I’ll let you in on a little secret: If I have resentment toward someone or I am feeling depressed about some past thing or event, I have an unmet expectation. The subtle setup of an expectation can hit me like a left jab before I even knew it was there.
What is an expectation anyway? For me, an expectation places an attachment to an outcome about a situation, person, society, etc. A confession: There is a part of me that has an expectation that this blog will be received well by readers and another part that is afraid that it won’t. Are expectations a bad thing? Great question! I would guess that’s in the eye of the beholder…an expectation “expects” something to either go it’s way or not go it’s way. Expectations push a person away from curiosity and acceptance and take that person from living in the moment to looking toward the future for something great or something terrible to happen. If someone has “let me down” in the past, many times I will expect him or her to do so again, which creates a negative situation before it’s even happened. I can also generate this same scenario for myself…if I’m a bad test-taker, I expect to always struggle during testing, which creates horrible anxiety for days and hours before the test (that I usually do well on).
Where expectations can really be challenging is when others or, even worse, I don’t meet them. They are a fantasy; a look into the future that has a version of how something should go or someone should act. In my opinion, this is how they are a subtle setup. If something or someone “exceeds” my expectations, I will be pleased, yet I will probably won’t even notice (as it won’t create resentment) and increase my expectations in the next similar situation. Where I can get really challenged is when I place the expectations that I have for myself and project them onto others (friends, family, co-workers, society, etc.). I am notorious for this…expecting that others will read my mind and do something a certain way because that is how I would have done it. It’s a little ridiculous but I constantly get caught in this trap.
Let’s talk about a few scenarios where I believe most of us can relate:
* In relationships (personal or business), an expectation might be interpreted as an obligation, which could create either compliance or defiance from the person the expectation is placed on. I expect something to happen…and many times I don’t even communicate that expectation…I simply expect it because that is what I would have done or would do. If that person meets my expectation, I internalize it as validation that this person values and respects me. Where this gets really tricky is, if that person does not meet my expectation, then that person must not value and respect me. If I believe compliance is value and respect, then I have to believe defiance is insignificance and disrespect. I will carry resentment that that person disrespected my values and me and determine that there must be something wrong with him or her (lazy, rude, disrespectful, not motivated, etc.). (Refer to my previous blog about judgment).
* Another expectation is special occasions…I mean who doesn’t “expect” a great birthday, holiday season, vacation, or wedding? There is a lot of buildup to these events and many times they totally meet our expectations and occasionally they don’t, which can lead to resentment and sometimes depression. An expectation creates some form of anxiety as it is fantasizing toward the future. An unmet expectation then creates some form of depression, looking toward the past with regret. Notice how you feel after a big event…and see if you can be grateful for how it occurred or if you notice resentment and depression because it wasn’t what you expected.
* Lastly, let’s discuss self-expectations. I believe creating expectations for how I live my life and how I treat others and myself is necessary (these are in line with my values). I believe that the way I treat myself is projected outward and is a great indication of how I probably treat others. I set some pretty high expectations on myself, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Where the challenge comes in is where I will create a lot of anxiety in meeting my own expectations, in an attempt to not disappoint myself. An example is when I was in my Bachelors and Masters programs and I was driven to excel and receive A’s for all of my classes (I did so with the exception of one math class, which was gratifying to the rebel in me). Why did I “need” to excel? Subconsciously, I believe I can be very critical of myself when I don’t meet that expectation I set. So I achieve…sometimes for gratification and sometimes to escape my own self-criticism about my perception of “failing.”
Sometimes things don’t go the way we intended. How we parent ourselves in those situations is key toward self-compassion and inner health. When I can begin to be compassionate with myself for the things I expected to go better, I will project that same empathy and compassion onto others who are struggling to meet either my expectations or, even worse, their own.
How do we go from expectations (attachment) toward anticipation (non-attachment)? First, become curious. Notice that an expectation is an attempt to control, which keeps life feeling predictable, yet can really get in the way of allowing life to flow. When you notice that you have an attachment about an outcome or resentment over something that did or didn’t happen the way that you wanted, search for your unconscious expectation. The more awareness that you can place on the expectations you created, the less you might do it (and try not to judge yourself for doing something that comes pretty naturally). One of my mentors, John McMullin from Journeys of Wisdom, teaches me to say, “Surprise me, God.” Personally, I really like this because it gets me out of my own way and opens me up to a higher power that has a much better handle on my life than I do.
In wrapping this up, my expectation is that something within this blog will make sense and will help create an opening for some self-reflection, self-compassion, and some dialogue between you and those you care about. I would invite all of you (and me) to stay curious and lighten up…as I’ve stated in my other blogs, this being human thing can be pretty challenging. If you find yourself in a place of darkness and confusion, reach out to family, friends or a coach. Sometimes we just can’t see what we just can’t see and others have an insight or reflection that will help. At least that’s my expectation when I reach out. Until next time friends…many blessings.
Karen Solt is an Advanced Holistic Coach who is dedicated toward helping others discover the areas of their lives that are creating imbalance, discomfort, confusion, and relational problems. She holds a Masters in Psychology (Counseling) and is passionate about human healing. She works individually with clients and also presents workshops and classes to others seeking inner growth, better relationships, addiction help, and ways to uncover hidden sabotage patterns. A retired Navy veteran, Karen has had various life experiences that have created her unique style of coaching of all walks of life. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.