Expectations: A barrier to progress?

My Journey to becoming a counsellor.

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

Alexander Pope

In taking the steps I have towards training as a counsellor and therapist, there is one thing that almost stopped me in my tracks. The biggest hurdle I have had to pass in reaching this point is nothing more than my own expectations.

It’s true. Of everything that has held me back, I can think of nothing greater than the crippling choke hold of expectations.

Allow me to explain. After coming out of university, I entered into a long term relationship before training as a teacher. Eventually, I did as is expected at any such a juncture in your life: I proposed. In terms of one’s expectations for where they should be in life, I was doing great!

Career? Sorted!

Wedding bells? Sorted!

Not to blow one’s own trumpet, but I had things fucking made. I was exactly where I had always expected to be at this stage in my life. Then why was it that I was struggling so much? Despite being exactly where I thought I should be: I was wracked with anxiety, suffering with near constant migraines.

It would appear, that meeting one’s expectations of where they should be, doesn’t necessarily lead to them feeling happy or fulfilled. It took me a lot of soul searching, time to myself, and a bit of counselling to realise that the reason I had fallen to such lows was a disconnect between my expectations and desires.

It is easy to confuse expectations for desires. To assume they work in tandem. The issue arises when you realise that expectations are learnt. There is a social component. These expectations as are what you’re taught to believe you should have. I believed at 25 I should be in a career, looking to get married. I should be setting roots!

These expectations grew from the world around me. My friends were all in long term relationships either getting married or engaged. My brother had married at a young age and I came from your traditional household with parents who had long been happily married.

As a result, the road map was clear to me. I should be getting married, pursuing my career and preparing for a family. Anything but this would be tantamount to failure. The issue of these expectations was that they amounted to a form of psychological mutilation at the time. I didn’t want this, I just believed I should. So I was forcing myself into a life into which I wasn’t ready to fit.

The anxiety… The migraines….

These were my unconscious desires acting out. They had been cast aside for the false desires created for me by society. Fuck what you want innermost feelings! This is how things are supposed to go. What do you know?

So yes, as you can probably see, expectations can certainly take a negative toll on one’s psyche. As Loretta Breuning Ph.D writes,

“a pothole in the road causes huge anxiety if you drive right into it, but if you see it in advance it’s manageable. So anxiety is caused by the expectation of a flat road when that fails to fit the facts.”


According to Breuning, the body has a biological response to when expectations fail, leading to the onset of anxiety. This process initially serves an evolutionary purpose, allowing a young child to craft expectations to ward off danger in later life. Unfortunately, as the human mind grows evermore complex, the results of this defensive mechanism can often work against us.

As can be seen from my story, this failure to “fit the facts”, can extend from our physical reality, to our emotional reality as well. The interesting part of what happened to me, is that physically, the road was as expected, the potholes were emotional. Expectations, built from external factors, failed to account for my internal hard-wiring. Sometimes it seems you just can’t trust evolutionary biology…

The issue is, even upon realising this, going against years of expectations ain’t easy! As Breuning goes on to say,

“Realigning expectations and blazing a new trail is hard. This can inhibit positive progress.”


It is not easy to shift one’s expectations. In fact, it is far easier to fall back into them. Just think how hard it can be to travel somewhere new without a map. It’s scary! Nobody likes to feel lost, and when you’re realigning your expectations for life, you’re always going to for a time.

The thing I will say is this. It is worth it. You have to feel lost to find yourself. You are far better off going it alone, free of expectations – as scary as that may seem – and forging your own way than trying to fit to a rigid, anxiety inducing, predefined path. Try not to be led by anxieties, as much as your own values and desires.

Will you make mistakes?

FUCK YES! A SHIT TON! But mistakes are easy to live with when you make them for the right reasons. You’ll cope. You’d be amazed at how the resilient the human mind is when working through the problems it chooses. It’s when wading through other people’s shit it struggles. It’s the prescribed trauma that kills. The stuff you have no say in.

I guess that’s my conclusion after all of this. It’s all about having authority over your own journey. Not relinquishing control to societal expectations, but following your own desires, as hard and as scary as this may seem.

Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts. I hope at the very least you’ve found it interesting if not useful. I would love to hear your own stories about dealing with expectations and the conclusions you’ve come to.

All the best,



Published by BeBetterShaun

A keen ultra runner and trainee counsellor and psychotherapist. I am looking to promote a positive well-being and looking after one's mental health whatever your situation. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

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