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July 21, 2014

Toeing the Line: Healthy vs. Unrealistic Expectations. ~ Liz Jester

expectations bridge water bike

I’m a sensitive, idealistic daydreamer. I trust easily and fall hard.

I love those things about myself, but sometimes they cause me pain.

More and more I’ve discovered my need to keep the dreamy idealist in me alive, but in check. When I get lost in daydreams, they start filling in blanks and creating unrealistic expectations. They could be about a potential or current partner, job, living situation, anything! The circumstances I dream up almost never end up happening, so when things do turn out differently than expected, I can have trouble accepting and not resisting them.

Anyone who has had idealistic moments can probably relate to how surprisingly difficult it can be to look past shiny surfaces. We want to believe that this thing we’ve just discovered will be true love, a perfect new job, a beautiful friendship. Yet these types of forward-looking expectations are dangerous for many reasons.

The first thing they do is put pressure on us, and, inadvertently, those around us, to try and make situations happen just the way we imagine them rather than how they will naturally progress.

When things are going well in a relationship, we often start expecting them to last and continue getting better. This can make us feel pressured to do whatever it takes to hang on, even if it means not being totally true to ourselves. We also make it unfair to the people on whom we’re placing our expectations, because hopeful expectations generally don’t include the mistakes they, and we, are likely to make.

They also cloud our judgment and can even make us lie to ourselves.

It’s easy to ignore red flags and negative emotions when we don’t want or expect them to be there. And when things do go badly, it can feel excessively monumental because we gave our expectations of their positive outcomes so much space and stock in our minds.

Perhaps worst of all is that expectations take us out of the present.

Instead of imagining how a situation should be, we’d be better off living the one we’re in, experiencing all of its ups and downs and fully feeling the emotions that stem from it. When we make idealistic expectations, we are suggesting they’re better than our current situations, despite the fact that only real experiences can bring us the kind of happiness we can feel in our bones and to our core.

Expectations, though, are not all unhealthy.

We can actually use healthy, personal expectations to avoid getting lost in unrealistic forward-looking ones, and ensure our present situations are fulfilling us the way we want them to.

To do this, we can determine how we want to feel and be treated in a given situation. For example, I expect to value my partner and to be valued in relationships. I expect that, although ups and downs will happen, I shouldn’t constantly feel drained, insecure or desperate, and I also shouldn’t make my partner or friends feel that way. I expect that I will not compromise my core values to do a job.

Once we decide the expectations that work in our own personal lives, we can check in with ourselves frequently to be sure they’re being met.

If they’re not, sometimes there are things we can do to address them and work through it, such as openly communicating. If they’re still not being met after we’ve addressed them, it may be time to move on.

While letting go of expectations and situations can be scary and even painful, it is freeing, and will get us moving again in the directions our journeys are taking us.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Ismanto Lungsi/Pixoto

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