The Trouble with Expectations

Over the past few months, I have found myself struggling with expectations. Primarily my expectations of others. I have been frustrated, anxious and disappointed in others because of expectations I created but was unaware of. How could I expect others to behave a certain way because I decided they should behave that way? Why do I think I should be able to control others in that way?

I learned a few things from my struggle with expectations. I first learned to identify when that is what is happening. For me, I know that I am dealing with this issue when I find myself constantly frustrated with someone but can’t articulate why- that may be a time when I am dealing with an expectations issue. When I realize that, I work to figure out what I am expecting of them and what I think the gap is. Do this by asking yourself how you wish they were behaving and how you think they are behaving now- what is the difference? That allows me to understand what is causing me frustration to be able to deal with it.

Next, it is important to understand why you have those expectations and where they come from. Are you expecting a friend to respond to texts more consistently? Or struggling with a co-worker who bends the rules at work? Or a significant other who is not doing something you think they should? Or a child who you think should be doing better in school? Ask yourself why you have these expectations- some will absolutely be reasonable expectations but some may not be. I know for me, having a better understanding of why I expect things from others and if those expectations are reasonable will allow me to move forward. It is also important to note that sometimes expectations can be a control issue and we can create expectations for others as a way to control them, the environment and how vulnerable we have to be. 

Once you have identified the control issue, you have two potential next steps:

Option one: Decide if you can or should communicate your feelings with this person. Sometimes you shouldn’t or can’t, but if you have a personal relationship with this person you are thinking about and these expectations are causing an issue for you, think about being vulnerable and sharing this with them. What you should not say is- I expect you to text me back and you don’t. This will require you to be intentional about your language. You can say something like “when I do not hear from you when I reach out, the story I believe is that you are not being thoughtful of me and that makes me feel sad.” Be honest about the story you’re making up and be okay communicating your feelings.

Option two: What happens when you can’t communicate your expectations and feelings? This may be true for work in particular. At that point, the work is on you. Personal development is a practice, so know going in that this will require a bit of work. When you are annoyed because of these expectations, change your self-talk around it. Remind yourself that people are doing the best that they can, and that you don’t get to control how they behave. For me, saying this in my head on a regular basis allows me to let go of expectations and attachments to other’s outcomes (particularly when their choices don’t have a direct impact on my life).

Regardless of the route you are able to take, it is important to identify your thoughts and your expectations and decide what to do from there. For me, identifying my expectations struggle was the first step that I needed to let go of the anxiety and annoyance I was feeling.

Jessica SharpComment