Ask Dr. Zoe – Are My Expectations Too High?

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‘Faith Over Fear’ Asked:

I have been asked by several of my girlfriends who have watched me struggle, and somehow survive, “How do you deal with disappointment?” I don’t have the answers. And if I did, I would be selling it online in mass quantities for all my fellow stressed out warrior women out there. I struggle. It’s human. I would like to think I am secure and confident enough to admit it.

One of the largest weaknesses I have is how sensitive I am to other people and their inability to step up and be better people. I want nothing more than for all of us to strive for better character. If the quote goes, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and no one is changing, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I’m disappointed. When this happens to me, I hear – “It’s because your expectations are always higher than realistic.” That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Where is the line where the standards or expectations are healthy on one side and too high on the other?

Faith Over Fear

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Hi Faith Over Fear,

You picked the perfect platform for asking this question because we’re all about Grit and Grace here. And an awesome shout out to all your stressed-out warrior women! You might not like this answer, so prepare for it.

My question to you is what’s the story you tell yourself about what it means when people let you down? No one will ever live up to our expectations 100% of the time, so disappointment is a necessary part of human relationships. It’s not really the disappointment that is the issue, it’s how we deal with the disappointment… which starts with the story we tell ourselves about it.

Unmet Expectations

What I’ve seen as a therapist is that most relationship issues have to do with the pain of unmet expectations. Most people don’t even realize that their expectations were never spoken. We tend to have this belief that people in our lives should just “know” (especially if they care about us) or that people in the world are on a similar page as we are. Then we become disappointed that our unvoiced expectations are not met. Meanwhile, other people are clueless that we even wanted something to begin with. So basic point: if you have an expectation, speak it.

Make sure you let people know clearly what you expect from them. It’s perfectly fine and healthy to have expectations, but when people don’t meet them, you only hurt yourself if you create a story about it that probably isn’t true, like, “If he loved me, he would…” Or, “If they were a good person, they would…” Or, “If they were really walking in their faith, they would…”

Be Careful When Passing Judgement

My next question is how do you know that people are not trying and striving to be better people? That’s a judgment that might not be based on truth. When you don’t meet others’ expectations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t trying or striving to be a better person.

So be careful that you’re not assuming the same about others when you see their deficits.

My experience as a therapist has actually been that most people are working on themselves. Most people want to change, but everybody’s deficits are different. It’s easy for me to look at somebody else who struggles in an area where I’m strong and question, “Why can’t they get their act together?” But they may be strong in an area where I am weak.

And to answer your last question, you can deal with your disappointment by speaking up, setting healthy boundaries when necessary, giving grace for others’ weaknesses, and figuring out how to get your needs met on your own when those you are in relationship with can’t or won’t meet them.

Anytime we are relying on other people’s behavior to determine our feelings, we are treading on dangerous ground.

I know that may be a hard pill to swallow too, but you’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.

Dr. Zoe

For more relationships advice for women, start here:

Establishing Healthy Boundaries in the Grit and Grace Life
Take It Easy—On Your Man
6 Ways to Focus on Self-Growth as a Woman
13 Things I Need to Quit for Good, Right Now

Tired? Overwhelmed? 4 Guilt-Free Reasons to Say “No”

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