“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect”
― Jane Austen
Humans have depended on each other since time immemorial. There’s a reason why we are called social animals. Working together as a tribe and community has yielded a sense of security. We relied on each other to make one another feel safe. We needed someone else to protect us and in turn, feel safe in their presence. Coming back to the modern world, we are bombarded with lots of messages telling us to be independent and not rely on others for any help. What do those messages say? Are we trying to change how we work as humans?
Expectations. Sounds like a simple word but carries a lot of weight, which might sometimes become unbearable. We started our life with expectations. When we were conceived in the womb, our parents were expecting us. When we grow, society expects us to act as a good citizen. When you make friends/fall in love, they want us to be a better person. This might make us all think: Are we here in this world to meet other people’s expectations? This explains why the popular advice these days is: Live your life and not according to other people’s expectations. Is it really that simple?
Let’s see why the word ‘expectation’ carries a lot of weight. There lies another big word behind this, i.e. disappointment. When we expect someone to do something, there’s a possibility that they might not do it, which inevitably leads to feeling disappointed. And if you don’t meet other people’s expectations, one is plagued with feelings of disappointing them. Why is the feeling of ‘disappointment’ so hard to feel? Are we really scared of it that we have come to the conclusion that it’s better to have no expectations? How deep is the pain of disappointment?
Like every other feeling, it’s difficult to sit with the feeling of disappointment. It is also accompanied by feelings of anger, rejection, sadness and guilt. Feelings of disappointment carry an additional burden of making us feel that we are not good enough (which is not always). When we fail to meet the bar that is set by other people, we feel like we failed them. Nowadays, the equation says: achievement = worthy. When we fail them, it might lead us to feel like failure and unworthy. If others fail to meet our expectations, it leads us to think that they don’t care about us and again leads to the point that we are not good enough.
On top of all this, we do have our own expectations about ourselves. We set a trajectory for ourselves and make sure that we tick those boxes. If it doesn’t follow the plan, we turn critical towards ourselves and wallow in self-blame. Considering all this, it makes total sense why having an expectation leads to lots of uncomfortable feelings. It’s also understandable that we don’t want to sit with those messy feelings. It brings us back to the question: Should I have an expectation?
We all wish there was a simple answer to that. But it’s important to know that having an expectation is completely normal. It might lead us to suffer only when we don’t know what those expectations are.
We carry a belief that people who love us will understand us without saying anything. We think they intuitively know what we want and how to meet them. If they don’t, we might feel anger and sadness. Everyone carried this belief at some point in their lives. Even Vincent Van Gogh said, ‘I thought I would be understood without words’. It must be a blissful feeling when someone understands you without saying a word. But that’s not possible. We should be able to know what we want from others and ask for it. Knowing our needs and asking for them will provide an opportunity for our loved ones to make us feel loved and understood. It’s not really fair to expect them to meet our needs if they don’t know what those are.
Now, the next obvious obstacle is what if they don’t meet our needs after communicating. This must be the hardest part to deal with when we have expectations. There’s always a possibility that others won’t be able to fulfil that. It leads to feelings of rejection, disappointment, uncared for, unloved, and even grief. We come to a painful realisation that our loved ones are finite beings (which applies to all humans). This again leads us to examine other beliefs that we might hold, i.e., our loved one will meet all our needs. This belief puts them on a pedestal, which is again not a healthy belief for both people. There’s always a gap between what we think the other person is and who they actually are. Every request brings us closer to knowing the other person in terms of what they bring to the relationship and what they can provide. There’s no denying that every unmet request will make us feel rejected and disappointed. What’s most important is whether they meet our request most of the time, in a good-enough way.
From one’s side, we should also be more acknowledging and accepting of our loved one’s inability to meet some of our needs. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love or care about us. It just means that they tried their best to support you and painfully realised that they won’t be able to provide it. Maya Angelou beautifully said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” That’s a reminder to keep in mind when someone tells you how much they can support you. And it is nobody’s fault.
We now know what’s happening behind when we set expectations. It’s not easy to face the hard feelings that come up if our expectations are not met. But there are some things in our control that help us to get through them. Feelings are not static - they ebb and flow. They tend to stay only when they are met with resistance. We don’t usually acknowledge what we are feeling most of the time. If we can name the feelings and be more inviting of them, the work is half done. I want to emphasise strongly that sitting with your strong feelings is the only way to get through them. No matter how intense it is, hang in there and remind yourself that it’ll fade away. Sometimes, dealing with your feelings also looks like - talking to someone you trust or a therapist, investing time in activities that bring you a sense of joy and taking care of yourself by keeping your body nourished & getting rest.
Every expectation has the potential to disappoint us - it also includes the expectations that we set for ourselves. There’s also an element of self-blame if we don’t meet the bar that we set. Sometimes, cutting some slack for yourself is needed. If that’s not enough, you can try embracing the concept of self-compassion. Self-compassion teaches us to turn the kindness that we show towards others to ourselves and reminds us that anyone else who might be in your place might have the same feeling. Quoting Kristen Neff, ‘This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself at this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need’
Nobody gets through life without having any expectations. There’s joy in meeting someone’s expectations and also when they meet our expectations. Everyone deserves that feeling. Download our app ‘The Able Mind’ or visit our website (https://theablemind.com/) to connect with a counsellor. Lighten Your Load and move forward now… Let us show you how!