Why you need to lower your expectations for the sake of your mental health

Most of us know that our unfairly high expectations of others damages our mental health.

It’s exhausting, emotionally draining, and setting that bar unrealistically high sets us up for disappointment every single time.

My high expectations of others have too often left me feeling angry, hopeless and anxious. Each time I felt let down by someone, all that was left was a big emotional puddle of feelings I didn’t know what to do with.

My overthinking, over-analysing, and mental gymnastics skills are legendary to my partner, friends and family. I have fully convinced myself everyone is terrible, and I’m the lowest of the low on their list of priorities because no one reacted to that cute duck TikTok I put on our WhatsApp group 24 hours ago.

A game changer for me was making my mantra a Sylvia Plath quote: “If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed.”. On the surface, it might sound like a pretty cynical way to live, but she had a good point – maybe counting on nothing is going too far, but I, like so many people, might need to lower my expectations to avoid the emotional rollercoaster of high hopes and crashing disappointments.

I can’t assume people will live up to my standards. I expect perfection from myself, which we all know isn’t healthy, but my impossibly high standards meant that as well as being my own harshest critic, I was chucking those pressures at other people, too.

I decided something had to change. After a lot of self-reflection and confronting some harsh truths about myself, there are a couple of lessons that anyone with a similar high expectations problem could benefit from learning…

We all have life drama 

Every person in your life is dealing with a ‘Big Thing’, and sometimes it’s even ‘Big Stuff’. Whether it’s relationship problems, having a baby, a breakup, physical illness, mental health problems, housing issues, or financial stress, the list is endless.

When I’d stop to think, I thought about what I knew that person was dealing with in their personal life instead of reacting negatively.

Then I thought about all the times I’d been dealing with ‘Big Stuff’ but wasn’t ready or didn’t want to share with the people in my life. That friend I’m angry with could be struggling with massive upheaval in their life that I’m not even aware of. I could be adding to their stress by imposing my high expectations on them.

The fact they’ve left my message on read for over a week suddenly doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Control isn’t everything

I can’t control other people’s actions and reactions, but I can control how I react to frustration and disappointment.

We all have different life experiences, so our responses and expectations for a situation will never match up. Being angry and upset when someone’s actions don’t meet my expectations doesn’t make sense.

For instance, you arrange to meet a friend at 8pm. You turn up early because you feel it’s rude to turn up after the time you agreed. Your expectation is your friend will do the same. They turn up 20 minutes late, but they think nothing of it.

No one is right or wrong in this situation because both have very different ideas of what’s expected of them and the other person. It would be easy to spiral into a pattern of anger, stress and anxiety and to feel your friend has been rude and disrespectful.

Reframing this negative thinking helps us move on. Your friend doesn’t expect you to turn up 20 minutes early because it’s not what they would do, so your intentions don’t match up.

Imposing your high expectations only creates animosity. You can’t force someone to think the same way or have the same standards. But you can look internally and take control over your negative reactions and ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much?” and, “Is it really worth risking a friendship or relationship over?”  

What we *should* expect from others:

We should all have realistic expectations of the people in our life. If we lived strictly by that Sylvia Plath quote, people would walk all over us. We’d never advocate for ourselves or be honest with someone when they hurt us deeply. We should make sure we have reasonable and realistic expectations, such as…

Respect

Respect is a given in any type of friendship or relationship. Being respected is an expectation we should all have. It’s really all about if the other person makes you feel valuable to them. If they give you space to talk, listen, and appreciate your thoughts and feelings. If someone refuses to treat you with decency and respect, that’s a gigantic red flag.

Boundaries
 
Boundaries and having high expectations of people are very different. Boundaries are about what you feel comfortable with and what behaviour is off-limits that you find unacceptable and damaging.

Setting boundaries in all of your relationships is healthy, and it’s two-way – both sides know where they stand in the relationship. 

We need to remember why we love the people around us

The harshest truth I learned was that because I was expecting so much of the people around me, it was a ready-made excuse to push them away. I’d become laser-focused on what I perceived people were doing wrong and forgotten why I’d made room for them in my life and what made them important to me.

I had to relearn what made them special to me and focus on that when I felt myself turning back to bad habits.

Everyone loses when our expectations are so high that no one can match them.

We gain much more from our friendships and relationships when we let go of our high expectations and simply meet people where they are.

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