How Unrealistic Expectations Can Ruin Your Relationships, Life, and Spirituality

We all have expectations, and much has been written about unrealistic expectations and their effects on relationships; with others and ourselves. It has even been said that unrealistic expectations are the root of unhappiness. If that is true, how important might it be to do an inventory of our expectations?

How do we know if our expectations are realistic or unrealistic? To answer this question, we need to ask some serious questions about our belief systems and have the courage to look at the possible origin of our expectations. Once the truth has been found we need to take action unless of course, we are happy with the status quo…

This article will explore a basic understanding of how unrealistic expectations are formed. It then explores the dual process of unrealistic expectations in individuals as they relate to Christian spirituality. Finally, it provides a way to move from one point to another. First some clarification of terms being used.

What is an expectation?

According to the simple definition at an expectation is,

: a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen

: a feeling or belief about how successful, good, etc., someone or something will be

What do I mean by a dual process?

Dual Process is a theory in psychology which “provides an account of how a phenomenon can occur in two different ways, or as a result of two different processes. Often, the two processes consist of an implicit (automatic), unconscious process and an explicit (controlled), conscious process.”

Soul programming

Our souls (emotions, mind, and will) are programmed in our formative years by whatever our family of origin, culture, or society believes. These beliefs are interpreted by the perception we form as a result of personal experiences, which in turn, colours the overall programming. For example, as we were growing up we might have been constantly compared with a sibling, told we were a mistake, or (God forbid) had someone in authority say they wished we were dead. In each of these situations, it is highly probable the person receiving these messages will internalize the perception that they are not good enough, there must be something wrong with them, it’s all their fault. The corresponding emotional impact is one of guilt, worthlessness, and maybe even shame. However, the damage has been done and an internal ‘lens’ through which life will be viewed has been established, albeit unconsciously.

There are many other areas of life that are affected by similar soul programming usually based on what we expect in relationships. What we observe in key childhood relationships will influence our beliefs and expectations regarding any relationship formed. We learn a great deal through social osmosis; the process of somehow absorbing what is expected of us – how we are to feel, behave, react, respond, think, etc. – in specific situations, even when no words have been spoken about that situation. These internalized perceptions create our expectations of ourselves and others. These expectations, more often than not, are unrealistic and set us up for failure.

8 common unrealistic expectations that set us up for failure

Life should be fair – The reality is life isn’t always fair.

Opportunities will fall into my lap – The reality is it is rare for this to happen.

Everyone should like me – Think about it, how realistic is this?

People should agree with me – What a boring world it would be if everyone thought the same.

People know what I’m trying to say – Reading minds, although we might like to sometimes, doesn’t really exist does it?

I’m going to fail – Who told you that and why would you believe it?

Things will make me happy – The growing desire of people for simplification and minimalism in society would be evidence of the falsity of this idea.

I can change him/her – Contrary to popular belief, this is totally untrue. The only person who can make a change in their life is that person.

You can read how Dr Travis Bradberry expands on these here.

It is hard to navigate our everyday life when there are unidentified unrealistic expectations. Until we have identified our unrealistic expectations they have a life of their own and react automatically to us. This is one part of the dual process operating.

Unrealistic expectations as they relate to Christian spirituality

We bring this soul programming into our relationship with God when we become Believers. We, humans, have a tendency to try to fit God into our paradigm, rather than allow Him to show us who He really is. This happens on a subconscious level, and unfortunately, is reinforced by a lot of teaching about who God is.

If we are honest, it is really difficult for us to comprehend something that is outside of the way we perceive life. The main reason for that is we only have our own comparison point. Whether we are aware of it or not, we interpret the character of God through the personal ‘lens’ of our soul’s programming. That means our unrealistic expectations influence what we internalize as the truth about the character of God. It happens subconsciously, with the result being we expect Him to react and or respond to us based on those expectations.

When we are operating from an unrealistic expectation in our relationship with God similar feelings to those identified in ‘Soul programming’, above emerge. The most common of these being there must be something wrong with me, I have failed God, God is disappointed in me, and a feeling of heaviness (sometimes depression) overtakes us. The truth is these unrealistic expectations cause us to approach our relationship with God from an attitude of perfectionism. We subconsciously believe we are not good enough and that God could not possibly love us in the condition He finds us. Therefore, we conclude we have to earn His love by doing good works, praying more, reading the bible more etc., to prove we are worthy of it. Despite the best of intentions, much of what is taught about God’s character is an external reinforcer of these expectations which leads to conscious decisions to ‘do the right thing’ as perceived through a faulty ‘lens’.  This results in an experience of fear and frustration not the freedom relationship with God is supposed to bring.

It has been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Ironically, in this context, the application of this definition can be clearly seen. Trust is a vital element in the process of change. If we are to relinquish our unrealistic expectations we must risk being vulnerable and known for who we really are.

The reality is there is nothing we can do, or not do, to cause God to love us any more than He already does. If we believe anything else, the issue isn’t with God, it’s with our perception of who we think God is; in short, the lies we believe and live as the truth about Him.

How to change unrealistic expectations

The good news is we don’t have to remain under the control of unrealistic expectations! There is a brief article here which outlines some steps that can be taken to change unrealistic expectations in our daily lives.

I highly recommend this book for deeper insight and understanding about how unrealistic expectations taint authentic relationship with God.