• Alexa Shank, MS, LPC

Managing Unrealistic Expectations

It’s great to have goals and expectations in order to help guide us in achieving all of our dreams. But, sometimes our expectations can become unrealistic.





When we can’t live up to our unrealistic expectations, we tend to draw incorrect conclusions about ourselves and our abilities. We start to develop negative beliefs about ourselves. For instance, many individuals hold the unrealistic expectation “If my marriage were good then it would be easy all the time.” Then, when they experience problems, they believe the relationship is hopeless and may avoid working on the issues or seeking professional help. As a result, the relationship will then continue to deteriorate and maybe eventually end, leading to sadness, anger, despair or other uncomfortable emotions.


However, this initial, unrealistic expectation has set the person up for failure from the beginning. As relationships are actually difficult and complex, they require hard work and give and take, even when they are going well. If this person had a more realistic expectation that marriage would involve work, then they might have been more willing to compromise or find solutions to save the marriage.

So what does all this mean?


It’s important to manage your expectations. To begin it can be helpful to keep a list of them as you notice them.

  • The key is to start by simply identifying the expectations that you hold for yourself. Try to do this non-judgmentally.

  • Then, practice the double-standard technique. Imagine what you would tell a friend or family member who had the same belief or standard. Practice using self-compassion to say the same thing to yourself.

  • Additionally, it can be useful to consider whether or not an expectation is helpful. Does it really get you to where you want to be? If it doesn’t, then you can acknowledge the inappropriateness of the belief and readjust accordingly.

  • Unrealistic expectations set us up for disappointment because not everything is going to be perfect which then guarantees our frustration and unhappiness. Even though it’s difficult, it is important to work on setting expectations that are appropriate and achievable. Creating new rules and standards that actually support you and your relationships is possible.

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