Expectations are tricky! Sometimes they can be a positive thing to have in our life and motivate us to do better and be better, but other times they can wreck havoc on our relationships and cause all kinds of problems!
I have found that we have different sets of expectations with the different people in our life. Some people we have low expectations, if they don't do something it's no big deal and we could honestly care less. But with others we set that expectation bar high and when that person is unable to meet that expectation all kinds of emotions come into play! Past traumas, family history, the stories we play in our mind and a whole host of issues can cause us to take things personal or view things from an emotional standpoint that really isn't a true picture of the situation. When we have high expectations of people or situations it can often lead to frustration, resentment and bitterness! How???
When we place an expectation on someone we are not allowing them to be their authentic self, we are expecting them to be who we want them to be. That's where the problems come in! Sometimes people are not able to live up to the expectation, which leads us to disappointment, frustration, resentment and bitterness. It's not them...it's you and your expectation that causes this.
After working as a hospice nurse for several years, I noticed patterns in families, along with my own personal experiences of when I had placed an expectation on someone or someone had placed one on me. We think people have the same heart as we do or that something is owed to someone and unfortunately in life, it doesn't work this way! First of all we are human, each one of us is unique with our own set of gifts that we share with the world but our gifts are not all the same! Some people are able to do certain things very well and others are better at other things, but with expectations we tend to think people are just like us and don't understand why they can't do the things that we do. Here's some examples of what I mean:
I know a lady who lives in another state, she has a local brother who is taking care of their parents. The brother was never someone who liked to be a caregiver, rather he was someone who wanted to be cared for and is resentful that he is having to take care of his parents. The sister lives in another state and has a family of her own with kids that are in school. She's not able to come on a regular basis physically and help care for their parents. The brother tells the sister you need to get up here once a month, he puts an expectation on his sister without having a conversation to see if that is something that she is even able to do. The sister gets mad because the brother doesn't understand her situation and how she just can't up and leave her kids. The sister also feels that because the parents attended all of her brothers sporting events as a kid that "he owes it to the parents to be there for them now, like they were for him when he was growing up." You can see where this lack of communication and both of them setting an expectation on each other would create issues. So now they are not talking, no one talked about who was willing to do what and how they were going to achieve goals that would help make sure that mom and dad were taken care of. Both are bitter and resentful and this relationship is not helping anyone in the family. I see similar situations in families all the time related to these type of expectations.
Here is another expectation that I have seen: A grandmother invited her granddaughter over for Christmas. The granddaughter was unable to make it that day but told her grandmother she could visit the day after Christmas. The grandmother placed an expectation on the granddaughter - feeling if she couldn't make it on Christmas, then she shouldn't bother at all and that she didn't want to see her again if that's how she felt. Grandma felt that she was not important, because the granddaughter wasn't able to visit that day! So the grandma told the granddaughter, "if I'm not important enough to visit on Christmas, then I don't want to see you anymore." The granddaughter was crushed, she wanted to go on Christmas but already had a full day and knew it wasn't going to happen and was being honest, but the grandmother was unreasonable and sacrificed her relationship with her granddaughter over this situation. Sadly they never saw each other again - both with broken hearts over this misunderstanding.
With expectations, it's really about having a conversation and trying to work with others rather than trying to control the situation. When you place high expectations on someone you are trying to control and the outcome of a situation...it never goes well!
This is how it leads to bitterness, frustration, resentment and sometimes anxiety or anger, because the person feels like they can never please you or it's never enough. Have you noticed yourself ever in a situation like this?
So here is a little tool that I have used when I find myself trying to do this...I take a step back - the first step in changing anything is an awareness that you are doing it! Practice the pause and take a moment to review why are you placing this expectation on this person or situation, is it reasonable? If you notice someone is doing this to you, again take a step back, is this really about you? Are they having a bad day? Have you asked them what they really need and try to help come up with a reasonable solution? Something you can both work with?
When you lower your expectations, work with others and meet them where they are by having a conversation, it just works better for everyone involved. When we go with the flow, ask is this situation going to matter next week, next month or next year? If it's not, try just living in the moment and take things one day at a time - you will be able to truly enjoy being in the moment with your family and friends without all the negative emotions hanging above your head! So when it comes to expectations involving others...I say go low, lower and even lower for a more peaceful and loving outcome! People are honestly trying to do the best with what they know, practicing compassion, kindness and forgiveness all help too!
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Hugs - Rachel