It’s my own fault, really. The disappointment I felt was exactly what I set myself up for.
I had big news to share. I was prepared for the recipient to become filled with emotion, lost for words, and suspended in the magic of the moment, in need of a tissue to wipe the tears away. Basically I needed them to react as I would have. But they didn’t.
I felt totally deflated. And a little embarrassed. But it felt better to just get mad. Super grown up, huh?
Have you ever rehearsed a scenario in your mind, to epic Hollywood proportions, only to have it play out in the most underwhelmingly normal way?
I tend to attach so much of my emotional wellness to other people’s behavior. I set expectations that are nearly impossible for others to uphold… even if they knew what they were.
Essentially: my expectations are ruining my expectations.
I learned in my early adult life (and still grapple with it daily) that much to my chagrin, people do not wake up in the morning with their focus on meeting my expectations. Not only do they not read my mind, they fail to meet my needs they never knew about. THE NERVE OF PEOPLE.
A giant part of the personal work I have to do daily on emotional management stems from the realization that I can set some pretty unrealistic – and unfair – expectations of people in my life. Particularly the people closest to me.
To my credit, I don’t think this is completely unfair. Some of our basic human needs are to feel loved, heard, safe, and supported. (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs diagram below, with a critical current-day adjustment)
It’s natural to expect that those closest to us (spouse, parents, closest friends) would provide those basic needs. And mostly, they do. But surprise – they are human. Just like us. And by nature, we tend towards selfishness, self-centeredness, closed-mindedness, and preference of our own needs over those of others.
Ask yourself: would I be willing to do/be this for someone else? If the answer is yes, the next question becomes: is it really fair for me to ask this person to do/be this for me? **Most of the time, I tend to set some very lofty expectations that are in no way fair or attainable. It is not my spouse’s job to make me happy. That is my responsibility. Also important: releasing myself from unrealistic expectations. I am not Wonder Woman, I cannot (and should not) be all things to all people, my health and wellness need protection, and the world is not going to stop turning on its axis if I say “no” to an activity that will overextend me. I cannot release anyone else from unrealistic expectations if I can’t release myself first.
Nobody can meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are. Typically the way I realize what my expectations were, is when someone has failed to meet them. Ooops. Totally my fault for a) setting something unrealistic, and b) failing to communicate them in the first place. You can’t hit a target that isn’t there. (Men have even more difficulty aiming for vague or invisible targets. We can help them better by drawing the target big and bold.)
If I feel let down, I owe it to the other person – and mostly to myself – to bring it to the table. I cannot control their reaction or even if they’re willing to discuss it at all. But bottling it up serves no one. Take a deep breath and say the words.
More fun that that conversation? Thanking and affirming someone for exceeding your expectations and making you feel like a million bucks. Praise when things go well is so much more empowering than criticism when they don’t.
I realize the screenwriter/director/actress in my mind is much more dramatic than the average person, and she sets me up for frustration over and over unless I keep her in check. She needs relationships to be filled with sweeping action, grand encounters, to-the-threshold emotions, and meaningful everything.
Real life is just not so. In real life, relationships are messy and people are just doing the best they can. And they are not here to serve my (mostly selfish) needs. When I base my emotional wellness on my expectations of someone else’s behavior, I am almost guaranteeing that I will feel let down.
I’ll pout and never say anything, then build up my guts again for the next time, and feel let down, and pout, and build up, etc. You see this cycle. Zoom goes the rollercoaster… and boom goes the dynamite.
But I have the power to stop it by releasing unrealistic expectations!!!
We use the phrase frequently, learned from a friend: Congratulations, you’re off the hook! My happiness (wellness, joy, fulfillment, attitude, etc.) is up to me. Especially with small children in the house, we repeat the lesson constantly that it does not matter what so-and-so did to me. What matters is how I respond to it. One person does not have the power to make or break my day.
People will always disappoint you if you set an invisible target they can never hit. And truthfully, the only expectations I ever feel good setting are the ones I set and hold for myself. And even some of those tend to be unfair.
Perhaps instead of setting each other up for failure we are here to help each other… and give each other grace while we all try to figure out how to be better humans. I always feel more peace when I come back to this. And the first step is softening my heart towards the people I’m most frustrated with. I can’t love someone when I’m judging them. And when I’m constantly keeping score in The Game Of Unmet Expectations, I can’t help but judge.
Let’s release the ones we love from the expectations that drive a wedge between us. Maybe in doing so, they’ll release us too.
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.