Free Yourself From Social Expectations

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Life can feel like a labyrinth of “shoulds” as marriage, motherhood, mortgages and career milestones hem us into lives that don’t feel like our own. And many of us could be in danger of designing our days to meet the expectations of others, be it family, friends or society as a whole, rather than pleasing ourselves. So, how can women live free from these limitations?

Social researcher Brené Brown writes in Daring Greatly how the pressure placed on women asks us to achieve perfection by “being nice, pursuing a thin body ideal, showing modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents or abilities, being domestic, caring for children, investing in romantic relationship, keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship, and using our resources to invest in our appearance”.

It’s no wonder we’re feeling hemmed in says transformative life coach and cognitive hypnotherapist Jessica Boston. “I lived and worked in Barcelona for many years and these expectations were never really a thing, but I noticed them instantly when I returned to the UK. It’s an insane amount of pressure and it’s everywhere—we should be married or have babies or have a perfect body or get a promotion, and we should do it all with a smile.”

Redefining Motherhood

“Fertility, in particular, is huge,” says counsellor Katerina Georgiou. “I work with a lot of women who feel the pressure to settle down and have a family, regardless of whether they actually want children. There seems to be an understanding that we must choose between a career and domesticity, and there isn’t much support available to integrate the two.”

While some women may have been taught to focus on their career rather than marry the first man they meet, this creates inner conflict says Katerina. “What happens when you want to integrate a family into a busy professional life? A lot of women I work with don’t want to sacrifice one or the other so end up doing everything.”

But it doesn’t look like this culture is going to change unless women start taking back control. “We can be pulled in different directions, which is why it’s important to know what’s yours and what’s not,” adds Katerina. “What’s worse, some women who choose to have a family over a career feel guilty, as if they’re letting the sisterhood down.”

Re-defining Success

Many of Jessica’s clients are high achievers. “They often don’t register their own success simply because of the way they’ve been conditioned to understand what “success” means,” which is probably how Brené described it. “I witness women achieve one thing then immediately look for the next thing that needs to be sorted. This doesn’t allow the mind to register success, so it has no new evidence to change its habitual ways of thinking.

Taking the time to acknowledge your achievements is crucial to every woman’s liberation, says Jessica. “Check in with your own definition of success then actively and deliberately talk about it. Celebrate the things that feel like success to you.” And don’t worry if people think you’re overly confident, worry instead that women’s confidence isn’t celebrated enough.

“If just one woman shouts about her success, it becomes a political statement since so many people benefit from our lack of confidence. If only more women knew the power that comes with this.”

Reclaim Your Right to Choose

Power also comes in knowing you have a choice to conform or not. “Choosing to chase after something you actually want, and doing so in order to feel validated, are two very different things,” adds Jessica. “If all your friends are doing the latter, you risk losing them if you choose differently. We can fear losing a lifestyle that we don’t even like simply because it feels familiar. I’ve seen so many people choose certain misery over uncertain happiness. The mind can at least prepare for misery if it knows what’s coming.”

Change is therefore never easy and requires a conscious investment of all your resources. “But you will be okay and it’s totally worth it,” reassures Jessica. “Visualising your outcome can help, as it gives your mind something to hold onto and move you towards—and don’t worry what other people say, this is about your happiness, not theirs.”

Katerina agrees. “It’s important to look after yourself and to keep your own interests at heart. Maintain financial autonomy so you can change your situation when you need or want to. And talk to other women who are feeling the same way as you. This is how we build support networks.” And this is how we will instigate the cultural and social changes that will ultimately free us from all expectations but our own.


Jo Murphy

Jo Murphy

In 2013 I walked away from a 13-year copywriting career to retrain as a personal performance coach, a neuro-linguistic programming practitioner and a yoga teacher.

I now channel these learnings into my writing with a focus on feminism, relationships, sexuality, women’s reproductive health, mental health and mindfulness.