Everyone has expectations and they can have a profound effect on how we perceive reality. Unmet expectations can lead to disappointment, hurt feelings, and even anger. Conversely, those we achieve can leave us feeling fulfilled and successful.
Before I go on, it’s important to clarify that expectations are very different from “hopes.” Expectations depend on the actions or responses of others. Hope does not, it’s entirely internal. While they do often occur simultaneously, they are generated by very different aspects of our emotional state. And, since we are dealing with emotions here, there is no standard — expectations affect everyone differently.
Some lead us to create standards by which we expect ourselves and others to live, with the bar raised so high as to be completely unreachable. Sometimes our expectations are entangled with our personal aspirations, either of which can set us up for success, or crush us in the event of failure.
Expectations affect nearly every aspect of our lives, from our professional careers to personal relationships. What we want out of those experiences is often laid out in our minds well in advance. One of the big problems with expectations in any sort of relationship is that everyone has them, and most of the time they reside only in the mind, unshared.
When someone has unspoken expectations of you they set themselves up for disappointment. Not only is it unfair, but also unrealistic. That person is creating the potential for hurt feelings and will likely blame you, even if you did nothing to warrant the ill will. This can be observed when people have unrealistic expectations of how their life should be because they constantly compare it to something else, real or fictional.
Take, for instance, someone who thinks the experience of dating or marriage should be like something they saw in a romantic comedy or novel. No question they’re in for one heck of a disappointment. But it happens, to men and women alike. Why? In this case, it’s unlikely any of those expectations are ever voiced because let’s face it, they would sound ridiculous.
Creating an environment for unrealized expectations is common in romantic relationships, but also among coworkers, and even between parents and children. Parents may very well inadvertently pass their own life expectations along to their kids. Those who have unfulfilled dreams could, and often do, however unknowingly, lay those expectations on their children.
Imagine a mother who had been a star athlete in high school and college but, for whatever reason, never made it to professional sports. She might, without meaning to, end up pushing her son or daughter into that same field, feeling as though she is simply sharing a positive experience, but instead harboring expectations of the child obtaining that which she failed to achieve. Living vicariously through them, she rediscovers her youth, hoping this time, for better success, even if it’s not hers.
I was introduced to Charles Dickens’s classic novel, “Great Expectations,” in my sophomore year of high school (thank you Miss Fasbinder). It is a compelling tale molded around the ambitions of a young orphan named, Philip Pirrip, otherwise known as, “Pip,” whose expectations robbed him of his ability to value much of the good in his life.
The story follows the young man’s desire to use a chance inheritance to rise above his station and marry the girl of his dreams. No spoilers here, but I will tell you this. The assumptions Pip made early on turned out to be incorrect, not an uncommon mistake for anyone. As it turns out, expectations can be an incredibly powerful source of stress. Constantly trying to hit some arbitrary goal line can drive you crazy. So, how do we avoid all this disappointment?
First, consider what really makes you happy and practice some gratitude for what you have. Don’t make comparisons and avoid the social media trap of trying to keep up with the perfect life of strangers. When your expectations far outrun your reality, you set yourself up for failure and unhappiness. Next, build up some emotional acceptance. If you’re regularly disappointed by others, it might very well be that your own undeclared expectations are what have let you down.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.