As children we were raised to have expectations about life and how it should pan out – usually according to lessons and expectations we’ve received from people in our lives. Our parents, teachers and families place expectations on us, and when we inevitably grow up, we place expectations on ourselves. There is nothing wrong with having expectations, however the issue with having expectations is our emotions become at risk of spiraling into depression when outcomes don’t meet our expectations.
I was inspired to blog about this topic because I coach and mentor many people around managing their expectations and thought it’s worth sharing here.
In my experience I’ve discovered 3 main reasons why expectations can lead to depression and I outline them below.
Living up to the expectations of others
The most common set of expectations many of us experience are expectations from our families. You’ve been there, you are preparing to graduate from high school and your parents have big plans for your life. They are planting seeds for the profession they see you working in, thus influencing the major you should select when you apply for college – or as a woman, you often get accosted with questions at family events when you hit a certain age and you are unmarried.
You love your family and would do anything to see them proud of you, yet you know in your heart you have other plans for your life. Instead of telling your family how you really feel, you hold it inside and question whether or not the decisions you are making for your life are the right ones. You become conflicted and inevitably start to feel inadequate and these feelings lead to depression.
I’ve been there before too. An expectation I lived with for years was my ex-mother in-law’s constant inquiries of when I would give her a grandchild. During that time in my life I had big plans for my career and having children needed to wait. I never directly told her this but at times I often questioned whether or not I was taking the right actions by pursuing my career over having children. Inevitably this left me sad and confused ultimately causing me to feel anxious about whether or not I was making the right decisions in my life.
The expectations are unrealistic
Before my life came crashing down with my divorce and cancer diagnosis, I lived a life where I set up my expectations long ago and was in high pursuit of meeting them. When I was about 20 years old I decided by 35 I would be married, with a big house, with three children, and I would be a partner in a Big 4 Accounting firm.
To be clear, it is not unrealistic to want more for your life, it’s unrealistic to 1) put a time frame on it and 2) believe that once you have attained it, it will always be there.
In my situation having these expectations without taking into consideration life not panning out as expected is devastating to the psyche. Having these high expectations and not meeting them brought me more misery and feelings of inadequacy especially when I ended up divorced. The expectation and belief I placed on myself was, everything remains permanent. Sadly, the painful lessons I learned in this life is everything is temporary.
You performed an action with an expectation
I used to be notorious for doing favors for people with the expectation of when I needed a favor, it would be returned. I have also found myself going above and beyond at work whilst expecting a nice bonus or promotion for my efforts, only to end up receiving neither. These experiences caused all sorts of negative feelings within me. It hurt to know that I would put myself out there for a friend or my company and not get anything in return.
It took having this experience over and over again for me to learn my expectations of others were why I was often feeling hurt. When I came to accept this about myself, I decided to experiment with doing favors for people without expectation and see how I felt. The interesting part about this experiment is when I made the decision to have no expectations prior to the act of doing a favor, I noticed I was at peace. My experiment taught me as long as I attach expectation to actions I take, I am more likely to be disappointed as a result. To change my mindset about this, I decided I will do for others to bring fulfillment to myself.
What I’ve learned
Bottom line is, in order to avoid disappointment, anger or any other negative feelings, we must learn to manage our expectations. We should practice living in the moment and controlling our emotions and feelings when outcomes of situations don’t yield the expected results. Also, when we find ourselves feeling those negative emotions we should ask ourselves why we are feeling this way.
For example, if you didn’t get the job you really wanted and prepared for the interview for weeks prior and are upset about not receiving an offer, turn within to determine why you are upset. More likely than not, you will find the negative emotion is tied to fear.
When I perform this exercise I always focus on the top three areas in my life. Does this detrimentally affect my livelihood, relationships, or health? When I go through this process I often realize there is nothing to be upset about at all and I soon return to a place of peace.
It has taken me years to practice this, I am getting better at, but I still have a way to go. Through this process I’ve learned managing my expectations takes a great deal of self-awareness and honesty with self.
In the comments section, tell me about a time you’ve fallen into a depression as a result of expectations not being met. How did you pull yourself out of it?