The Key Differences Between Having Unrealistic Expectations and Demanding What You Deserve

Photo: Getty Images/Cecile Arcurs
Anyone's who's ever lived a day or had any desire ever—whether it's related to a relationship, a job, or even a meal—is familiar with the concept of having expectations. After all, it would be tough to work toward something you want without having a sense or expectation of how it may pan out for you. That said, things often don't go according to plan—relationships fail, jobs get lost, meals fall flat. When these disappointments hit, confusion can often ensue, leading someone to question whether the situation went awry because it's an aberration from what should have happened or because unrealistic expectations were at play.

That question of whether expectations are unrealistic—can weigh on the anxious mind heavily, especially when other aspects of life are in limbo. The result can be a never-ending loop of second-guessing expectations you may have: Do I have unrealistic expectations regarding a salary negotiation? Do I have unrealistic expectations for expecting I'd get a text back after three dates? Do I have unrealistic expectations for expecting to leave a doctor's appointment feeling empowered or at least fairly treated?

Sometimes after going down this type rabbit hole, I feel more certain than ever that my expectations are exactly where they should be. But, there is a diving line between having unrealistic expectations and demanding what you deserve—and it has to do with narcissism.

"One of the biggest differences between a narcissist and someone who values themselves in a healthy way is the ability to be specific about why you deserve what you’re trying to get for yourself." —clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD

"One of the biggest differences between a narcissist and someone who values themselves in a healthy way is the ability to be specific about why you deserve what you’re trying to get for yourself," says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. "If you’re going for a promotion, do you have results in your current role that back you up? What about training to prepare you, if you’re going for a new role?"

So, as an example, let's say you're angling for a job as a professional lion tamer. You go in for the interview, and the HR representative at Ringling Bros. asks, "What makes you qualified for this role?"

"I look smashing in top hats and red coats with tails," you respond.

"Okay, yes. But have you ever worked with lions before?"

"Honestly I think it would just come naturally to me," you say. "I'm amazing with my friend's kitten."

"Right, but, why do you even want this role?" they follow up. "What makes you even 1 percent capable of meeting the demands required of the job?"

"I have like 20,000 followers on Instagram," you say.

Anyway, you get the picture—this is a prime example of having unrealistic expectations of landing an opportunity that's not a great fit. Maybe the person in this example isn't a full-blown narcissist for thinking they'd be a great lion tamer, but there is undeniably a bit of delusion and fantasy involved in believing required qualifications don't apply to you—and that truth can lends itself to many other situations.

"A true narcissist is more likely to shoot for the stars based on imagination and vision alone, without putting in the work to get ready for it," says Dr. Daramus, adding that a narcissistic-leaning attitude can work to a person's benefit when it comes to seeing out goals. "The healthy end of narcissism is confidence, so even the person who is really prepped can use help from their inner egotist to promote themselves." So while there is nothing wrong with believing in yourself and all your surely amazing qualities, being self-assured is really only effective for success when you have the receipts to back you up, so to speak.

And the final key difference between being entitled and demanding versus humble and hard-working? How you interact with others. Toxic narcissists are only out for themselves, while someone who just wants to be valued is generally more willing to talk about the needs of others.

The bottom line, though, is that being realistic doesn't mean you need to stop shooting for the stars when it comes to your dreams and goals, but rather, to also do your homework. It's true that doing your best each day sets you up for a stronger chance of having your worth reflected back at you.

If you could use a little extra help, we have tips on how to get what you want in a relationship. And you can learn to how to become more assertive with three easy steps! 

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