Do you have high, unhealthy expectations of others?

Here’s the sitch.  You have a woman who enters a new romantic relationship and wants to share the info with her two besties, so she texts them the news and a photo.  One of them responded, “Hey great!  I’m happy for you.  Can’t wait to meet him.” and the other friend wrote, “Cutie! Congrats! See you tonight so we can talk.”  Now, none of us can really know the ins and outs of anyone else’s friendship dynamics but as an outsider, these interactions seem quite “normal,” no?  Well…the woman was fuming and very angry with her friends.  Why?  From her perspective, getting into a new relationship merits more than a simple text.  In her view, both of her friends should have almost immediately called her, issuing support and celebration.  In a nutshell, she was pissed and believed she had every reason to be.  Her friends were left dumbfounded and confused by her anger but decided to apologize anyway (as they usually do) because her feelings were hurt.  What do you make of this or situations like it?  Is this how you are known to behave?  …or maybe you know someone who has unrealistic expectations of others. Let’s talk.

Plainly, the woman in the example above has expectations of others that are too high and very unhealthy for everyone involved.  In my professional experience, high expectations come from two things: excessive caregiving and a rigid moral code (Note: High expectations can also be related to certain psychological diagnoses but I am writing about them as they apply to high-functioning adults with no severe clinical issues).  First, excessive caregiving and big love...  Often times, people with high expectations, love big and give excessively to others, regularly sacrificing their own needs for the sake of other people (Low self-esteem also comes into play as these individuals commonly caretake to feel security in their relationships and have an “if-I-give-to-others-I-am-a-good-girlfriend/daughter/friend/mother…” mindset).  Second, they often have a strict idea of the right way and the wrong way to behave in interpersonal relationships.  In short, giving to others is good and anything else is, by law, selfish.

So here’s what happens in situations like the one described in the above example.  The caregiver finds herself in need of something from her friends, which is rare (caregivers rarely acknowledge what they need).  Simultaneously, she acknowledges (consciously or unconsciously) what she would do if she were in their shoes.  In short, she would have definitely called her newly coupled friend to celebrate, gush, and offer support about her new relationship status.  Whether the caregiver knows this or not, she has rigid rules about how to behave in relationships, and also has secret or unconscious resentment towards herself and others when these rules are not followed!  Essentially, from her perspective “bending over backwards” is the only appropriate thing to do when someone you love needs something, big or small.  In her view, failure to behave in an unfailingly supportive manner displays selfishness, disregard, neglect, dislike and carelessness.  This type of thinking pattern is a problem that can cause significant distress for everyone involved!

What to do?

First, the caregiver must realize that sacrificing herself for the sake of others is not good for anybody.  Endless self-sacrifice yields unhealthy self-care and is just plain bad for one’s self-esteem and self-respect.  Self-sacrifice also causes under-functioning in other people and undermines the strength and resilience of others as well.  Second, they have to let themselves, and other people, off the hook.  Just because they cannot throw the perfect birthday party, or respond to a friend immediately, or help their neighbor shovel snow, or forget to call someone, etc., doesn’t mean they committed a crime!  They have to learn that failure to uphold rigid relationship standards does not mean that there is an absence of consideration and love.  I.e.: Just because your best friend is a little late to your milestone birthday party does not mean she does not care about you and vice versa.  Of course, I am not saying that you should discard your boundaries, conditions, and relationship preferences all together.  I mean, if someone sleeps with your husband or hits you with their car, yes please re-evaluate your relationship and kick them to the curb.  But with the “smaller” things, please acknowledge the rigidity of your rules and distorted conclusions.

To sum up, the best thing you can do for anyone is to declare, for once and for all, that you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness and they are not responsible for yours.  Ah, how nice does that sound, eh?  I know it’s easier said than done so at the very least - for all of you caretakers out there -  please start holding back on the giving, begin acknowledging your own needs, and let go of your rigid relationship rules.  Your well-being is well worth it. 

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.