Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

The silent influence of encouragement and expectations

Bennett Xu

I have always known, at least to some extent, that my family and friends are proud of me and hold high expectations for my future. I have always appreciated their high regards and kind gestures; in many ways they’ve been a motivating force. But as I’ve begun my academic career at UT, these sentiments carry more weight than they used to, which has quickly become cumbersome. I began to wonder whether such copious amounts of love, encouragement and support, especially financial, could have negative implications on the mind.

This may seem a bit counterintuitive. We typically associate negative mental states and emotions with equally harmful factors in our life. However, when I consider the pressure and stress that has recently plagued my thoughts, I realize it is impossible to attribute them to negative circumstances. My life seems better than ever; I’m studying at the school of my dreams, I have no financial concerns and I indulge in countless congratulatory remarks and “encouraging” comments.

Yet there is something particularly obligatory about such praise. Phrases like “I expect great things from you, I know you won’t let me down,” or “you are a role model for the entire family,” can actually entail a detrimental form of commitment, and with every success or achievement, I no longer feel the sense of accomplishment that I once did. 

There is a certain fear of not being enough that is widely shared on campus. I often fear that my family’s sacrifices might be in vain; that my mother’s switch to a full-time job, often working overtime to pay for my rent and groceries, will have been a waste of her hard work. 

Yet, many dismiss these emotions and label them as “dramatic.” They often say things like, “You are overthinking things,” or, “they mean well when they tell you these things,” but the bottom line is that these feelings are justified. 

It is dangerously easy to fall down a spiral of worry when every person of importance in your life is counting on your success. The American Psychological Association found that in many cases, high expectations are more damaging than actual criticism because students internalize these standards and construct an idea of their self-worth based on the perception of others.

Studies show that college students face perfectionism, eventually leading to more serious psychological complications such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, isolation, etc. 

I get tired of hearing about who I’m supposed to be, of trying to live up to other people’s expectations of what my life is meant to look like. I know that my mother and friends mean well, that they’re proud of the person I’m becoming and their expectations are grounded in love and encouragement. But this can be overwhelming, and it only gets heavier as time and emotions grow. 

Although we often characterize high praise and expectations as positive interactions, an excess in this can be equally as catastrophic, sometimes even more so.

Rodriguez is a philosophy and economics junior from Tyler, Texas.

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