Here is a toxic triad of unreasonable expectations that often leads to misery.
Bonnie grew up expecting life to be simple and easy for her. She came from a wealthy family, attended a small private school, and never had to contend with very much adversity, or even to take care of herself. When she entered college and left her over-protective environment where everyone had pampered her, she fell apart. Now she was expected to make it on her own, to be independent, but Bonnie had no skills – or desire – to face life alone.
Indeed, Bonnie subscribed to the three basic demands typical of many unhappy people: “I must do well,” “Others must treat me well,” and, “I should never have to deal with hardships or difficulties.” Some people, like Bonnie, actually believe that they should never be caught in a traffic jam, have to wait their turn in line, deal with red tape, difficult people, or suffer any of life’s small indignities.
The antidote for this psychologically toxic triad is to abandon all demands. As the late, great Dr. Albert Ellis put it, “I now almost always think that it would be better or nicer if I did well, others treated me fairly, and the world proved easy and pleasant. But it doesn’t have to turn out those ways – and that makes quite a difference!”
Dr. Ellis (1913 – 2007) was one of the most acclaimed, prolific and widely cited authors in the field of clinical psychology. The innovator of a treatment he called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Ellis identified three irrational expectations or unreasonable demands that underlie most “neurotic” functioning and needless unhappiness.
The first demand: “I must do well” – is referred to as an “ego mandate.” Simply stated, this means that:
• people often place unduly high expectations on themselves.
They insist that they must always live up to their ideals. “I must do well. I must be successful. I must be competent. I must achieve whatever I am capable of accomplishing. If I do not attain these goals, if I fail to live up to my expectations, I am a miserable failure and deserve the worst.” This kind of thinking is the basis of self-denigration, self-hatred, self-downing and self-abnegation.
The second demand: “Others must treat me well” – shows itself when:
• people hold the unreasonable expectation that others must always treat them respectfully, fairly, considerately and decently.
When this fails to occur, or when others are less than kind, courteous and respectful, the person’s upset becomes extreme and the basic sentiment is that the perpetrators deserve nothing but the worst. Such attitudes are behind hatred, anger, hostility and rage.
The third “neurotic” demand is that “I should never have to deal with hardships or difficulties.”
• People drive themselves bonkers believing that other people, circumstances, or the world at large should not disappoint or inconvenience them.
They insist that mother earth should provide them with what they want quickly and easily. Such individuals suffer from low frustration tolerance and tend to magnify any setbacks into major catastrophes.
You can easily see how unrealistic and self-defeating these demands and expectations are. While it takes hard and diligent work to let go of them, the results fully justify the effort.
Simply put, Dr. Ellis strongly encouraged people to stop “musturbating,” and “shoulding” on themselves and others (i.e., to change “musts” and “shoulds” into preferences and desires rather than hold onto them as imperatives).
Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and Director of The Lazarus Institute.
This article appeared in psychologytoday.com on 16 December 2016