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Anxiety Self-Discovery Shame Stress Uncategorized

It is a typical part of each of our lives: expectations. Expectations, or our prediction of how we want things to go, are generally positive. Expectations give us motivation and clear goals to strive towards. In some sense, expectations run alongside our values, morals, and decisions. Ultimately, we base these pillars around our expectations for our future, family, or career. However, with the trend of a “grind” or “hustle” culture in America, can our expectations affect our lives negatively? Most of us grow up in homes where our parents or caregivers had expectations for our grades, chores, or performances in sports or activities. Imagine the impact it would have to grow up in a family that praises high achievements and shames failure or shortcomings. Imagine the alternative of growing up in a family that supported and encouraged hard work, self-care, and genuine effort. Even if we aren’t always aware of it, our expectations for ourselves, our society, our partners, and our friends and families can have a significant impact on our mental health and well-being.

Andrea Darcy describes this phenomenon by saying, “high expectations are often a form of trying to control both outcomes and other people and can lead to considerable stress and mood swings” (2023). What determines when our expectations may be “too high” or doing more harm than good? If you set an expectation for how a date might go, a party your friends invited you to, or even your morning commute to work, and your expectations fall short of the experience, does this ruin the rest of your day? Do you find yourself feeling consumed by frustration or disappointment? Another question to ask yourself is this: when things don’t go as we had hoped or planned, do you find yourself carrying a lot of guilt over that? Many times, individuals who experience high expectations for themselves experience a lot of self-criticism, blame, and guilt when situations go awry. You can see how experiencing these emotions continuously could lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or fears of change and/or intimacy (Darcy, A. M., 2023).

Many times, we see our subliminal expectations for ourselves and others through the form of “should statements.” Similarly to expectations, the voice in our head that reminds us, “we should start on that paper,” “I should take the dog out soon,” or “I should put the food back in the fridge,” are beneficial and help us to stay motivated and on-track. “However, when we use “should” statements too often in our lives, especially for things we do not have control over, it can contribute to more stress, anxiety, and depression in our lives” (Oak Health Foundation, 2023). Some examples provided by the Oak Health Foundation (2023) reads as follows:
“I must get into this college or else.”
“I should be able to handle this problem.”
“I should be making x amount of money this year.”
“I should be this weight.”
“My boss must promote me by the end of this year.”
“My son must get into this college.”
“I should be married by now.”

Do any of these statements look like something you’ve said to yourself or others lately? If life happens, or something changes, and these expectations don’t come to fruition, how does that affect you? We all desire for ourselves and our loved ones to live long, healthy, and successful lives. In a society that promotes multiple jobs and side-hustles and social media promoting luxuries and travels, we can run ourselves to the ground with the never-ending list of what we “should” be doing.
Thankfully, there are tools to help individuals who struggle with these rigid expectations for themselves or others. Bringing attention to your expectations, keeping a daily log of “should” statements, and journaling about the emotions you experienced when it didn’t happen is a great place to start. Being mindful of these small moments is the first step. Eventually, you can work on breaking down these expectations for yourself, learning about where they come from, and working to replace them with more compassionate and flexible expectations. We all want to feel proud of ourselves and our loved ones. Every day we are surrounded by the fast-paced culture we live in, the things we’re missing out on, and everything that’s going wrong in the world all at once and all the time. Allow some time and practice to create a safe, calm, and compassionate space within your mind.

The Refuge Center is a wonderful place that can welcome you with open arms if you feel eager to take these next steps. We can connect you with a trained therapist that can support you through your own expectations, and we would love to serve you. To schedule an intake appointment, call 615-591-5262 or email [email protected]. To see what sort of services we provide, head to

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley  

Darcy, A. M. (2023, May 16). Setting expectations too high – a direct route to stress and depression? Harley Therapy Blog.,considerable%20stress%20and%20mood%20swings.
Oak Health Foundation. (2023, December 6). Negative thought patterns: “should” statements. Oak Health Foundation – Hope & Healing for the Mind, Body, & Spirit.,sense%20of%20self%2Desteem%20negatively.