lectures, group discussion, and therapeutic exercises offering a healing curriculum in four and five day intensive outpatient formats. We also offer group and individual life coaching. We explore the spiritual components of healing from a non-denominational Christian perspective. Why continue to struggle? Tomorrow does not have to be like today. We can help you. Visit www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com or call 1-800-348-0937.