Why Unrealistic Expectations are a Cunningly Cruel Form of [Self]-Abuse

Why Unrealistic Expectations are a Cunningly Cruel Form of [Self]-Abuse

Much of the abuse I grew up with was not physical. It was emotional. And emotional abuse is often much harder to put a finger on.

Sure, if someone calls you a loser or some other kind of slur, that’s easy to recognize.

But so often, emotional abuse comes in all the subtle ways someone tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, or worthy.

The back-handed compliment. The lack of enthusiasm behind a ‘Congratulations.’ Dreams that are nitpicked under the guise of ‘not wanting you to get hurt’ or ‘just wanting you to be realistic.’ Not just one dream – all of them. The ‘why can’t you be more like…?’ Diminishing the significance of your accomplishments or exaggerating the significance of your mistakes. Bragging about another family member when your own accomplishments go unrecognized, leading you to believe you don’t measure up or you’ll never right for reasons you will never be able to understand. Leaving you out of the loop when it comes to important information. I go go on and on… (In fact, if we crowd-sourced this, we could come up with quite a long list!)

These are things that, in and of themselves, don’t seem like such a big deal (don’t be so sensitive – you’re being ridiculous!) But these things taken in their entirety can amount to a staggering level of cruelty.

If you grew up with enough of this, you quite likely internalized a fair bit if it, and now you’re doing it to yourself.

I’ve recently come to realize that unrealistic expectations are another form of emotional abuse. They’re another way those messages of being unworthy or not good enough get communicated. They’re definitely one of the forms of abuse I internalized the most. So I want to use this post as a chance to bring that into the light.

So why are unrealistic expectations so cunningly cruel?

Well, the first reason is because they are so hard to recognize.

They’re often expectations that very well could be reasonable for someone else, but they’re not at all reasonable for you right now. In this time. In this place. Under these circumstances.

But we’re either ignoring or discounting the circumstances that stand in the way.

Unrealistic expectations can also come from the fact that we want something so badly. And, again, we discount the obstacles either because we don’t want to wait, or we don’t want to feel the grief of not getting what we want.

I say unrealistic expectations are cunningly cruel because the damage they do is like death by a thousand cuts, just like all those other subtle forms of emotional abuse.

Unrealistic expectations inevitably lead to failure.

And while failure can be an amazing teacher, if we don’t realize the failure was due to unrealistic expectations – and we so often don’t – what we end up ‘learning’, the message we end up reinforcing, is that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not capable enough, not worthy.

In other words, unrealistic expectations only reinforce messages of shame.

So, what’s the antidote?

I’d say the first step is giving yourself credit for the smallest of accomplishments.

Did you get up this morning? Woohoo! And cue the crowds doing the wave!

Oh, you showered, too? Round two of Woohoo!

Sounds ridiculous, I know. But I assure you it feels great! Feels even better if you give yourself credit out loud. In front of the mirror. Those are two total self-love catalysts right there. (No lie, speaking out loud to yourself in the mirror is the beginning of some powerful neurological rewiring.)

Why such adulation for the small things?

Because, like I said, it’s very hard to recognize where we’re being unrealistic. Because we’re either ignoring or discounting the obstacles.

Start acknowledging the the small things that you achieve and you’ll slowly but surely start seeing the things standing in your way, small and large.

And then giving them the respect that they’re due.

The fatigue. The long to-do list. The fear. The grief. The lack of time or money.

The second antidote is, when you fall short, to ask yourself this question:

“If I assume I did the best I could, what was standing in my way?”

And then ask yourself if you’ve been diminishing the significance of whatever that is. And if that is the only thing that’s been in your way.

Hint: You may need to bring a sponsor or a trusted friend into this question to help you be honest with yourself.

And, finally, take the answer seriously.

What I often tell myself is that something SHOULDN’T have that kind of power to get in my way, when in fact it does. Or I’ll look at just one thing, when there are several things. And so I end up mustering the resources to get over a 4-foot wall when the wall I’m facing is in fact 20 feet. Then I can’t figure out what the hell my problem is and why I can’t get past it.

And that, for me, is a major recipe for a whole host of shame-filled limiting messages about myself.

Do this enough and your self-esteem and self-confidence are pretty well crushed, aren’t they?

However, if you knew you were facing a 20-foot wall and not a 4-foot one, wouldn’t that change everything?

Wouldn’t you realize you needed more resources? More time, more energy, time to grieve, a support system, fewer things on your list.

And if you didn’t have the things you needed at the moment, wouldn’t you have a better sense of what to do about that?

At the very least, you would tell yourself different things about why you’re not over that wall. Instead of not being good enough or capable enough, you just might not be ready.

You can also apply these antidotes to those around you. Genuinely celebrate the small things. If they’re falling short of your expectations, assume they’re doing the best they can and then ask what might be in the way. The answer to this question will be much more fruitful when it comes to figuring out how to respond to these disappointments.

So, are you frequently disappointing yourself? What small things can you give yourself credit for? If you assume you are doing the best you can, what might be in the way? What could you do to take this obstacle more seriously? How can you offer the same grace to those around you?

Share your answers in the comments. I read every one.

One Key Action to Facing the Most Difficult Challenges

One Key Action to Facing the Most Difficult Challenges

You haven’t heard from me in quite awhile. I’ve been going through two of the most difficult and scary years of my life.



A shit ton of financial insecurity.

Let me tell you, this has been my biggest fear, and the area of life where I have my biggest limiting beliefs.

And my Higher Power has put me face to face with all that for the past two years. And it has both challenged my faith and built it up like nobody’s business.

In fact, I’m tearing up just thinking of it.

I hope to never have to walk this path again, but I wouldn’t undo it either. This dark night of the soul has been the path of some of the greatest spiritual growth I’ve ever experienced.

So I just want to share with you real quick one of the biggest things that has kept me going as I walk this super challenging journey.

It won’t be a big surprise.

It’s gratitude.

Not just any gratitude, although any gratitude is good. But specifically, gratitude for the problem itself. Gratitude for experiencing exactly what I never wanted to experience.

This kind of gratitude wasn’t easy to come by with what was essentially my biggest fear. So the first thing I had to do to find that gratitude was to do a little game of logic:

If it’s true that my Higher Power loves me, and if it’s true that my Higher Power is working for my highest good, then what is the good that is coming out of this?

When I got open and curious about the good that was coming out of it, I was blown away.

You see, I grew up with a lot of abuse. And money was a major component of that abuse. Money was always used to make me feel less than, stupid and unworthy. It was used as a means of control.

Amazingly, in the face of no money, I got to see myself as enough, intelligent, creative, and more than worthy. And none of those traits have anything to do with how much money I have in the bank.

I’ve felt free to be who I was like I’d never felt it before.

It was the last thing I expected could have come from this experience. To this day, I still shake my head thinking, “Wow. Who knew?”

I also got to see the ways I was using money chasing things that might make me feel like I was enough or buying things that would fill the proverbial “hole in the soul.”

With no money, the only thing left to look at was me. And the only thing I could turn to, to fill that hole, was my program and my Higher Power.

And while this journey challenged my faith, and had me railing at my Higher Power more times than I’d like to admit, it has also blown me away to see the extent to which my Higher Power has been caring for me.

I’ve always wanted guarantees. And security that I could count on for years into the future. This journey gave me no choice but to stay in today.

The money I absolutely had to have has always come when I needed it, on many occasions the day before a bill was due.

But to see those things, I had to be willing to look for them, and I had to be grateful when I found them. This hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t always done it perfectly. But it’s what’s given me the level of serenity I’ve been able to experience, despite the financial challenges.

I haven’t necessarily enjoyed my Higher Power’s methods, but I can’t argue with their effectiveness. I am not the woman I was two years ago. And I don’t ever want to be her again.

Even with so little money at a time of year when everything is about buying things, I’m so grateful to be going into this holiday season with such profound gratitude. It is a rebirth of sorts, and a definite boding of a return of the light.

Beautiful timing and the best gift of all, don’t you think?

So now, I’d love to hear from you! What gifts have come from your biggest challenges? What did you do to be able to recognize those gifts?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.