What are ‘cultural expectations’? In simple terms, the layer of expectations piled on us, based on the culture we belong to. With the ever-changing world, it is difficult to fulfil all the expectations placed on you growing up. Especially if you live in a different culture and have examples of people being happy and carefree, while you are stuck doing the same thing and keeping the peace, it could cause conflict.
For example, in the UK, women are expected to ‘have it all,’ essentially a career and a family. They are expected to work full-time, have a spotless house, be the perfect parent, and have a delicious meal ready!
In India, even though Gay marriages are legal, the LGBTQ community still face the daily battle of being laughed at or ridiculed!
Being part of a community
Most of the time, adhering to the rules set while growing up, we feel like we belong to a group or community. We feel close to them because they look, behave, and think like us. It provides comfort. But what about the things you don’t believe in? A simple example of expectation - you’d be part of all the gatherings. Or what about the constant need to behave/dress in a certain way, because ‘what would the community think otherwise?’
According to Dr. Art Markman from Psychology Today, belonging to a group is an integral part of the human psyche as it increases feelings of warmth and motivation. He adds:
“People seem wired to adopt the goals of the people around them, particularly when they feel close to those others.”
And this is where pressure from cultural expectations can cause problems. We adopt the goals of the group we belong to or want to belong to. Even as adults, most of us crave the praise of our parents or our community, even if this means doing something we don’t want to do. Like get married and have children when what we want to do is join the circus, or cook four-course meals when you barely have the strength to boil water.
If we don’t adhere to these cultural expectations, we fear that we will be ostracised from the group and have to live alone.
So, what happens if the worst fear comes true?
Going against your family’s and your community’s expectations can be daunting, but what about your dreams and desires? How do you then handle the constant pressure of not being authentic to yourself? This kind of conflict can play havoc with your mental health.
In 21st century Britain, a community of close friends is seen by many as the new family. According to a study carried out by Dr. William Chopik published in Personal Relationships, having strong, supportive friendships is a more vital indicator of mental wellbeing in old age than strong family connections.
As the saying goes, ‘you can’t choose your family,’ which is the key factor.
If living according to your goals and life dreams goes against your cultural expectations, it doesn’t prevent you from being part of a community.
You can still surround yourself with a supportive network of people who have the same beliefs, aspirations, and life goals. According to Dr. Chopik’s study, when friends were a source of close support, people were happier.
It’s all about choice
When dealing with societal and cultural expectations, it is a personal choice whether you choose to fight these expectations to live the life you want or whether your wish to be accepted by the community is more important than your own desires.
It’s not an easy choice, and one that people have been fighting for centuries – but cultural change can only happen one step at a time.