Living up to high expectations is hard. We have them for ourselves, people who love us the most have them for us, and even people who seem to have only the most basic interest or understanding of us do too. They seem well-intentioned, say that they see all the potential we have, but realistically it just ends up feeling like a lot of falling short.
The counter to this, are negative expectations. These can look like people believing we are going to act in the way the way of our worst self… all the time. It can look like a partner not being able to enjoy when you are in a good mood because they are waiting for the wave of bad mood to follow, a friend who won’t talk to you about that shirt you borrowed because they have resigned themselves that they’ll never get it back or is damaged (when maybe you just forgot) or an employer who sighs whenever you say that you’re not feeling well because they don’t “believe in anxiety” and therefor think you are always making shit up.
Whatever the experience, I’m sure there is something that hits home. The teacher that expects late assignments, the backhanded comments. They add up, and they are not helpful.
The truth is, I’m sure the negative expectations have reasonable roots to the people who put them in place. It’s a tactic to save themselves from disappointment, but in the process they also close themselves off to your growth (and their growth too). Where high expectations can be stressful and feel like 100 pound weight hanging over your head waiting to crush you, negative expectations are a weighted ball on the ankle making it harder to move forward or just stay afloat.
It’s common to also have negative expectations of ourselves. These are what I identify with as a rut – but some ruts last a lot longer than others. Not applying for new jobs because we don’t think we’re good or skilled enough for a promotion or new environment; “knowing” we will never be able to run/do yoga/ kick box/ paint/ make music. These are tactics that we use to keep ourselves safe from the difficulties and growing pains of trying something new, of learning, exploring, and maybe eventually being good at something.
These negative expectations can come off as reasoning. You can’t afford to take tai chi classes for an extended period of time so you neglect the free trial period. Your partner notices “patterns” in your behaviour and therefore finds it hard to enjoy your happy days when a sad day will follow. It is easy to get sucked into these ideas and truly believe them, but these things are not the truth. Just how we can not be our highest, and best self every day we are not our worst self every day either.
So it seems that this middle ground that we so often are, is ignored or over-looked. People want to believe the best, but also prepare for the worst. “We want you to do this well, but we expect you to do this well.” Well, okay. But what about where I am?
Personally, I think this roots from a few things:
1) That people feel more comfortable conforming how they act and feel around other people so they don’t have to take responsibility for their own actions and feelings
2) So they can feel right when you do eventually succeed, or eventually have a bad day (without maybe noticing that the stress of the expectation pushed you to do something instead of a healthy motivation, or that no matter how you look at the pattern people have off days)
3) Because they do not have goals or expectations for themselves
4) They have such high or negative expectations of themselves that they believe it is a normal/healthy thing to develop these in their relationships with others
I’m not a scientist, but I am observant – of myself and of others. After having damaging expectations of other people I learned to just be surprised and disappointed at the whim of life and not at the failure (or success) to meet these standards of action. It isn’t easy to let go of expectation when it’s equated for most people with standards. It isn’t easy when it’s such an ingrained habit that it can be hard to recognize as a habit. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
. . .
The first time I realized that I was being held to high and negative expectations was when I realized I was doing better than someone expected of me, but worse than what I expected of myself.
I was (and am) doing well as far as personal accomplishments go, but what I had assumed were “goals” had actually turned into a self-berating nature to try and push me to do more and be better without giving any weight to what effort I was giving (my all) and what that legitimately equated to (not what I wanted). These were my own high-expectations. In that, I believed truly that people other than myself expected me to uphold this version of myself, which was the reason (read: excuse) to continue this self abusive behaviour.
On my days that I was happier than average (aka good instead of okay) someone close to me would sarcastically say “oh great!” when I asked what that was about, they said that whenever I’m “too happy” I expend all my energy and the next day am sad. For a long time, this was the truth. I was unhappy in general so any happiness I did experience was manic and short-lived. But as I changed and my environment changed, I started to actively work on that. Months later, this person still held me to that older example of myself and could no let go of the fact that I was genuinely doing better as a whole – not just momentarily. Okay was my defence for when I was in an average good mood, and on my great days I dulled it down to just good. Even when I had an entire week of good days, this person would still act like they were waiting for the shoe to drop. These are negative expectations.
Not all expectations are born out of myth. A lot of them have a ground, but that does not make them legitimate or an ultimate truth of any sort. They are often harmful, stressful, and stop both people from seeing and appreciating the truth. The hardest part is recognition. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself, and I know the other person didn’t realize what they were doing either. This does not make the situation okay, but it does bring light to how hard it can be to extract and recognize these practices.
It’s not an immediate fix. Like most things that are ingrained, it takes time and constant re-evaluations to remedy these habits. But it is possible, and it is worth it. If you are dealing with these expectations within yourself, write out why you think they are reasonable, where they rooted, and how you have changed and want to change. If it is something that is happening with someone else, talk to them about where they stem from, why they think it’s okay, and show them how it can be harmful. Shed light on the good that is actually happening instead of the good that is expected to happen. Change can happen. Be kind to yourself.