How to stop expectation from ruining your life

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It’s often said that comparison is the thief of joy, and expectation is the close cousin to that robber. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you compare reality to what could have been and feel you come up short.

Instead of accepting things as they are, we stay focused on the future. We see happiness somewhere outside of us only after certain conditions get met. We wrongly believe we have more control over the future than the present.

An antidote to expectation

Mindfulness can help us stay present and avoid the negative effects of too much expectation. Rather than gratitude (which can be overrated), mindfulness lets you accept the here and now without judgment or criticism.

There’s profound peace in allowing yourself to dwell in the present moment rather than ruminating over the past or future.

It can be an opportunity to practice acceptance of your emotions. Maybe it’s okay to feel disappointment and anger. It’s possible these feelings need our attention more than doggedly pursuing a goal.

Because that goal you think will be so fulfilling may not feel like much when you get there. We tend to overestimate how happy we’ll feel after we achieve something.

That’s why when you reach a goal you thought would make your life perfect, you often feel deflated. For the most part, happiness is an inside job and changing external circumstances may not have the impact you desire.

External motivation

Your expectation may also be based on something outside of yourself. Sometimes society plants ideas in our heads. We don’t stop to consider if that’s what we really want.

These socially-sanctioned expectations can include finding the perfect partner, or working as a digital nomad. You may be experiencing frustration and disappointment over something you didn’t really want in the first place.

I recently worked with someone who expressed a desire to find a circle of friends. When we looked deeper, she preferred to be on her own but felt pressured by societal norms around friendship.

I’m not suggesting we live lives of solitude without connection. However, at the beginning of a healing journey, you may want to prioritize time on your own to go within and get to know yourself better.

Becoming your own best friend takes precedence over friendships with others. And it helps you choose the right people for you because you know yourself better.

Trying to make friends without first understanding your needs and wants and how to express them can backfire on you. You may default to people pleasing and become friends with people who don’t really see you and who take advantage of you.

Expectation as opportunity


Too much expectation can actually limit your outcomes. Rather than opening up to all possibilities, you are hyper-focused on the desired result.

When expectation mismatches reality, take the lesson and redirect your mission. Adjusting your sails when the wind blows your boat in a different direction can help alleviate the pain of disappointment.

One final note: expectation can keep us in chains when we cling to the hope that other people will change. Especially in dysfunctional families, refusing to accept peoples’ limitations can really stunt your growth.

You must let go of the fantasy that people who have behaved the same way all your life are going to change now. And you must take control of your healing so it is independent of what other people do.

You must quash the expectation that toxic family members will one day see and understand you. It would be nice if that happened, but your wellness is not contingent on other peoples’ reactions toward you.

Why you expect the worst (and how to stop)

expect the worst
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The first therapist I ever saw gave me a book called Learned Optimism. This after finding out I suffered from a chronic need to expect the worst out of every situation.

Along with the book, she came at me with logic. She appealed to my brain, which at the time only worked against me.

What difference would it make to the outcome if I felt excited or hopeless, she asked. May as well enjoy the time waiting with hope rather than dread, she reasoned.

For example, while waiting to hear about a job I’d applied for, I could choose to spend my time anticipating a positive result. Or I could deprive myself of that good feeling and fear a rejection instead.

The trouble with such a sensible approach is that the traumatized brain does not work on logic. It doesn’t care what’s better for you or what feels good.

The traumatized brain does not work on logic. It doesn't care what's better for you or what feels good. Click To Tweet

Why you expect the worst

The traumatized brain is tasked with keeping you safe at all cost. That’s why it starts expecting the worst as a coping mechanism.

If you were a child who rarely got what you wanted, you would learn to downplay your expectations as a way to avoid bitter disappointment. It felt unsafe to expect the best when the best never came.

That’s the logic of the inner child trying desperately to protect itself. And it’s an incredibly intelligent thing to do.

Your inner child did whatever it took to keep you alive, even when that meant depriving you of good feelings. Good feelings vs. life itself = no contest.

As a result, you may have noticed that good feelings seem like a luxury afforded other people. That’s because good feelings would have been costly to a child left to its own devices.

When you’re tasked with staying attuned for threats, as neglected children are forced to do, good feelings go out the window. The hypervigilance required to keep yourself alive left little room for “positive vibes”.

When you're tasked with staying attuned for threats, as neglected children are forced to do, good feelings go out the window. Click To Tweet

Besides, those around you rarely considered how you felt. As a result, you learned that how you felt didn’t matter.

So, when the therapist offered me logic as a solution to my problem of expecting the worst, she missed the mark entirely.

Understand why you expect the worst

expect the worst

What I needed instead was to understand why I felt afraid to expect better than the worst. Despite the fact my intake included an in-depth report about my neglectful upbringing, she failed to put the two together.

That’s because in the early 90s they misunderstood the impact of childhood trauma on adult outcomes. And, sadly, many therapists still do not have a good enough grasp of the concept.

I realize now after doing my own research, that my dogged refusal to embrace a spirit of optimism had to do with survival. And, some of that could also be attributed to my nature.

But my brain’s bias toward abject dread leading up to an unknown outcome? That’s an effect of childhood trauma.

Only when I discovered why I could only expect the worst and that hoping for better felt unsafe, could I start to change it.

How to stop dreading the outcome

I had to thank my inner child for protecting me from disappointment. I had to stop looking at my tendency to expect the worst as something to be fixed through logic and positive thinking.

Instead I spoke to my inner child and let her know that she no longer had to keep me safe from all possible outcomes. That it was okay to hope because I was an adult now and could handle a negative outcome.

You have to teach yourself that you deserve to feel good, even when nobody taught you that growing up. You get to become your own parent and remind yourself that you’re worthy of positive outcomes and sometimes you’ll get them!

We get to practice using our power to influence those outcomes instead of feeling ineffectual and passive.

You no longer have to accept that life happens to you. Instead, you can navigate your ship in the direction you want it to go.

How to express your emotions in spite of toxic family

express your emotions
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If you grew up in a dysfunctional home, learning to express your emotions may be challenging. If you encountered emotional neglect and abuse, you had to suppress your feelings to survive.

Our emotions tell us what we need. If, as children, we discovered no one cared about our needs, emotions could feel dangerous.

Instead of creating intimacy, sharing your feelings might have pushed your parents away. If you received no support around managing your emotions, it makes sense you would do your best not to have them.

In such a toxic environment, emotions feel burdensome. That’s why some people numb out instead. It’s better than the pain of feeling things no one will help you process or understand.

In addition, emotions can be confusing to a child suffering under neglect and abuse. You might feel shame for feeling certain ways. That’s because you got the message that those feelings were unwanted or even made you “crazy”.

Often, the scapegoat in the family is made to feel mentally unstable for having honest human emotions. Worse yet, the family provokes you into those feeling states through their neglect and abuse.

Often, the scapegoat in the family is made to feel mentally unstable for having honest human emotions. Click To Tweet

Then they gaslight you by turning the tables and saying the problem is your feelings, not the abuse. And, this can make you question your sanity and whether you are the problem after all.

Learning to express your emotions

I’m here to tell you expressing emotions is essential to mental health and well-being. We are human and can only suppress our feelings for so long before they come out. If you’ve lashed out at inopportune times, you’ve experienced this need.

After gaslighting and emotional neglect, learning to express your emotions in healthy ways takes some work. Here are three tools that have worked for me.


Most people think of meditation when they hear the word ‘mindfulness’. The term actually refers to being present. It means paying attention to the present moment with acceptance and without judgment.

Instead of clearing your mind of thoughts, you observe them as they go by. Rather than judging or running from them, you accept them as they are.

I started by setting a timer for 10 minutes, but you can go as long as you want. Research shows that shorter sessions more often are more effective than less frequent longer sessions.

Get curious with your feelings

express your emotions

If you grew up with emotional neglect like I did, it’s natural to push your feelings away. As a result, we may have no idea what we’re feeling. It’s a general sense of malaise, instead.

What if instead of pushing them away, you got curious about your feelings? Instead of viewing them as obstacles or burdens, consider what they have to tell you.

Anger, for instance, is an excellent catalyst for needed action and change. Sadness is a time to go within and take care of yourself. Start asking yourself what you’re feeling and see how empowering a simple step like that can be.

Express your emotions to others

It can feel difficult to embrace the vulnerability of sharing your feeling with others. Since childhood, you’ve had to suppress your emotions to survive.

As children, we depended on our parents to care for us. Their acceptance felt like life or death because of the threat of their abandonment.

So we did our best to please them, including suppressing our needs. Primary among these needs was the emotional support we knew we would never get.

When expressing emotions felt dangerous and isolating, it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s safe to do so. But you’re an adult now and no longer dependent on your caregivers. So, it is safer to open up, even if we experience rejection as a result.

The intimacy you crave will only come when you have the courage to open up and share how you feel. Click To Tweet

The intimacy you likely crave will only come when you have the courage to open up and share how you feel. Emotions tell us what we need, so when you suppress them, you deprive others of helping you or getting to know you better.

Relationships are give and take and healthy people don’t want a friend who only listens. They want someone who will share their inner life and that’s how relationships grow.

How to kick your inner critic to the curb

your inner critic
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You may be surprised to learn your inner critic is often the internalized voice of your parents and caregivers.

If you had critical, unloving, or inattentive parents, you would find fault with yourself, too. Since you relied on your parents for survival, it felt too risky to blame them. You had to blame yourself instead.

You grew up telling yourself that if you could only be quiet enough, perfect enough, funny enough, or pleasing enough, you’d win them over.

Your inner critic deduced that your deficits made you unlovable. Not that your parents were wrong for not loving you enough.

Your inner critic deduced that your deficits made you unlovable. Not that your parents were wrong for not loving you enough. Click To Tweet

If you grew up with emotional neglect, only certain emotions were allowed. Even the so-called positive emotions had to be expressed in a certain way.

When you felt sad or angry, you did not receive the support you needed. You learned these emotions pushed people away and should be suppressed.

Instead of giving yourself compassion when you feel sad or angry, you shame yourself. You talk yourself out of these feelings with false positivity. This can lead to depression and deep-seated resentment in the long run.

Contrast your inner critic with compassion for others

Have you noticed how differently you speak to others than to yourself? When you’re going through something hard, you tend to beat yourself up. But when a friend is struggling, you speak supportive words of compassion.

The first step in kicking your inner critic to the curb is to extend yourself the same courtesy. Practice speaking to yourself the way you speak to others who are dealing with disappointment.

Instead of pushing yourself or telling yourself to shape up, comfort yourself. Give yourself a hug or nice treat and tell yourself it’s okay to make mistakes or feel bad sometimes.

Dr. Kristin Neff has popularized the concept of self-compassion and this is its first tenet. The second includes remembering you’re not alone when you’re not perfect. All of us experience, disappointment, both in ourselves and others.

Dr. Neff also advocates mindfulness as important for replacing your inner critic with self-compassion. Mindfulness is the simple act of accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

That means losing the shame around emotions your parents never helped you understand or process. It also involves observing those emotions rather than identifying with them.

Self-sabotage as self-protection

your inner critic

Remember, your inner critic is the child’s way of protecting herself. She believed if you could do better, be better, do more, be more, you would finally win love.

Your inner critic is the child's way of protecting herself. Click To Tweet

As an adult, this self-protection becomes self-sabotage. It looks like pushing yourself to the point of burnout and self-punishing perfectionism.

When you begin to observe this self-saboteur rather than identify with her, you may be shocked at how ruthless and cruelly she behaves toward you. But she thinks it’s all in your best interest.

Healing this inner child means taking over from her with your adult mind and resources. Reassure her she doesn’t need to protect you anymore. You are capable of taking care of things and will not die if you’re imperfect or have a bad mood.

The rejection and abandonment the inner child thinks she’s protecting you from seems like life and death to her. That’s because your parents’ abandonment would have literally resulted in your demise when you couldn’t take care of yourself.

So, know these coping mechanisms come from an intelligent, logical place. But they don’t work anymore and never did, really. That’s because you were never the problem – your parents inability to meet your needs was.

How to stop needing closure after a toxic relationship

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When a relationship ends, people often seek closure. When you leave someone due to their toxicity, freedom is often not enough. In fact, you cannot feel free without answers to lingering questions.

Closure refers to a feeling of resolution and understanding following the end of a relationship. But when does the need for closure hold you back from moving forward?

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. That’s the same mindset that kept you in the relationship, despite all the signs this person would never change.

The concept of closure after a relationship may be another product of magical thinking. Click To Tweet

With that said, is it possible you’ll never receive the resolution your heart desires? More importantly, can you move forward and heal without the elusive closure you seek?

Do we need closure in a relationship?

The need for closure keeps you focused on the past relationship. It leaves your healing in the hands of the one who wounded you in the first place.

The idea that someone committed to misunderstanding you will suddenly give you validation makes no sense. And why would you trust them to tell you the truth after all their lies and manipulation?

The need for closure could be your self-saboteur protecting you from the hard work of healing. It lovingly convinces you that if you only extract a few choice words from this person you’ll be okay.

But healing never rests on one factor. It’s multi-faceted, ongoing, and ever-evolving. And it’s a journey that ventures within.

Seeking closure can disrupt this journey and re-traumatize you. When you go back to the toxic person and get gaslit or manipulated, you re-enter the dysfunctional dynamic.

Seeking closure can disrupt the healing journey and re-traumatize you. Click To Tweet

That can lead to backsliding into self-doubt, guilt, and emotional dysregulation. You become susceptible to their control and power games, and lose your hard-earned autonomy.

Resolution comes from within


Desire for closure can be a form of emotional avoidance. Rather than sitting with the difficult feelings that arise after a broken relationship, you tell yourself answers to certain questions will solve the problem.

Often, the regret we feel after leaving a relationship has to do with how much we put up with and for how long. We mourn over the time invested and the loss associated with our sunk costs.

We try to redeem this wasted time and energy by finding answers to unanswerable questions. But, there is often nothing we can do to make sense of this loss. Except to take the hard lessons and move on.

The promise of closure can distract us from this seemingly grim fact. Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing.

Closure is the sexy, glamorous alternative to the daily slog of personal growth and trauma healing. Click To Tweet

It’s a one shot deal we believe has the power to solve all our woes. But healing results from a daily practice of facing our emotions, setting boundaries, and establishing a solid relationship with ourselves.

The truth is, closure comes from within and can never be granted by anyone else. It came when you finally decided to walk away from that toxic relationship.

It serves you to remember the source of your pain will never be the fount of your resolution.