When expectations are unrealistic, things can go in a couple different directions: either the expectations are dismissed, sometimes along with the authority that put them in place, or there is persistent pressure and feelings of inadequacy. Most likely there is some combination of the two.
Expectations can be rules, objectives, a parent’s hopes, relational routines, the ever-changing whims of a boss, the culture’s image of a worthwhile life, even self-imposed standards.
Sometimes, unrealistic expectations seem inescapable. This can be due to threat of harsh punishment, an unrelenting sense of duty, or any personally overwhelming perception of what might happen if standards are not met. Being stuck in such an environment causes people to hide. Out of fear and shame they cover up shortcomings, slip ups, true feelings, personal boundaries, things they need help with, and list list goes on. This could play out as cajoling or being indirect about what you want, taking out pent up aggression on others, throwing someone under the bus to distract authority from your own misstep, or keeping quiet and out of sight when certain topics arise.
Hiding is a wildly effective strategy for someone stuck in a harshly strict environment. And because it is so potent, during what often turns out being a formative time in one’s life, hiding becomes ingrained, instinctual even. The strategy can bleed into other areas of one’s life, and be clung to indefinitely, long after stepping out from under the unrealistic expectations.
I still hide. We all do. The last two decades have been actively spent trying to unhide. It has been anything but a linear process that I’m sure will continue for the rest of my life. How can I be more real, and encourage others to do the same, in a world that may never be able to handle it? As a start, I am addressing the places in my life where I notice unrealistic expectations in order to prevent further hiding. And to coax myself toward unhiding, I have become more genuinely curious about my own and other people’s lived experiences, seeking out authentic, agenda-free dialogue. If you have other recommendations for unhiding in healthy ways, I’d love to hear them.