Emotional Wellbeing




Mandy Kloppers

Overcoming unrealistic expectations


Do you ever find that reality and your expectations aren’t quite the same? There is a saying that most of our unhappiness comes from the gap between how life is and how we expected it to be. Unrealistic expectations cause a lot of misery for a lot of people. Living in a world where it’s even easier to compare to others, thanks to Facebook and the like has lead to further feelings of feeling deprived. A feeling or sense of missing out, that others have more fun or possess more than we do. We get stuck in this cycle of “compare and despair” – it’s SO unhealthy!

We all have our ‘at risk’ (trigger) situations. It depends on our particular vulnerabilities or insecurities. For some of us it could be a friend announcing their engagement when we don’t even have a relationship. For others, the trigger might be different – we all have expectations and when they are not met (a relationship, a perfect body, plenty of money etc) our insecurities are triggered and we step onto the ‘expectation treadmill’.

Part of the problem is that we are ‘programmed’ to expect certain things – get a degree, get a job, be married by a certain age, have kids, be successful blah blah We live according to a preset timeline. The thing to do is SET YOUR OWN timeline. Resist pressure to have to be like others – there is no rule book stating how to marry, when to marry, have kids etc..even though many of us have an invisible rule book that we adhere to – mostly to our detriment.

Expectations can also be negative where we overuse “what if” thinking and worry about every possible eventuality that will probably never happen. Challenge unrealistic expectations head on. Remember expectations are just thoughts – not facts! They can therefore be questioned and should not blindly accepted especially if they are causing us distress.

How to challenge your expectations:

Dissect them, evaluate how accurate or likely they are, examine what evidence you base your expectations on and look at any positive things you may be ignoring. Be like a lawyer or a detective, trying to get the facts of how realistic your expectations are, and putting things in perspective.

When we expect negative things of ourselves and our abilities, we will act accordingly and either avoid the situation totally, try the situation but escape when things are too overwhelming or be overly cautious. We do this to protect ourselves but ultimately it is unhelpful and makes things worse because we never test our predictions to see how accurate they are.

Conduct an experiment:  the point of experimenting and testing out our expectations is to stop avoiding, escaping and using safety behaviours (behaviours that help us to reduce distress in the short term eg: seeking reassurance, saying we’re busy etc) and instead start to approach situations and see if what we expect actually happens. It’s the best way to break down powerful thoughts. Sounds scary but it is the best way forward.

By making more realistic predictions in your day-to-day life you will think and act differently. Be brave, test our your thoughts and learn to ignore thoughts that leave you feeling distressed. That is when you need to take in the environment around you and see what is real and what you have very possibly made up…

Mandy X