“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” Brandon Sanderson from The Way of Kings
Have you ever been so devastated because you physically, mentally, or emotionally could not fulfill the expectations of others? I know I exhaust myself almost daily with versions of what I “should be"--memories like a song on repeat of clearly disappointing others full of words I can’t get out of my head. Can you relate in some way? Are you faced with disappointment and feelings of worthlessness when you cannot fulfill the expectations of others? If so, I understand the struggle and the hurt you feel. So often, flippant remarks of others become the compasses directing our perception of who we are.
Do any versions of the following questions/statements sound familiar to you?
“We just expected better of you. You aren’t dependable, responsible, reliable, etc. any more.”
“You let us down again. We were counting on you. What’s going on?”
“You need to spend more time with (fill in the blank). How can we know you even love us?”
“When was the last time you called me/us? It’s like you don’t even care anymore.”
“Why can’t you make it? Too tired? You sure are sick and/or tired a lot lately.”
“Wow, your house is such a mess. How could you let it get this way?"
“Why are you late AGAIN? And what's the excuse this time?"
I think what hurts the most is that majority of these accusations come from people we love and we think love us. That’s why it is especially painful. But, some of these words may even be things we have started saying about ourselves and have come to believe from years of not fulfilling the expectations of others. You may be struggling with any number of physical or mental ailments, and the feelings of frustration, inferiority, and worthlessness are detrimental and oftentimes escalate your already excruciating reality, especially if you don’t “look sick.” Basically if you don’t look sick, you aren’t sick. How absolutely bogus.
Personally, I am deeply wounded when others express their failed expectations of me. It feels like my sickness doesn’t matter, even to others that know I have clinical depression amidst several other serious mental illnesses including an anxiety disorder. During these times I’m not compassionate with myself, and I’m not remembering God’s perfect love and the truths He speaks over me. Although, I try to be open about my story with people that I love or it becomes essential to tell the basics to, questions and statements like those above are extremely detrimental to the lies, myths, and beliefs I combat daily. I am sure many of you feel the same way, whatever trial or difficult experience you are facing.
This isn’t a pity party. I acknowledge and appreciate that I do have a wonderful support system that graciously and patiently listens to me express the hurt I feel from these ignorant statements, and I am so very blessed and thankful for them. They remind me of the progress I’ve made in my journey, as well as all the good things people have said about me. But, why am I so quick to forget these positive affirmations? Because out of hundreds of encouraging comments, I will remember and rehash those few critical ones. That’s just called being a human living in an imperfect world, and I know I’m not the only one who struggles with focusing more on the negative and hurtful comments of others than the uplifting words spoken by true friends. However, I find hope knowing there is a solution—a cure to this ailment of whatever negative feelings resulted in your life due to the unfulfilled expectations from others.
Joyce Meyer, an inspirational preacher, states, “Many people feel so pressured by the expectations of others that it causes them to be frustrated, miserable and confused about what they should do. But there is a way to live a simple, joy-filled, peaceful life, and the key is learning how to be led by the Holy Spirit, not the traditions or expectations of man.”
So what does that mean for us?
It means God loves us in the middle of our mess. He only asks that we turn to Him for guidance and listen to His still, small voice. In return, He promises joy, contentment, peace, and authenticity—the ability to be real, not just with ourselves, but also with others! Being your true self is so much better and more feasible than attempting to conform to other’s expectations. Recently, I told a friend, “I’m so tired of being two people.” I am waving the white flag to the façade I’ve tried to maintain, because I now know my truth, after 12 long years full of shame and guilt. My truth is that I have several serious mental illnesses that greatly affect my everyday life, and I am also a survivor of rape with PTSD. I am doing the best I can, and I must continue to repeat to myself, “I am doing the best I can.” For me, going to work and church plus keeping up with errands and housework are huge accomplishments. I’m learning that not letting go of other’s expectations robs me of the peaceful, simple, joy-filled life I desire. The first step of releasing the feelings of inferiority associated with failed expectations is to own your truth, whatever that may be. Even if it is something as simple as, “I am too tired, and I need time for myself so I can be the best version of me.” There is no small truth. You can’t compare yours with someone else’s. There is no shame in your truth. Again, there is no shame in your truth.
Scripture tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NLT)
See there, God wants us to disregard those expectations and traditions of our world. He wants to change our mindset, because He wants us to experience a “good and pleasing and perfect” life walking with Him.When you focus on the beautiful and graceful words God says about you, you can feel the stress immediately draining from your body. As Marilu Henner, actress, producer, and author writes, “Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”
The problem lies in those negative voices ingrained in your psyche. They are full of lies, ignorance, and inconsideration—voices far from the voice of compassionate truth heard through God’s Words, but instead by the unrealistic expectations fueled by society’s ideals. Today more than ever, I want to trade the ashes from the unfulfilled expectations of others for the beauty of authenticity—for being my true self. There is absolutely zero shame in that. In fact, it’s what we as Believers are instructed to do.
And as Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, says, “I do know one thing about me: I don't measure myself by others' expectations or let others define my worth.”
Hear my heart when I fervently say letting go of other’s expectations allows you to be authentic, to have a happy life, to be content, and to love others well. I know it’s hard and scary and seems impossible, but it is a process that results in huge gains. Those negative voices of expectations very well may be something you have to consciously refute until it becomes habitual. But, it is so very worth it. I can testify that I have the most beautiful days when I own my truth and tell those negative voices how wrong they truly are. Today, trade the ashes of other’s expectations for the beauty of authenticity. Love yourself right where you are, because God does. You so deserve it.