Is it bad to have high expectations? Not necessarily. There’s nothing wrong with having certain standards for your life and for your relationships, as long as they’re within reason. However, the “within reason” is the tricky part. The line between “high expectations” and “unrealistic expectations” can be quite blurry.
In my therapy practice, I specialize in working with people who face chronic disappointments in relationships and in various areas of life. You may have read my articles on ‘grass is greener’ syndrome already, an issue which is often fraught with expectations that find their way to the unrealistic side of the fence. When struggling with a perception (or wish) of reality that can be difficult to align with actual reality, it can leave you feeling unfulfilled, hopeless, depressed, anxious, alone, and many other feelings of defeat.
What becomes especially difficult is when someone is unaware of their tendency to carry unrealistically high expectations, they may end up in a cycle of repeatedly looking for something better, leading to a perpetual cycle of sabotaging healthy and positive relationships. When caught up in idealized visions of relationships or reality, chronic disappointment and the feeling that nothing is ever good enough are generally following close behind.
Why do people cling so tightly to unrealistic visions of reality, even when they can be so destructive to satisfaction?
There are many answers to this question, and it’s generally a combination of things, which varies from one person to the next. However, one reason is that, for many, their lives have been built around these ideal visions. It can feel threatening and deeply disappointing to the world they know to allow themselves to adjust their expectations and perceptions of what the world “should” be. This is especially the case if someone has relied on these images as a version of what “happiness” will look like.
For example, if you have defined “happiness” as having the right relationship be one where you feel in love and euphoric all the time — that you’ll never experience doubts, or disappointments, or have arguments, etc. — then allowing yourself to adjust to the fact that even the right relationships can be really tough at times may change your understanding of how much happiness is really possible to have. That the level of happiness you’re counting on from your relationship on its own may be unrealistic.
In response, it becomes easier to push away the disappointments from the outside in order to preserve hope of attaining that level of happiness on the inside — however people in this situation tend to find that this high level of expectations from relationships ends up yielding more disappointment than it actually does happiness. This is where the self-sabotage generally ends up happening. You may find yourself continuously rejecting relationships while trying to find one that matches expectations that are nearly impossible to meet, instead of adjusting on the inside (this doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, but generally, happiness is found in the life balance more so than only in the relationship). And, for many, it’s a never ending cycle until they can see it happening and seek out help for it (this cycle is often difficult for one to break without help, as it usually runs quite deep).
While relationships are one of the most common areas for this pattern to play out, these sabotage levels of expectation can be found in various areas of life. Any area where you’re experiencing chronic disappointment is worth taking a look at if it’s impacting your level of life satisfaction.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy for ‘grass is greener’ syndrome, depression, or difficulty with life or relationship satisfaction.