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Are Your Expectations Too High?

Updated on June 6, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

An education specialist, Denise teaches the principles of emotional health for the establishment and maintenance of high-quality families.

When our expectations are too high, they become our nemesis.
When our expectations are too high, they become our nemesis.

Check Your Expectations

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What are expectations?

"I thought that he would at least call."

"The company said that it would be easy. This is one of the most difficult I have ever done!"

"She came, but she didn't bring everything with her."

"You didn't do it? What on earth were you thinking?!"

In every one of the above expressions, expectations were not met. Our expectations are what we think will happen. They give us a look at the future. We expect the sun to rise in the morning, the eggs to be on the shelf when we go to the store, and the money to come in after we have put in our hard work and effort.

These types of expectations are based on facts, contracts, and natural laws. Unfortunately, the expectations we have for human beings are based on what we think "should" or "could" happen. Nothing is guaranteed, and we frequently end up hoping for more than we get. This phenomena leads to the emotional issues of disappointment, disbelief, discouragement, disagreement, distrust, dissatisfaction, disrespect, and discontentment.

Every one of these words begins with "dis" - "a Latin prefix meaning 'apart,' 'asunder,' 'away,' 'utterly,' or having a privative, negative, or reversing force" ( When our expectations get the best of us, we have a disconnect between what with think ought to happen and the reality of life. This space gets filled with all sorts of negative thoughts and feelings.

It seems that no one escapes the troubles, challenges, and disappointments of this world.

— James E. Faust

Where do our expectations come from?

Our expectations are the sum total of what we have experienced in the past, what we have done with those experiences, and how we want our future to be. We develop beliefs that govern our actions and what we think is right and proper.

These beliefs are in the form of statements that we tell ourselves. We use them as the basis of our expectations. We assume that they are true and valid because the circumstances of our lives substantiate them.

We may even adopt statements that are irrational or unrealistic. We think that certain things are true because we see them played out in our lives. This complex web of cause and effect connections plants seeds of negative emotions that eventually undermine our emotional health.

These unrealistic expectations become skewed, upside down and inside out. We find ourselves disillusioned, disheartened, and disappointed with our lives. See the table below for examples of some unrealistic expectations and how we skew them to make them even more detrimental to our feelings of self-worth:

Unrealistic Expectation
Skewed Version
I have worked hard, therefore, I deserve to take it easy
I can't take it easy now, I haven't worked hard enough.
If I do everything right, I can avoid pain and suffering.
I am suffering and in pain, I have done something wrong.
Life is supposed to be fair. Everyone should be treated equally.
I am not being treated equally. Life is terribly unfair.
If I am nice to others, in return, they will be nice to me.
People are being mean to me. I must not be very nice.
When I have everything I need, then I will be happy.
I am not happy. I don't have everything that I need.

How do unrealistic expectations affect us?

Having unrealistic expectations is like having a cracked windshield on a car. Each time we look through it, we see a distorted view of reality. We think that we are close to an object, only to find out that we are farther away. We think that we see someone approaching us from the right, and in reality, they are driving down a street next to us.

Unrealistic expectations give us false alarms. We think that something is happening, or going to happen, and it doesn't. We end up on a roller coaster ride with the highs of hope in between the lows of disappointment. We develop issues with anger, frustration, and grief as part of the package. If we don't correct the problem, we end up in despair. Despair is the prelude to emotional heart failure, the most tragic of all human conditions.

Emotional heart failure surely leads to suicide, a tragic result of unfulfilled expectations.
Emotional heart failure surely leads to suicide, a tragic result of unfulfilled expectations.

How can we change our expectations?

It is possible to change our expectations, but we first need to understand what they are and how they affect us. We start by looking at our relationships. If we find that we are often impatient or critical with ourselves and others, we may be dealing with expectations that are overly perfectionist in nature.

For example....

Unrealistic expectation - I have to get it right the first time.

Problem - this particular expectation is problematic because we all make mistakes during the learning process. No matter how talented or intelligent we are, we will need more than one attempt to get everything right. Even then, there are many variables in life that can affect us at any given moment, changing the outcome of the things that we do.

Solution - Allow room for error. Change the expectation to the following: If I don't get it right the first time, I will keep on trying until I get it. That way, we don't beat ourselves over the head and feel bad when we make a mistake, we give ourselves encouragement to try again instead.

All about us are those in need of encouragement, assistance, and help—help of a kind we can all give.... time and attention and personal encouragement....

— S. Dilworth Young

It is possible to prevent unrealistic expectations

Preparedness allows us to learn more about ourselves and to change our expectations so that they are more realistic. When we prepare, we feed our knowledge bank of how the world works and how we affect the things around us. As we do so, we program ourselves with statements that are more likely based on fact than assumption or estimation.

We are in a better position to develop high quality relationships with others, and to have our time with them be more pleasant and encouraging. We become a positive force in the world, and are less likely to be tossed about by the whims of chance or change. Preparation gives us the power to choose more wisely.

When we prepare, we give ourselves the knowledge and understanding to change what happens in our future.
When we prepare, we give ourselves the knowledge and understanding to change what happens in our future.

© 2015 Denise W Anderson


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