How giving the benefit of the doubt can help you have better relationships and achieve inner peace, according to science.
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, striving to be perfect can help you become the best version of yourself. On the other, it can lead to some dysfunctional behavior that might be quite toxic:
- You might end up attaching your sense of self-worth to how much you’ve accomplished.
- If a project fails, you might start thinking, “I’m a failure”, instead of “This project failed.”
- You might get so obsessed with accomplishing the perfect outcome, that you start procrastinating and might never even start.
- Your need to be perfect might give you undue stress.
Your quest to be perfect in everything you do might lead to more harm than good. But have you ever considered how expecting other people in your life to be perfect can work out?
Most of the complaints we make daily revolve around unmet expectations: “Raj was supposed to call me but backed out at the last instant. I’m so disappointed in him.” “Shaina and I had plans for dinner but she canceled and I had to spend the night alone. I’ll never ask her for anything again.”
If these sound familiar, hold on for a moment and ask yourself: are you holding others to super high expectations? Sure, you aren’t perfect and you know it and have embraced your flaws. But are you judging your loved ones too harshly?
“We judge others according to our image of perfection as well, and naturally they fall short of our expectations.”
— Don Miguel Ruiz
This article shows how most of us tend to have unrealistic expectations from other people and how this quest for seeking perfection in others can harm our mental peace. You’ll also find some science-backed ways you can adopt to let go of the need for everyone else to be perfect for you to be happy. By the end of this article, you’ll be more open-minded towards being forgiving, relaxed, and at peace with yourself.
The Crippling Nature of Expectations
“Expectations are not based on reality. They are observations, expected realities, or beliefs of what you think will happen.”
— Jay Shetty
When other variables are involved, simply expecting something will not make it happen. 20th-century psychological theorist Jean Piaget noted that young children believe physical events are caused by their thoughts or actions. This is referred to as magical thinking, and most children stop this behavior by age 7 or 8.
However, adults still indulge in at least some forms of wishful thinking, especially when it comes to personal relationships. We tend to believe that if we want something strongly enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen. Yes, this is a version of the law of attraction, but does it really work when other people are involved?
Especially when it comes to personal relationships, yes, the other person might love you with all their heart, but this doesn’t make them a mind reader. Communication is important, as is listening to them. You can’t expect other people to be honest with you because most of the time, they aren’t honest with themselves. It’s important to believe in yourself and make a choice whether or not to trust other people. According to licensed clinical psychologist, Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., here are some ways you can build trust in a relationship:
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
- Be emotionally vulnerable — gradually.
- Never treat them in a way that demeans them or violates that basic minimum of dignity and respect.
- Express your feelings functionally, especially when it’s tough.
The Freedom of Choice
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
— Donald Miller
When someone you love and trust fails to live up to your expectations, your mind can generate a variety of explanations — either charitable or assigning blame to the other party. Psychologists refer to this as your attributional style. People who tend to assign malicious intent to others’ actions are the ones said to have a “hostile” attributional style. Such people tend to be less satisfied with their relationships. As this study in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests, they are also less happy overall.
Does this mean that the way you interpret other people’s actions is NOT an automatic reaction you can’t control, but rather, something you can work on to boost your well-being?
Just like you have the freedom to choose whether or not to trust people, understand and acknowledge that they should also have the space to make mistakes. They’re not living up to your expectations doesn’t mean they don’t value you or that somehow love you less. It simply means they are human, and by nature, all humans are flawed.
Here’s something to reconsider every time someone fails to meet your expectations: instead of getting upset, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Research published by the Americal Psychological Association has found that people who gave others the benefit of the doubt all the time are happier, compared to the ones who always blame others. Even those who only sometimes gave others the benefit of the doubt are also happier as long as they prioritize the relationship over their ego.
Giving People the Space to Make Mistakes
“Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
— Mo’ne Davis
Not holding other people to your high standards can be liberating for you. For the other person, this can feel like a relief and make them open up more to you. As research published by Santa Barbara University suggests, here are some ways you can give people the benefit of the doubt:
Bring new voices and perspectives into your circle
Start by cultivating positive and trusting social relationships. Don’t hesitate to broaden your social circle if you feel socially isolated.
Raj and Shaina don’t have to be your only friends. You can join hobby clubs online and meet new people.
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Cultivate open and direct communication. Simply talk to people if their behavior confuses you, rather than letting your anxieties fester.
If you’re bothered why Shaina canceled your dinner date, ask her why. Otherwise, you might end up drawing inappropriate conclusions, pushing the wedge deeper into your relationship.
Talk it out before you think too much
Wait to hear their side of things before jumping to conclusions.
Yes, Raj didn’t call you back, but maybe that was because an important work meeting came up. Maybe he didn't even want to be there, but his job depended on it? It was more of a compulsion than something he did willingly.
Expectations of perfection — from yourself as well as from other people — can be hard on you and take a toll on your mental health. However, when you acknowledge other people’s flaws and offer space for mistakes, you can set yourself free from the trap of expectations.
No one is perfect, and that’s alright. Just because the people in your life slip up and make mistakes, it doesn’t mean they love you any less. The moment you realize and accept imperfection, you’ll be a happier person and much more at peace with yourself.
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