Expectations are premeditated resentments. This always strikes a chord for me when I hear it, of course because there is so much truth in this simple statement.
When I started this journey of recovery, this is yet another piece of my puzzle that I didn’t understand or recognize. I had zero understanding that I put all these expectations on people and outcomes and situations- and then ended up mad when it didn’t go the way I thought it should go.
I know you are going to relate to this, too- because it’s human nature! It is something everyone does. Addiction or no addiction- these expectations are out here running wild in the streets.
Let me give you a simple example- I caught myself in this one, years ago when I just learning about expectations.
I’m driving to my boyfriend's house and I’m excited to see him, he was in a pretty good mood when we were on the phone so I’m thinking I’m going to get there and when I walk in he’s going to give me a fantastic hug and he’s going to be really sweet and it’s going to be a magical moment.
And it didn’t happen that way at all.
I walked in, he was in the middle of something and was kind of dismissive like he didn’t care if I was there or not and he was going to finish what he was doing whether I was there or not.
Of course my feelings were hurt and I sat down to pout.
Here's another good example, too- you go into a conversation with someone and you have an expectation of how they are going to respond or react- you expect they are going to be understanding and kind and loving and totally hear you and agree with you and you are going to walk away from the conversation with a smile.
Really, that expectation is that you are going to get your way. So when it starts to go a different direction and you see you aren’t getting your way, you start to get mad.
If your person isn’t just agreeable and willing to do what you want, the tone starts to turn to anger and resentment.
This is the perfect storm for special occasions, too.
Have you ever had the big birthday party that you plan and invite all your friends and buy a special outfit for it and you are so excited you spend two weeks thinking about all the fun you are going to have and all the fun all your friends are going to have and it’s going to be epic!
Then the day comes and it falls totally flat. Your new shoe breaks before you ever get out of the house- 4 of your friends text last minute that they can’t make it- your hair won’t cooperate and it starts raining.
It’s a mess.
I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me! Not just birthdays but even regular nights out. You get so excited and those expectations are going up and up and up, and at some point that level of excitement creates an expectation that just can’t be attained.
The bad thing about this is, when our expectations are not met, it leaves us bummed.
Sad, mad, disappointed- and then we can’t even enjoy the situation as it is.
Expectations get us in a couple of ways- one is the expectations we put on others. Expecting a certain response from someone or a certain greeting when you walk in the room- expecting an outcome that you pre-determine in your head.
The other is, the expectations you put on yourself.
Often, we combine the two and that’s a real disaster waiting to happen.
Let’s do another example- husband makes a surprise romantic dinner for his wife. He shops, cooks before she gets home, he has her favorite flowers for her, candles lit- he’s being amazing and thoughtful.
Wife comes in the door, not in a great mood, and says, "Thanks babe, I’ve had a horrible day, I just want to take a shower and go to bed."
How would you respond in that situation?
If you’re the husband, you worked your buns off for this surprise! You thought she was going to come in and be surprised and happy and appreciative and you were going to score major points.
Instead, it fell totally flat and you get nothing except a mess to clean up and good food to put away.
It would be very easy to get angry. The committee in your head would start chattering away- all the hard work you put in and she didn’t even care! Didn’t even acknowledge all the planning and thought that went into this, all the time and cooking and preparing- and she didn’t even notice the flowers! She’s so ungrateful! No matter what I do it’s never enough… yada yada yada.
The truth is, she can’t help that she had an exhausting day. She isn’t intentionally ruining your beautiful dinner. This is where some good old fashioned emotional intelligence comes into play, too. You have to be able to put the selfishness to the side, don’t get caught up in your feelings and disappointment, but check on your person and make sure they are okay instead.
In this scenario, you were doing something really thoughtful and kind for your person- being kind to them was your whole purpose and you were thrown a curve ball. Stay in the mindset of being kind. Shift your focus to how you can be kind to them as they are exhausted and just want to lie down.
Maybe you can make them a cup of tea and set it outside the shower for them- move the flowers from the dinner table up to the bedroom so she can appreciate them there- give an extra hug, or give some space if that’s what your person needs.
Instead of getting into anger and disappointment, stay on your original path of being kind!
Here’s one that took some practice for me- I used to immediately think people didn’t like me if they didn’t say hello to me or acknowledge me or return phone calls and text messages.
Like, if I walked into my AA meeting and saw someone across the room and I expected they would be happy to see me or give me a big smile and say hello – if that didn’t happen, I would sit through the whole meeting thinking, did I do something? Do they not like me anymore? Did I say something wrong without realizing it?
Same thing with phone calls- if I called you and left a message and two or three days went by without a response, the committee would immediately start telling me that you don’t like me anymore.
I had a guy from my home group approach me one time at our annual AA conference and I kind of knew him, like I saw him at meetings and probably said hello to him- but I didn’t know him well like we had coffee and hung out or anything.
And he came up to me at the conference and asked me if he had done something to upset me because he felt like I didn’t talk to him anymore or I hadn’t said hello in a meeting.
Of course I told him heck no he hadn’t done anything- but he thought he had offended me somehow just based on his expectation of how I would greet him.
I don’t even think we had ever had enough conversation that he could offend me!
It’s just that I didn’t meet his expectation in his head.
So let’s talk about solutions. You know I love solutions.
#1 - Don’t personalize it.
If someone doesn’t behave the way you thought they would or the way you expected them to, it’s probably not about you.
With that gentleman who thought he offended me somehow- he wasn’t on my radar at all. My behavior had nothing to do with him, I was just being me.
The truth is, I’m pulled a thousand directions every minute of the day, my phone is blowing up with emails and calls and text messages and I’m usually in my head thinking about the next 6 things I have to do.
And I’m an introvert. Which means, I live predominantly in my thoughts and to other people that can come off aloof and even unfriendly.
It’s not my intention to seem unfriendly or uncaring, it’s just my nature that I live in my thoughts and it’s a lot to manage. A large part of the time I am not so aware of people or what people are doing because I’m consumed in the 84 things happening in my head.
As long as no one is in my personal space, I’m kind of in my own bubble.
Start practicing not making things personal. When someone doesn’t do what you want it probably isn’t about you. It isn’t to hurt you or disappoint you or be against you.
#2= Don’t assume you know why someone is doing what they are doing.
This is an interesting phenomenon to me because we put all these judgments on each other and they are almost always negative.
If someone doesn’t use a turn signal to change lanes, people with road rage issues will cuss that person and call them an idiot or bitch about them texting and driving- like that person did something on purpose to you. When really, they probably didn’t even realize it. It was probably a simple mistake or oversight and not that person personally attacking you.
Or if someone declines an invitation – don’t start making assumptions that they don’t like you and don’t want to spend time with you or they are being selfish or you aren’t good enough for them to hang out with or whatever creative scenario the committee wants to paint for you.
Maybe that person is just busy- maybe they have healthy boundaries with their time and they just can’t fit it in that week, and maybe they just don’t feel like it. And that is perfectly okay, too. There are plenty of times you just don’t feel like doing something so don’t be irritated with someone else for the same.
I don’t know why we immediately start attacking one another in our minds over every little thing. Don’t just assume that people are bad and doing bad things on purpose because they are bad.
95% of people are really good. And sometimes we are careless, and sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes we disappoint and hurt one another.
That doesn’t make us bad, it just means we are human. Don’t assume you know why somebody did what they did or assume they disappointed or hurt you intentionally because most of the time that is not the case.
#3- Removing expectations from the people and situations around you is not only good for you, but it is showing kindness to others.
Imagine how you feel when you are walking into a situation with people who are putting all kinds of expectations on you- it feels like a lot of pressure and like you have to perform. You can’t just relax and enjoy yourself and be you because you are constantly trying to meet other people’s expectations.
Is that how you want people to feel around you?
Think about all the different ways you may do this- the expectations you put on your partner and how you want them to act or what you want them to do. Or, your kids and how you want them to behave or how you want them to dress or act or wear their hair- all of those things are mostly to appease other people’s expectations of you, trying to control the picture the outside world sees.
Or what about your employees- do you just expect them to perform a certain way without guidance from you? Are you communicating clearly and regularly and helping them grow? Or just getting irritated when they don’t do what you expect?
Think about how awful it feels when you feel like you are constantly disappointing someone. It’s terrible. I don’t want to make people feel like that and I’m sure you don’t either.
#4- Communication is key.
Let people know what is going on for you, let people know what you are thinking and why you are feeling let down.
In that situation I talked about earlier when I walked in my boyfriend’s house and didn’t get the hug and greeting I was hoping for- I sat down and was pouting a bit and he asked me what was wrong, and I told him.
Don’t be the person that when someone asks you what’s wrong, you say, “Nothing. I’m fine.”
It is unfair and you are setting your person up for failure. Then you’ll be mad at them for letting you down.
You are responsible to speak up for yourself. No one can read your mind and it’s not fair to expect them to. If you need something, say so. If you are upset about something, explain it. If something threw you off a bit, say that.
Give people the opportunity to fix it, to apologize, to learn how to do it better next time. If you keep everything to yourself then you don’t get to be mad.
If you aren’t comfortable communicating then that’s exactly what you can start working on.
You can Google it, you can hire a counselor or coach to help you, you can read books, watch YouTube videos and learn how to communicate better.
I always say, let things unfold. Instead of having expectations of what is going to happen or how it’s going to happen or what people are going to do- let things unfold, and then figure out your response to it.
Don’t let the committee get all carried away and blow things out of proportion and get you to over-react.
This is especially important going in holiday season. As you are going in to family gatherings and gifting and the stress of trying to manage other people’s thoughts and expectations of you. Try to walk in with zero expectations except that you are going to have a wonderful happy and sober day.
Don’t expect the uncle, who always has something rude to say, is all of a sudden going to be different. If he is always rude, then know he is going to be rude, and move on with your day. Try to avoid him as much as possible but don’t take it personally when he says something rude, and certainly don’t have some expectation that this year he’s going to be different. If he’s always a jerk, then he’s probably going to be a jerk this year, too. But it’s not about you, it’s about him being a jerk. And you don’t have to react.
Manage your expectations about gifts and be happy that you get gifts instead of disappointed it may not be the exact thing you wanted.
You decide what kind of day you are going to have before it starts. Don’t let other people’s expectations ruin your day, and don’t let your expectations ruin anyone else’s day- especially yours!
Really examine your expectations.
We get ourselves in trouble when we expect people to behave a certain way or we expect a certain outcome or result in situations- because things almost never go as expected. The nature of life is to throw you a curve ball, the secret to success is to roll with it and not let it throw you off your game.