The effects of societal pressure and our self esteem

By Amalia Pryor

From the time we were born, we have had expectations instilled in us from the generations before such as college, engagements, weddings, kids, traveling, careers, the list goes on! It really can be anything. But what if what we want for ourselves doesn’t fit with what society or family expects from us? I often hear clients say, even if their values do align with society or family, they feel pressured to do it by a certain age or to be on a specific trajectory.  We can become hard on ourselves which can breed anxiety, depression and sadness. With the holidays upon us, we get the dreaded questions that seem to focus on what we haven’t “accomplished” yet, rather than focusing on all that we have accomplished and what we are proud of in our lives.

We must remember that life is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s about the journey and not the finish line. With social media being so prominent these days, it’s really easy to compare our lives to the next person and use others as a marker of where we “should be.” (For more tips on social media please read previous blog on our website).  Many factors contribute to our perceptions of life and how we receive validity if we are accomplished. Cultural expectations, family expectations, tying our worth to how much money we make etc. It’s important for us to look inward to understand and disentangle our feeling of what it is we want in our lives instead of what is an expectation were are trying to fulfill for others. 

A few recommendations I have in managing our anxiety around expectations is:


  • Managing the concept of time-  We can be programed to want instant gratification, we want what we want when we want it!—but this can also breed anxiety, we are our own worst critic, we have to be kind when it comes to our personal achievements and the road to attain them. Having drive is a positive thing, but we must be mindful of our personal timeline as we set goals and making sure to have a realistic and tangible plan to get there. Fun fact: Toni Morrison published her first book at age 40! Remember there are no rules here.
  • Adapting to change in the “original plan”- When plans don’t go our way, or situations change, try your best to remain calm and not let emotion overtake you. It’s easy to feel like you failed or to self blame when our plans abruptly change or shift, leaving you unable to reach your well organized and thought out plans—and we sometimes try to force the plan and continue without reconsidering what we are trying to achieve. Instead, take a step back and breathe and adapt to what is in front of you! Reframing that initial expectation in the context of your new situation. I.e- “When one door closes, another opens.” or “ When life gives you lemons, make Lemonade.” Adapting is part of life and its OK to go with the flow and normalize change.
  • Be Kind to yourself- We are naturally our own worst critic. When things don’t go as planned, learn from the experience and not spend time dwelling on it. Constantly holding ourselves to societal standards will lead us to a continuous cycle of stress. Remember you have full control of your life because we ultimately have control of how we respond to events that happen.
  • Communicate to empower yourself-  Using our voice is one of the bravest things we can do because its sets boundaries with others and what our expectations are for ourselves. When we do this we can acknowledge and validate maybe what others want, but making it clear of what YOU want and that is OK. People will always have their opinions, but that doesn’t mean we have to feel pressured to live by what others and society want or think. So use your voice, it means something! I.e- being married with a child and a white picket fence by age 30-not always realistic or the goal for everyone. It’s fine to be on our own paths.


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