The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
When it comes to dealing with narcissistic or otherwise toxic people, changing your expectations can change your life. It's very important to understand how vital this tool is.
The first thing to understand before we even get started though, is that changing your expectations does not mean lowering your standards or not enforcing boundaries. You don't have to lower your standards or abandon your boundaries because in most situations, you don't have to deal with toxic people if you don't want to deal with them. Whether it's family or friendships, once a toxic person has been identified, you can walk away from the relationship if you want to. If you do choose to deal with a toxic person or you are forced to, however, it is extremely important to make sure your expectations are realistic and that they fit the actual situation.
The majority of pain people deal with in these relationships is because of their own expectations. That's not to say the toxic person is not responsible for their own behavior; far from. But if your expectations are realistic, then a lot of pain can be avoided. For example, if your expectation is that the toxic person will remember your birthday or care about it - even though they have not shown themselves to be this kind of person - you're going to be hurt when they don't do that. If your expectation is that the toxic person will not cheat on you, even though they've demonstrated that this is indeed how they treat those they are in relationships with, you are going to suffer terribly when it is revealed that they have, Not just because of their behavior, but because of the refusal to set expectations based on how this person truly behaves.
It's important to base your expectations on what other people actually do, not what you think they should do. If you've communicated your needs or your concerns to someone and they continue with their behavior, then that is the reality of the situation. Period. If you want to stay in the relationship despite this, that's your choice. But continue with your eyes open and with a true understanding of how things really are, rather than how you would like them to be. People will only be what they are. If their behavior does not meet your standards or violates your boundaries, then you have to make a decision. Staying in the relationship and continuing to insist that others change to meet your definition of what is acceptable is not just unrealistic, it's a recipe for failure and pain. The likelihood of this happening is low even when someone is not a narcissist, and you will continue to be hurt by their failure to do so.
It's understandable when people say things like, "Well, I'm only asking for what's fair and what I deserve," or "I'm not asking for much: just respect and consideration," but the truth is, it's not about what you are asking for. It's about who you are expecting it from. It doesn't matter that something is fair or reasonable if it isn't possible. If someone either cannot or will not give you what you are asking for, then that's it. You can ask for 100 years in 1,000 different ways and it won't matter. You won't get it - whether you deserve it or not.
The key is to look at the situation realistically. Are you expecting something from someone because they've demonstrated they can and will give it to you, or are you expecting them to give it to you because you think they should? Because maybe you're right. Maybe they should give it to you. But that doesn't mean they will, and if you're going to be in any kind of relationship with any person, it's very important to understand that. Not everyone does what they should do and that's just how it is. We have to accept people as they are and then decide if we want them in our lives or not. We can only do that if we see them for who they are and not who we think they should be or who we want them to be.
With toxic people, this can be complicated by the fact that many times, who they say they are and who they actually are, are two different things. But there's an old saying that applies to this situation. It goes, "Even a cannibal can learn to recite the Apostles' Creed." It means anyone can say anything. So look at their behavior. If this is the 400th time your partner has promised to stop drinking, do you really have any true reason to expect that this will happen? If you choose to stay in the situation, fine. But don't expect them to stop drinking when there is no evidence that they will do so. Create your expectations according to reality, not wishes, hopes, dreams or words.
This is hard, because it means confronting and ultimately letting go of the fantasy that many people have built in their mind of the person or the relationship. This is what has gotten people through the abuse and ensured their survival. However, it is also usually what keeps people in these relationships and it needs to be faced, then deconstructed because it isn't reality. If this person is not who you want to believe they are, it is only by accepting this that you can finally move on emotionally. Otherwise, people stay in the relationships for years trying to turn this person into someone else. It doesn't work.
It is not healthy to excuse someone else's behaviors or search for motives for their behavior that you can live with. The hard truth is, most of the time what you see is what you get. Someone who abuses you doesn't respect you. Someone who is mean is choosing to be mean because they want to be mean. Stop twisting things to make them fit into something you find acceptable. Let the behavior speak for itself - because it does.