927 - Expectations

June 21, 2020


Expect: 1. to consider probable or certain; to consider reasonable, due, or necessary; to consider bound in duty or obligated 2. to anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary)

What are you expectations? Do you expect certain things to happen? Do you expect certain people to do certain things? What happens when these expectations do not come to pass? How do you feel?

Before I left the US and relocated to Colombia I had no expectations of what my new experience might bring me. I had no expectations of what my new life would look like, or the kind of home I would have, or the kind of people I would come to know. I made the relocation with no expectations. Therefore, I have not had any failed expectations, which means I have had few disappointments.

I look at 'expectations' as if they are a way of setting me up for disappointment. If I expect my new life to be the same as my old life I would have been let down, disappointed, because this is a different culture, different society. It has different values and beliefs. The people are different from the people of North America. Having any expectations of life being the same would have been setting me up for disappointment right from the beginning and I would have been saddened, disappointed, and probably given up and left for another country or return home, years ago.

Have you set your heart on something, expected something to happen, only to see it not happen? How did you feel? I believe I can safely assume you were disappointed with the situation, or the person. Which can then cause hardship or even division in relationships.

Most often, we overcome this disappointment and move on with our lives. Like when we were children and we found out Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc, were all just stories. We had expectations that the presents under the tree would be there every year because Santa would visit and put them there. We expected to find a quarter under our pillow in exchange for that tooth that came out. When we didn't get that quarter we were disappointed, our expectation was dashed by a parent who forgot to make the exchange when we were sleeping. Then we learned that Mom or Dad was actually the Easter Bunny, we felt let down. But, we grew up and these feelings went away (at least for most people).

Expectations are premeditated resentments.

Do you expect to get a gift of some kind on Mother's Day? Father's Day? Your birthday? Most people do. When your loved one(s) don't come to you with a present or flowers or even a hug and kiss, how do you feel? Like most people in such a situation, you feel let down. Your expectations caused you to get your hopes up and you were looking forward to something which didn't happen. You put yourself in a position to be let down, disappointed.

As children, we don't know any different. We were told Santa Claus was real and we always expected, hoped, for those presents. We didn't know anything about not getting our hopes up in case it didn't actually happen. But, as adults, we know that getting our hopes up can lead to disappointment but we tend to do it anyway. We set ourselves up for disappointment, willingly. And, regularly.

Expecting something to happen will not make it happen.

Some people, indeed many people, have this idea in their heads that if they want something to happen, they want it bad enough, that just thinking about it, concentrating on it, for some time, days, weeks, months, whatever, will make it happen. This is often called "wishful thinking". As children, we usually outgrow this way of thinking by the time we're around 7 years old. But, not completely. Some people say prayer is wishful thinking (I don't agree with that line of thought). Positive thinking, while a good thing for us, does not lead to positive things happening in our lives from the world outside our minds. What I think does not effect the world around me. No amount of such thinking will get me a Ferrari, or change the weather, or make a person suddenly love me. Expecting it to do so is setting myself up for disappointment.

People, in general, tend to attach their happiness to fulfilled expectations. This is not necessarily a bad thing if your are realistic in your expectations, but are you? I know that a cup of Colombian Sierra Nevada single source coffee in the morning will make me feel good. That is an expectation I have that is hinged on something realistic because I know I have some of that delicious coffee in the fridge and there is a sufficient quantity for two cups of wonderfully smooth coffee to start my day. I had a good reason for my expectation and I wasn't let down.

Problems arise when you have no good reason for your expectations. I can't make something happen just because I expected it to happen. I could only make it happen if I knew I had the physical things needed to make it happen. I knew I had the coffee in the fridge, therefore I could meet my own expectations. No coffee left? Just thinking about it will not make it happen. No amount of wishful thinking, no amount of expecting something, will get me what I hope for. A person who expects something to happen with no good reason, just wishful thinking, is being delusional.

Obviously, the coffee example is far simplified. In life we wouldn't expect the coffee to just start brewing because we wished it would. But, what about expecting something from a person? We do this all the time. We expect our partner to bring us a gift on our birthday. That would be a reasonable thing to expect. But one day, one birthday, our partner forgot, for whatever reason, and we feel let down, even shocked, and we hold resentment towards our partner. Our expectation has created a rift in our relationship, be it a birthday present, flowers on a special day, or just not making the coffee in the morning.

We all can tell of failed expectations with things or with people. Do we expect that coffee pot to brew the coffee by itself? No. Do we expect our partner to get the coffee brewing so it will be ready when we come into the kitchen for breakfast? Most probably, yes. Why do we have these expectations of people but not of things? Who am I to expect another person do what I want him or her to do? Who are you to expect your Mother or Father to do some particular task for you? What gives us the right to get angry when these expectations are not fulfilled?

Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments

We have ideas in our heads about how things are supposed to happen, based on how and what we were taught while growing up. These might be legitimate expectations. But, in relationships we usually do not talk about these expectations. If my partner and I don't talk about our expectations how do we get along? If I don't know what you expect of me, what am I supposed to do to make you happy? If I do something that upsets you then I have broken your expectations because I did not know what your expectations were in that situation.

If you don't talk about your expectations you are just about guaranteed to see failure. Either you or your partner, brother, sister, Mom, Dad, friend, boss, etc, will be disappointed. When I understand that not thinking other people know what I want and need, my expectations, I will be much clearer in what I say and how I say it.

Just being clear in our communications is not enough to always get what we expect. We expect our children to do what we asked them to do, but sometimes they don't. Did you do everything your parents asked you? Not likely. If we set unrealistic expectations, say, that the kids will always do as we say, we are just setting ourselves up for disappointment. That is an unrealistic expectation. And those are pretty much always going to end in disappointment. It is reasonable to set standards and expect those standards to be adhered to, but understand that they will often not be. To expect them to always be followed would be an unrealistic expectation.

If you believe that an unspoken expectation will bring you what you want is wishful thinking and is unrealistic. If you expect that doing what in the past had consistently brought the result you wanted is realistic. But, if you expect others to do what is in your interest, and not in their interest, is unrealistic. Expecting others to do what is in both your interest and in their interest can be realistic.

We all have expectations, our own desires, our own agendas. And of course, these are all in our own interest. The kicker is this: if we expect someone else to do something that is not in their own interest, but rather in our interest, they may be resistant, and we will feel let down by them. And, they will most likely feel resentment towards us for expecting them to do something they didn't want, and didn't have to, do. After all, how do you feel when people expect you to do things that are inconsistent with your own goals and values?

I'm from a developed country, and relocated to a developing country. I came with no expectations, and I have not had any disappointments, no let downs. I did not expect life to be the same, and it hasn't, therefore, no disappointments. And, I'm happy here. Would I still be here after 7 years if I had had expectations of what this new life should be like? Probably not.

Today is Father's Day. I could rightfully expect to hear from my two sons (they live almost 4 thousand miles away), but I don't. I don't expect them to send me a message, or call me. I know from past experience that expecting such a thing may lead to disappointment, and to resentment. If either of them contact me, great! I hope at least one of them does. But, I don't expect it. I don't want to set myself up for being disappointed. I love my sons, whether they contact me or not, always and forever. And whether or not they contact me will not change that. Expecting something that might be unfulfilled might cause me to feel resentment, and why would I choose to put myself in that position?

Let go of your expectations. Find something to be grateful for. Even when things do not turn out the way you had hoped for you will experience peace rather than resentment.

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

--Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim," 1969