Updated: Oct 16, 2022
Expectations seems like such an innocent word doesn't it? It sounds like a positive word filled with possibilities. But we all know that expectations can have a dark side. Some of life's biggest sufferings are directly related to our expectations. We get disappointed, sad, angry, or even judgmental when things don't go as 'planned'.
William Shakespeare sums it up perfectly in this quote:
Expectations are the root of all heartache.
We go through life with never ending expectations on relationships, financial income, careers, simple daily tasks, material possessions and so much more. Reality either meets our expectations or they don't. When our expectations are met do we even notice? Most often not. Our awareness usually occurs when things don't go as planned. The resulting emotional fallout from unrealized expectations and it's severity is based on two things:
Our level of passion
Our level of control
Have you noticed that when we are more passionate about a specific expectation, the harder we seem to fall when the results fall short?
Let's say you're shopping for your weekly groceries. One of the items on your list, cranberry sauce, is out of stock. Since you thought it would be a nice to have item, you continue shopping for the rest of the items without giving it a pause. In this case, there is no passion attached to your expectation so no awareness is given to that expectation.
Now let's say you're shopping the day before Thanksgiving and its out of stock. Cranberry sauce is a staple at Thanksgiving, right? At least in our household it is.... But what if your sweet 85 year old grandmother is coming to dinner and she absolutely LOVES cranberry sauce?! In fact, she feels that Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without it. Since you don't want to break your granny's heart, you frantically look at all the shelves looking for that stray can of cranberry sauce. You may even demand to speak to the manager or start calling other grocery stores. It's not a "fall to your knees crying" type of scenario but it does generate a frantic meltdown within.
Unrealized expectations are usually easier to accept if the success of the outcome is not dependent upon another person. Expectations can easily morph into reality because most of the contributing factors, getting from point A to B, are contained within your sphere of influence or level of control.
Expecting yourself to get outside and run two miles is totally under your control. You are not depending upon anyone else but yourself. Put your athletic gear and sneakers on, plug in your headphones and away you go. Simple and easy to satisfy.
But just because you are the one in control doesn't mean that there can't be unforeseen circumstances like the weather, or your dog ate your shoes or you get a phone call just as you are walking out the door.
But overall you are less likely to be upset if you feel like you have some type of control.
When your expectation involves someone else other than you, it becomes a co-dependent expectation. This is where it gets a little dicey and can lead us to frustration. In all areas of our life we interact and depend on others for daily tasks and interpersonal communication. How many times have we wanted the person to do the task OUR way or respond like WE would.
Think of all the times that another person failed to meet your expectations. A co-worker fails to get her piece of the project done by the set date, a spouse forgets to take out the trash on trash day or the grocery store doesn't have that one ingredient that tonight's dinner recipe requires.
What happens when the person or thing doesn't match what we perceived it should be? How do we react? Some of us may just laugh it off, some may get a little irritated or sad but a few get down right angry.
It's sad to say but the quote below holds water when it comes to co-dependent expectations.
Expectations are premeditated resentments.
So what can we do about our expectations? Should we do anything to fix it? Isn't this part of being human?
Yes. We can still have expectations. It's still an important part of our journey otherwise we would never set goals, dream, or get anywhere.
But to prevent our never ending frustration, disappointment, sadness, judgment and anger we need to first become aware of our expectations and then learn how to detach from the outcome. Easier said than done, I know. Trust me, I KNOW! I struggle a lot with this one.
But one thing I did learn from my yoga and meditation training was that the only way to prevent or reduce suffering from our expectations is too detach from the outcome. It is our only hope to create a life that is not full of heartache. In the words of Elsa, from the movie Frozen, "Let it Go, Let it go!......"