For those of you who have read Dickens’ quintessential novel Great Expectations you should understand, as the Hero Pip learned repeatedly, that having expectations leaves you open to disappointment. Yet I repeatedly encounter clients who suffer from angry or hurt feelings because they had imposed expectations upon a loved one, or made assumptions about a situation, only to experience a completely different end than anticipated.
To me, having expectations is akin to hoping, dreaming, imagining – more fantasy than reality. Don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the positive power of hoping, dreaming, and imagining, but only for the purposes of motivating, inspiring and planning. Once a solid dream or hope has been focused into proactive action, then you are truly on your way to achievement. However, you still cannot expect that these plans will turn out exactly as you planned. There are too many variables out of your control. But a solid plan (which in a way carries within it’s structure an “expectation,” albeit as a minor role) has contingencies built in, so ultimately you can, and will, succeed in achieving that which you had hoped, dreamed or imagined.
The most rampant misuse of expectation is assuming a specific reaction (or action) from another person. This is where you set yourself up to fail and suffer emotional distress. Raise your hand if you have ever said or did something nice for someone with the expectation that they would return the favor. Okay, now raise your other hand if you were disappointed by their response. Did they react less enthusiastically than you expected? Did they not treat you or comfort you as wonderfully as you had them? Did you feel ignored or underappreciated? Now the bigger question: has this happed to you repeatedly and/or frequently?
Look at any situation where you felt hurt, angry, or betrayed. Did you possibly place expectations upon an individual that in reality were contrary to how they operate? Think about this – there are two types of “inherent personalities” in this world (the two extremes, that is): selfish personalities and generous personalities. Some types wake up in the morning and immediately think about what they can do for their family and friends to make them happy. Others’ first thoughts are what they can do this day to make themselves happy. This does not mean that inherently selfish types cannot learn to balance their tendencies with acts of selfless consideration and thoughtfulness. Likewise, inherently generous martyring types can temper their selfless habits and learn to pay equal attention to their own needs.
Where your understanding of these two types is important is knowing that if your spouse is inherently selfish and you are inherently generous, then an expectation that he/she will treat you (or respond to you) exactly as you would treat or respond to them is a recipe for serious disappointment. Conversely, the inherently selfish type may often suffer from feelings of chronic guilt because he/she never seems to satisfy their inherently generous loved ones.
The solution is two-fold. First, look at the person you are dealing with and honestly examine how they operate. For example if you are dealing with someone who is overly-excitable and tends towards short-fused, emotional outbursts, then expecting a calm and rational response to certain situations would be foolish on your part. If you are hoping to elicit a strong emotional reaction or instant decision from a loved one who is slow-pondering and indecisive, be prepared for serious frustration.
Next, and most importantly, whenever possible, examine your expectations and see if your intentions are less about what you are giving and more about what you are hoping to receive. Sometimes we operate on “auto-pilot,” acting and reacting out of what seems like a need to help or give to another, when in reality, we are really wanting to receiving something we need (emotionally). If you can resign yourself to either (a) focusing strictly on the “giving” and not expecting a specific (desired) reaction or result, or (b) be more straight-forward and ask for what it is you truly need, then you will may indeed sidestep this “great expectations” vicious circle.