The Power of Expectations

There’s a fascinating new NPR podcast called Invisibilia. I listened to their How to Become Batman episode on the way to work today, which begins by detailing research about how our thoughts and expectations can affect those around us. You’ve probably heard about this concept before—the studies that show how when teachers, for example, who are told a select group students are exceptional, their IQs actually go up over the course of the year even though, in reality, their IQ was no higher than the other children to begin with.

The hosts then tell the story of a man named David Kish—the titular “Batman”—who’s able to ride a bike, even though he’s blind. He’s able to manage this seemingly impossible feat because he’s developed a way to click his tongue to understand where he is in relation to other things, something that bats do as well called echolation.

The part of the story that resonated the most with me is about David Kish’s mother, who, after surviving an abusive marriage, decided she’d never let fear rule her again. And for that reason, when her child became blind she lived by that tenet, never limiting him or telling him there was anything he couldn’t do because of his blindness. Her expectations of him—that he could live like other children—led him to develop skills most blind people never do. He could cook for himself, walk to school, and then, as mentioned, even ride a bike.

How does this podcast related to mental illness?

As I see it, because our illness is invisible to most people, we’re actually fortunate enough to not be inherently defined by an illness or limitation that leads others to lower their expectations of what we can do.

We do, however, influence who we ultimately become by our own expectations. If we see bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or depression as a limitation, then it will limit us. If we see it as a challenge that can be treated, we’re going to be more likely to manage our condition and stay healthy.

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8 thoughts on “The Power of Expectations

  1. Had a nice chat with my psycho-doc yesterday about changing the meds. He said from now on all the meds are preventative. There is no “healing” of the bi-polarity disease. Just keeping things under control. It has been many years since my first episode and hospitalization (1986). Lithium and Escalith; then the miracle Depakote. I am now taking Neurontin/gabapentin, Doxepin, and Wellbutrin. Who should know? All the relatives. I am invisible, though. No outward signs. And the first episode was an indication of many years of depression previous. I do have understanding ONES. And no secrets. All the loved ones know. And it was difficult to tell at first. Oh, I have so much empathy now.

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  2. Love, love, love your final paragraph:

    We… influence who we ultimately become by our own expectations. If we see bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or depression as a limitation, then it will limit us. If we see it as a challenge that can be treated, we’re going to be more likely to manage our condition and stay healthy.

    So true.

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    • Thanks so much—I was a bit worried about the last paragraph and it being misconstrued that I was suggesting it’s easy for us to manage these things. I do however believe that our beliefs really do matter in how we move forward.

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  3. The power of belief is irrefutable. Unfortunately the beliefs I have of myself since childhood are that I am insignificant, unworthy, unloved, incapable, and not even a ‘real’ person. So I have a lifetime of work to do, as we all do in our own separate ways.

    I have endured many bouts of depression. It makes me much more aware and sensitive to another’s pain. I believe those who have to manage the same or other difficult challenges, also cultivate a deeper and richer emotional depth of understanding towards the pain of others.

    And when you’re in pain—that matters, to have just one person who cares and understands. It makes all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment—this is all so true and many others, like myself, experience beliefs that are destructive. But as you state in your comment, perhaps the ability to cultivate great empathy for others is the silver lining here.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This article so resonated with me: I decided a long time ago not to tell people I was bipolar, not because I was ashamed but because I recognised instinctively it coloured the way I was perceived. Now if I mention it I say ‘I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder’ rather than I have or am.
    Maybe time to change ur log title? Diagnosed bipolar? So what!
    Blessings always

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    • Thank you so much. I love that change in semantics. And I definitely grapple with the title of my blog (which I established so long ago and haven’t been able to fully rethink) because of what you point out here!

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