Expectation: A builder and destroyer of souls

by | Mar 27, 2024


Expect: to consider probable or certain, to consider reasonable, due, or necessary, to consider bound in duty or obligated. Lots of soul building potential in that definition, and just as much ammo for destruction. Let’s talk about the power of expectation.

…if an expectation is unreasonable or delivered in a harsh manner, a child is still going to take responsibility for the marching orders and do everything possible to come through.

At first glance, “expect” comes off as a benign word and concept – even positive and nurturing.

However, within the context of what goes on in the mind of someone dealing with emotional and mental challenges, there are words in the definition that suggest potential trouble.

My gut says “certain,” “necessary,” “duty,” “obligated.” How ’bout yours?


In the 1943 Sherlock Holmes film “The Spider Woman,” Sherlock had to fake his death to get the angle he needed on a case. In a wonderful scene, the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, comforts a grieving Dr. Watson, saying to him, “What can’t be cured must be endured.”

Her caring observation jibes with the concept of acceptance we so often discuss here. And if you’re a victim of past expectations, it’ll make life easier to manage.

Soul destroying

As soul building as expectation can be, being a mood, anxiety, and substance disorder vet and former clinician, I can attest to its ability to absolutely destroy souls.

I can’t tell you the number of case histories I’ve listened to and read that indict expectation as a major cause of illness, not to mention exacerbation.

Expectation in childhood

Let’s take it back to childhood and adolescence where expectation begins its work. Reasonable and lovingly delivered expectation is important in soul building.

On the other side of the coin, unreasonable and harshly delivered expectation can kick-start soul destruction.

expectation in childhood

“I’m sorry it’s taking so long. Does this look right?”

Pause for a moment and think about your very early years. What expectations were thrown your way? Were they reasonable or virtually impossible? Were they presented in a loving manner or cold and harsh?

And most important of all, what was your perception of the message – your takeaway?

I can’t think of too many children who don’t want to do all they can to please their parents or primary caregivers.

That said, if an expectation is unreasonable or delivered in a harsh manner, a child is still going to take responsibility for the marching orders and do everything possible to come through.

But what if that isn’t possible?

Forced to look inward

Seems to me a child can’t or won’t perceive the unreasonable nature of an expectation, so march on they will.

However, when ongoing attempts to meet an expectation don’t generate the positive attention the child so desperately needs and wants, I believe the child is forced to look inward for responsibility and blame.

And so begins a struggle with expectation, shame, self-esteem, and more that can continue into adulthood.

Expectation in adulthood

So here we are in adulthood and many of us continue to feel the grip of our childhood and adolescence expectation experience.

I wonder if you ask yourself questions, or make self-statements, such as…

  • “Why do I screwup everything I touch?”
  • “You’re a sorry excuse for a human being.”
  • “Why can’t I be strong enough to overcome my depression?”
  • “If I go to that event, everyone will see what a loser I am.”

And so many more.

Those questions and statements had to come from somewhere, don’t you think? Though I absolutely believe in pre-wired temperament, I don’t believe such questions and statements come naturally.

Nope, we’ve been programmed to create and recreate them – day after day after day.

It’s worth it

So expectation, a builder and destroyer of souls. In many ways we have no control over which way it goes for us.

But like anything in our emotional and mental neck of the woods, we’re still responsible for acceptance and management.

Which way has it gone for you? Even more significant, if it’s been a soul destroyer experience, what are you doing to gain insight and make the very best of your circumstances?

It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

P.S If you’re a parent or caregiver, think long and hard about your expectations – and how you express them.

If you’d like to read more Chipur info and inspiration articles, the titles are right at your fingertips.

This is a remake of an older Chipur article.

Opening definition of “expect”: Merriam-Webster


  1. Avatar

    This was incredibly insightful to me! Many years of therapy have rarely connected me to the clear concept of expectation as your blog has. Thank you for it.
    The movie quote goes very well with a suggestion I read some time ago for suggesting, an easily remembered phrase, for using to deal with those moments you find yourself “caught” in the crosshairs of depression or anxiety.

    • Avatar

      Wow, Elizabeth – thank you for the kind words. And I appreciate your visit and contribution. No doubt, expectation has been a bug-a-boo for me over the years. And to identify it and monitor/manage it is really important for me.

      Glad the movie quote hit home. It obviously does for me, as well.

      You take care, and don’t be a stranger…


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