Balancing Great Expectations With Reality

Women often have high hopes for themselves, but a few common nagging expectations can really weigh us down.

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Charles Dickens once wrote about great expectations, that is, about presupposing or assuming that certain things would happen. As women, we often have great expectations for ourselves and our lives, but the downside is that we can become disillusioned or frustrated when things don’t turn out as we thought they would (or as we think they should). 

It can be tempting to live in a fantasy world of our own making where everything goes according to plan, but reality tells a different story. Throughout my career as a clinical therapist, I’ve noticed that much of the hurt that women carry stems from a few common expectations. Here are some ways to let go of them and be free to experience and enjoy real life.

First, consider the things you expect of yourself. If you’re like most women, you probably have a hang-up or two about your body. Who doesn’t want to lose those last ten pounds? If fitness is important to you, then I certainly don’t mean to discourage you from pursuing your goals. 

However, these kinds of dreams can become problematic when you essentially put your happiness on hold until you drop the weight or make a certain half marathon time. Give yourself permission to relax and not necessarily immediately achieve the rigid plans you set for yourself. By letting go of the expectation to do something (and not beating yourself up if it doesn’t happen), you may even find that you have more motivation and emotional energy to tackle the challenge.

Another expectation that can weigh us down is thinking that everyone should like us. It’s natural to want to be admired—popular even—but worrying what others think or spending an inordinate amount of time and energy people-pleasing can be extremely taxing on our emotional and mental health. I encourage you to acknowledge the reality that not everyone is going to agree with you or approve of what you do—and that’s okay! We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Famous musician (and reformed bad-boy) John Mayer once spoke of how liberating it is to accept that not everyone is going to like you. Be who you are, and those who matter will gravitate toward you.

Not surprisingly, many of the stress-inducing expectations women carry have to do with their family life, such as kids who always behave, never forget to flush the toilet, get straight As, and eat all their vegetables. These are lofty ideals and don’t reflect real life at all! Remember that you have influence, but you can never control another person, even your own offspring. A lot of women might say they have reasonable expectations for kids, but for some reason, we think our own should be perfect. 

We understand, for instance, that a 3-year-old child won’t be able to sit still for an hour-long meeting, but we still may get annoyed if our own little toddler has trouble with such a task. Let’s try to cut our family some slack when it comes to our imperfections. Also, you are not your child! Your kids are not an extension of you; they are separate individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, choices, and will. One way to let go of weighty expectations in parenting is to recognize that your child is not a reflection of you. Your job is to help them grow.

Now let’s talk for a minute about the man in the picture (if there is one). In chick flicks, the leading man always seems to be able to figure out what his woman needs, but in real life, that’s just not the case. 

We have to take responsibility for our expectations and communicate them. No more harboring resentment while your guy is oblivious to why you’re upset. Let him know what’s up! I’ve even helped my husband by giving him a script and telling him that I needed to hear him say he appreciated me. Helping your man find the words to say doesn’t take away the sincerity or meaning of it; instead it helps him adjust to meet your needs and strengthen the relationship.

By becoming aware of our expectations, we can choose whether we want to continue to pursue them. If any or all of these expectations sound familiar to you, ask yourself what is the cost of holding onto them so tightly. Are they making you feel not good enough? Stressed or unhappy? If so, make a conscious decision to let go of them and find a more fulfilling and less pressured life.

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