Optimized-A dream of the past

This painting is a great example of an “expectation” that I managed to transform: I never thought I could paint, and did not have the courage to try, until the last couple years. Now, I love it, and am learning a little bit every time I try my hand at it!

Good morning, friends.

Today I want to share something I heard about a few weeks ago while in the car. I was listening to NPR’s This American Life and I heard a segment (click here to read the transcript of the show) about studies done on how expectations, how what we think of ourselves and others, can deeply affect and shape our lives.

In a nutshell, a research psychologist named Robert Rosenthal  put labels on the cages of laboratory rats, to see what kind of effect they might have on the rats’ performance. On some cages he put signs that said “this is a very intelligent rat”, and on others he put signs that read “this rat is incredibly dumb” and things like that.

What he discovered was that the rats that were “labeled” smart did two times better in the laboratory performance tests than the ones that had been labeled “dumb”. Remember that there was no “real” difference between the rats. After just one week, the difference in performance was undeniable between the supposedly intelligent rats and the “dumb” ones.


What do you think? Is this little rat very intelligent, or very dumb? Or maybe he’s just average?! I think he looks quite smart, don’t you?!

Rosenthal went on to study this phenomenon in many different contexts, and his results became known as the “Pygmalion Effect”, taken from the title of the famous Bernard Shaw play that then became the hit play and movie, “My Fair Lady” (where a refined nobleman takes a lower class woman under his wing, and transforms her into a “lady” – if you haven’t seen Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 movie version, it’s a must-see in my book, with wonderful music as well!).

Rosenthal’s studies have been applied over the years to largely educational and sports contexts; they help teachers and coaches learn how to maintain positive attitudes and expectations towards their students and athletes, so they are encouraged to bring out their best.

As you can imagine, the ramifications of this effect are wide ranging. It perhaps has the most conditioning power, in both a positive and a negative sense, within the family, and most especially in the mother-child relationship (or the relationship between the child and the primary caregiver, although there is no doubt that the mother’s expectations towards her child are hugely conditioning during the intrauterine period as well).

How Expectations and Emotional Atmospheres Shape Our Experience of Life

What this all underlines is how important beliefs, attitudes, emotional and relational “atmospheres” and expectations truly are. This particular research and the insights it has brought about since it was first done in the 1960s can help us see how our early interactions with others formed the basis of our lives, of how we perceive and feel about ourselves, about others, and about life itself. (Today it is also seeing somewhat of a renaissance, thanks to how the awareness it offers can be a powerful tool in transforming racism and its nefarious effects on individuals and society as a whole).

Whether or not we are aware of it (and some assert that well over 90% of what truly is conditioning our responses and choices in life is determined by unconscious beliefs and “expectations”), we are deeply affected by what we think and feel about ourselves and what others think and feel about us; others are, in turn, also affected by our thoughts and “expectations” of them.


What Rosenthal understood in his studies is that when we have a certain kind of expectation towards another, we unconsciously act in certain ways, and communicate what our “judgments” are with non-verbal clues. He saw that the people caring for the rats did certain things (more gentle handling and voices) when they had positive expectations (believing the rat was intelligent), and other things (less handling time, less interaction in general), when the expectations were negative (believing the rat was dumb).

The NPR show goes on to tell about a young man who is blind, but who hikes alone in the woods, travels in foreign countries, and even rides a bike. (Again, here is the transcript and you really should go and read this, it is life transforming).

Why? His mother wanted him to have a “normal” life, and believed he could have one, despite having had his eyes removed as a baby, due to cancer. And not only did she want and believe this, but she encouraged him to believe it, too, not only by encouraging him verbally, but by giving him the freedom to figure out how to navigate the world on his own, so he could develop his own little “systems” that would allow him to know where he is and move through space safely (he clicks with his tongue and does other things, using sound to help him orient himself).

This combination of encouragement and freedom gave him the confidence and independence he needed to figure out his own way of interacting in the world, using his own innate abilities – something we all have to learn to do, to become healthy adults capable of enjoying our lives and of interacting with others in satisfying, productive and loving ways.

I am sure you have heard of other “miracle” stories like this – not least of which the incredible one of Helen Keller, a girl who became completely deaf and blind after an illness in childhood, whose teacher Anne Sullivan (whom her parents, and especially her mother, found for her) helped her find and develop a “voice” that would become an inspiration for generations of people all over the world. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, among other things, and her depth of intelligence along with her warm heart have left deep impressions on millions of people for over one hundred years now.

But while these wonderful stories of the amazing results positive expectations can have are truly inspirational and can help us be even more determined to think and act positively towards ourselves and others, they can help us become more aware of the devastating effects negative expectations can have, as well. Also, when someone is faced with evident physical disabilities, the obstacles they face and the effects of the positive, loving expectations of their families and mentors can be more obvious and measurable: as in the cases mentioned, these people managed to overcome barriers that are quite objective and recognizable.

You Think, Therefore I Am

It can be a little bit trickier when the effects have more to do with inner states such as self-esteem, emotional groundedness and connection, the cultivation of a talent (or not), or just a general ability to flourish in life and have fulfilling relationships. It can be harder to find where the seeds of negative expectations were planted and by whom, and how to dig them up so new, more beautiful and life-affirming ones can take their place.

Mothers and fathers and caregivers in general are simply people, as we all know, with their own stories, their own pain and insecurities and good and bad traits. Just because they have been granted the gift of parenthood does not necessarily mean that they are capable of loving either themselves or their children as unique individuals , which sometimes also means embracing huge differences in aspirations and temperament, and therefore of holding in their thoughts and their hearts positive expectations of them.

The thing about positive expectations towards those around us, and especially, perhaps, our children, is that if we have not learned to have them towards ourselves we simply cannot pass on what we haven’t got. We can pass on expectations to excel or to “become” something, in an external application of the kinds of competitive values so highly prized in society, but we cannot pass on the deep, authentic appreciation and support needed to help others Be, rather than simply perform according to external standards of achievement.

There is certainly nothing wrong with achievement in society – if it is in tune with who the person is. It is wonderful to see athletes compete at the highest levels, scientists pursue their research with passion and purpose and win the Nobel prize, administrators guide corporations with attention and pulse and earn big bucks, and painters paint their canvases with focus and creativity: each expression is “sacred” and a true work of “art” in its own way.

Each part, each cell, each expression is absolutely necessary and good in the organism that is the human family as a whole. The problems arise when we are not allowed or encouraged to express who we truly are, and so end up following a track that seems like the right thing to do because it brings us money and prestige and it pleases others, sometimes to the point of often not even knowing what we like to do, where we like to be, and with whom.

Why Being Real Matters

We can give a whole lot of lip service to being loving and supportive of our children and other loved ones, and of our students and employees and co-workers, but if we are not feeling good about ourselves and our lives, if we are living a lie, this is going to be a much stronger message, especially to our children, who can easily see behind the mask.

It will also add the heaviness of hypocrisy, which can truly weigh down and suffocate our deepest selves, because how can we transmit a love of life and an experience of the beauty of life, or primary beauty as A. Mercurio calls it, if we are not cultivating it ourselves? We can try to pretend that everything is ok, even for decades, but those around us know in their hearts that something is not right, and especially our children and those who are closest to us, because they “see us with the eyes of their hearts”, as I often tell my clients, and the heart is capable only of truth.  

What this basically means is that if we have not learned to love ourselves for who we truly are, warts and all, or if we haven’t even yet embraced who we really are and what we really want to do because we are still living according to the expectations of others, we simply cannot encourage others and offer the kind of support and “positive expectations” that could help them flourish and create a flow of circular love and appreciation in their own lives.

I also believe that it is important to not just look at positive and negative expectations in a general way, such as in regards to intelligence, or talent, or what we are going to do for work.

It is important to become aware of how we can impose our own values, dreams and wishes on others, that might not at all be appropriate for who they are. This type of imposition not only negates the person in their authentic individuality, but it creates a “negative expectation” that can be extremely damaging.

I would dare to affirm that while positive expectations are of course generally good, in the sense that if we look at another and have a good feeling about them and “expect” them to be successful in life because we love them, if, instead, they are “positive expectations” regarding qualities or abilities that the other simply does not have, they can be disastrous.

When Expectations Run Deep

Another form of “negative expectation” can be connected to something even deeper; to hopes and dreams we have for ourselves, that we are wishing that others will fulfill for us. A particularly difficult example of this can be seen a parent is hoping a child will be of a certain sex, and comes out as the opposite (something way more common than most parents would like to admit).

Although we would never say it out loud, we can end up communicating our disappointment to the child with subtle, nonverbal clues all throughout the his or her life, creating doubt and insecurity with regards to their essential identity (not necessarily sexual identity in the sense of how the child will express their sexuality; the effects can actually go much deeper, creating doubt in terms of the validity of their existence, way before any kind of sexuality emerges).  

The results of these deep kinds of thoughts and feelings, that sometimes are simply connected to personal desires and preferences (that each person has every “right” to have, in the sense that any mother has every right to “desire” to have a child of a certain sex), and that often hover just below the surface of our consciousness and can deeply influence other people, can be equally as disastrous as having negative expectations based on disabilities or differences. Another particularly tricky situation can arise when there are personality clashes and other situations where the child is simply not the person the parent was hoping to have as a child.

The same is true of all our relationships, including the one with ourselves. If you take an honest look at yourself, are there things about yourself that you simply don’t like? That of course can be perfectly normal – we wish we had brown hair instead of blond, were better at languages or math, or weren’t quite so challenged with directions. The problems arise when we see ourselves as lacking, when perhaps we simply have not had the opportunity to learn a new skill, or as flawed because of our difficulties, when instead we may be carrying wounds that need healing.

I would venture to suppose that parents who have a hard time having “positive expectations” towards their children that are an expression of an authentic recognition of the child’s personality and personal talents and gifts, are people who themselves grew up in an atmosphere where they were not recognized as individuals. The “expectations” they grew up with were either negative, or were geared towards trying to get them to become something that was “acceptable” to the parents, the family, society etc., regardless of whether or not it was something they truly were as people.

Therefore, these kinds of deeply conditioning “expectations” can be passed on through the generations, and they can be extremely difficult to first recognize within ourselves, and then to break out of. Indeed, these non-verbal, often unconscious expectations are the things that are most conditioning our lives all throughout adulthood, and can cause real havoc until we begin to understand what is going on, and begin to change the patterns of thinking and acting that keep us locked into ways of seeing and being that are not at all life-affirming for us.

Emanating-Love Suzanne Toro

When “Success” is a Mask for Failure …..

Paradoxically, often times those whom we see as being the most “successful” are also stuck in patterns of expectations, that may seem positive because they bring accolades and financial comfort, but in reality are huge burdens for the individual in question, because they are not in tune with the deeper purposes of their Personal Self.

When you see someone make a right-about-face at some time in their life, abandoning their previous track for something that looks quite opposite, you can rest assured that they have discovered that the expectations they thought were life affirming were in reality life-draining, and have found the strength and courage to make the changes that have been simmering under the surface for years.

But, let’s go back to looking to the problems that can arise when we have been conditioned by more negative forms of expectations towards us, since they can hinder our ability to live well and to enjoy life.

I can’t say it loud enough: if you often have negative thoughts about yourself, if you tend to struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and addictions, you quite likely have internalized some powerfully negative “expectations” of yourself.

Or, maybe you are not aware of any truly negative self-talk, but certain kinds of situations that cause you pain tend to repeatedly appear in your life – accidents, illness, problems with work and money –  and you just can’t seem to understand why.

If these things sound familiar, it is highly likely that you have a deep pattern of expectations, that are creating specific results and effects in your life, even though you may have no clue that the “source” of these problems may be inside yourself, or even coming from the people around you.

Maybe they are things that you don’t think consciously, and have never been said out loud, but if you are struggling with your life and feel trapped by negative patterns, you can be sure that lurking somewhere is a deeply negative judgment of your person and your life.

Whether it is coming from you, or from those around you (and it is usually a combination of the two), the first step is to become aware of of what you are thinking and feeling, so you can see where your own power lies to be able to change it. Awareness is the first step, and from there you can choose to get the kind of help and support you need, so you can break out of it and create a new script for yourself, that honors who you are exactly for who you are and for the simple fact that you are alive.

Essentially, this is at the very basis of learning to love ourselves and care for ourselves in ways that are affirming of our individuality, of those special attributes and gifts that only we can add to the world. If we don’t become capable of first seeing ourselves for who we are, and deeply embracing our particular “self-ness”, our own special way of seeing Life and of interacting with it and enriching it with our transformational abilities and our ability to love, we cannot truly step into the life we are meant to be living.

Now, this all might sound very tragic and discouraging if you are currently feeling far from being able to realize your dreams, and there is no question that living in these kinds of existential prisons is excruciating (I know, I was there for a long time).

But there is no need to despair: when we do begin becoming aware of how we are stuck in our conditioning, whether it be due to an internalized script or to the negative influence of those around us who cannot see us and support us for who we are, rather than how they would like us to be, we can not only turn our own lives around, but we can become a positive, loving force for others.

Owning our Power: We Can Change Our Thoughts, Attitudes and Expectations About Ourselves and Others… but Not Alone

If you want some proof about this, about how powerful changing our thoughts and attitudes can really be, I want to invite you to try a little experiment.

Before I describe the exercise to you, however, I want to make a very strong statement, that I am firmly convinced about:

We cannot change our deepest expectations and convictions about ourselves without the help of other people. We need to be able to connect with the positive expectations of those who can see us in our wholeness and who can help us see our positive aspects and take action to nurture them. I am personally convinced that this is one of the reasons we are all here – to help each other grow into ever greater expressions of creativity, love, and beauty.

Therefore, if you are trying to change your life all by yourself, or think you “should” be able to “get it”, or that no one can help you …… try to open your heart and your mind to other possibilities. A new path, a new freedom, and a new wholeness are waiting just around the bend, but they require a decision from you to let go of trying to do it alone.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s get on to the tool .

Since it is often very hard to see changes in ourselves when they happen, but is instead relatively easy to see them when we are looking at others, I want you to try this experiment with someone in your life who is particularly difficult and troublesome for you, or who perhaps causes you a lot of worry because of the choices they are making in their lives. (This little exercise is particularly powerful with those who are closest to us, like our partners and our children, as we interact with them daily and therefore we affect each other immensely, in mostly unconscious ways).

First of all, I want to ask you to make a little commitment with yourself to suspend all judgment regarding this person for the next week. I want you to say to yourself: I will do my very best to not continue thinking about this person as I normally do, and just do this exercise, for one week.

Then, I want you to take out a little notebook, and put the person’s name up on the top of the first page (you may have more than one person with whom you have a difficult relationship with, but just start with one, so you don’t get overwhelmed and quit half way through. You can always then go and apply this experiment to others, once you have done it for at least one week, and have begun to see some results).

Under their names, I want you to write out as many positive attributes that you can think of regarding them. If you are particularly upset at this person right now, this might be difficult, but just try to remember that you are doing a little experiment, and so you will be willing to set aside your anger and hurt for just one week, to see what happens. You can even write just very simple things, like maybe you like the color of their hair, or the way they laugh.


When negative thoughts about them push their way in, just push them aside, and finish writing at least 5 things you appreciate about them

Then, for the rest of the day, whenever you see them or think about them, try to remember the list you wrote out. Don’t tell them anything about it; just think about the things you like about them. If you want to compliment them and tell them that you like their hair or their laugh or the color they are wearing, that’s fine, but you don’t have to (also, you don’t have to keep this a secret from anyone, but it is generally more interesting and effective if you just carry out this experiment in the privacy of your own inner life)

On the second day, take out your notebook, and try to think of another five things.

Do the same thing each day for the rest of the week. Write down 5 things you appreciate about this person, and then, during the day, when you think of them try to recall your list.

As you go through the week, you can also take note of anything that might happen in your relationship with them, or of how you are feeling about them, if your feelings are changing in any way.

Essentially, there are two very powerful results that you can get from this exercise.

The Power and Beauty of Circular Love

One is that you will begin to feel yourself being softer and kinder towards the other person, and you will see them respond to this in positive ways. I myself have had huge turn arounds in very stressful relationship situations, and have seen communication start to flow after months of strife and conflict after doing this exercise for just one week! It is really amazing what you can discover, and also the change of heart that you will have also helps you soften yourself towards you, too, which in turn increases your ability to both give and receive love to yourself and to others.

It becomes a positive cycle that begins to repeat itself, rather than a negative one, and this can become the basis for a completely new reality, for yourself and your relationship.

When It’s Time to Let Go (and maybe get as far away as possible).

The other possible result is that you will discover that even though you are managing to discover positive aspects about the other person, there is something excessively rigid and fixed in the relationship, that just does not change. You may begin to see even more clearly where the other person is unreasonably self-centered, or perhaps even abusive, completely unable and/or unwilling to come half way to make the relationship work.

This exercise cannot transform people who have hardened their hearts, and who want to have all the power in their relationships (and whereas this might apply to those of us who are actually trying to do the exercise as well, because we can all become defensive and prideful, generally speaking, I would say it is safe to assume that those who take the time to do these kinds of exercises are willing to do some work and event to change, whereas the others in our lives might not be so willing to do so).

It is also important for me to make a statement here, regarding abuse: if you are in a relationship where you are being physically abused, you should seek out and get immediate help. Exercises like this, especially when done on one’s own, are not adapted to situations that are a threat to your wellbeing on a fundamental level.

This also applies to other forms of abuse, be it mental, emotional, or financial (yes, financial abuse, the use of money as power over others, is something to be aware of, as it is extremely widespread and pernicious, and it masks other, deeper patterns that must be transformed for us to have truly fulfilling lives).

If you suspect that your relationship has elements of being abusive, please don’t “just” do this exercise. Make a decision to get help right away, because although you cannot change the other person, you can change these patterns, and learn to step into a whole new way of living and loving that will bring you the joy you long for. (And I am offering a new group for women stepping free from abuse beginning in June, Phoenix Rising, with my colleague Jacqui Collins: click here for more information)

Next time I will continue with some more ways you can do some research about what the hidden expectations are that may be influencing your life, and, if they are negative and not life-affirming, how you can transform them and begin to step forward into the life you are longing for.


The beauty of life is here for you, too – it is here for all of us, so, stay tuned for another post on this topic, with another great tool to help you along your way to love, health, happiness, prosperity, creativity, and meaning!!

My best to all –

Martha S. Bache-Wiig signature