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From Expectations to Self-Compassion: A Path to Managing Anxiety

Updated: May 3, 2023

Do you ever get the sense that something is not quite right or that something is getting in the way of you being the best version of yourself?

Some of us tend to be overly critical and harsh on ourselves. We feel guilt, shame, frustration, or sadness when we do not meet certain expectations. These expectations, whether from ourselves, others, childhood experiences, society, or an underlying sense of “I should…” are often not fact-checked and may be unrealistic.

Examples of common expectations we may hold include:

  • “I should not be feeling this way.”

  • “I need to be more capable and confident.”

  • "I should be able to manage my anger or anxiety.”

  • “I must know what’s 'wrong' with me.”

Maybe some of these thoughts and expectations resonate with you, or maybe you have your own expectations that are making you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated. What sort of expectations are you holding for yourself?

Here are three tips to consider if you are noticing yourself getting stuck in unhelpful expectations:

  1. Reflect on where the expectation came from. We all receive countless messages about who we should be, how we should act, and what it means to be successful. Some of these messages may be true and helpful, but other messages are the opposite. Take the time to reflect for yourself where your expectations may have come from and if the message is something that you agree with.

  2. How would you speak to a close friend? The thoughts that start appearing after not meeting an expectation tend to be negative and judgmental. If I were to guess, I would imagine that the words you may say to a friend in a comparable situation would be significantly more supportive and compassionate than the self-talk that comes up. When you catch yourself being harsh to yourself, take time to pause and consider what you may say to a friend. Are you able to give that same support to yourself?

  3. Change the language Not all expectations or goals are bad, and in fact, they can be helpful and motivating to become the type of person you want to be. The issue arises when the goal may be unrealistic, the goal is incongruent with your values, or when critical self-talk appears when the goal is not met. Using exercise as an example, instead of saying “I should go to the gym”, it may be more helpful to say, “It would be a good idea to go to the gym,” or “I am going to go to the gym”. Using the word “should” sets up an expectation, which, for some people, can easily slide into negative self-judgment and lower self-esteem.

Self-compassion and managing our own expectations are two keys to living a personally meaningful life. In therapy, there is an opportunity to explore these topics and how it may relate to you. Let us help you start your journey towards self-acceptance and finding meaning.


McAtee Psychology Sunalta: 300-1933 10 AVE SW, Calgary, AB McAtee Psychology Douglas Glen: 105- 11500 29 St SE, Calgary, AB | Phone: 403-902-2234

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