How to face the unavoidable reality of unmet expectations
July 21, 2021
Disappointment cuts deep, doesn’t it? When something doesn’t go the way we planned, or we don’t get the response we wanted, it can be a blow. We build up our expectations and when they are not met we falter. Unmet expectations can become crippling if we let them control us. When we set our expectations so high and they fall short we set ourselves up for disappointment. And yet it’s good to have goals and dream big. It’s also good to have standards that you live by. But when we impose those on others, or if we get so tunnel-minded about what is important to us, we can create a situation for ourselves. One that causes us, and others, harm.
Expectations are dangerous if we let them get out of control. And what’s more, they say more about us than the person or situation that hasn’t met those expectations. How often do you feel frustrated, impatient, upset, disappointed, depressed, when your expectations are not met? It certainly doesn’t bring out the best in us or encourage positive, life-affirming attitudes within us. And often, especially if another person is involved, we take it out on them, blame them for the situation. But of course, it has nothing to do with them. Our disappointment isn’t their fault or the fault of the situation. It’s our own.
And yet, unmet expectations are a reality. At some point, something isn’t going to go our way. So how do we face the unavoidable reality of unmet expectations?
To answer that, we need to take a closer look at some of the causes.
We all have expectations, right? In relationships, work, life. By a certain age, I want to… or I want to marry such and such a man, or I want a relationship where we share the housework. You get the idea. We know there are certain things in life that we would love to achieve, or that we would find difficult to compromise on. But what is important is that you know what your own expectations are. You cannot endeavour to have a successful relationship or career if you don’t know your own limitations or expectations.
But be careful! While it is important to have expectations with certain aspects of our lives, we must also allow for changing circumstances and learn to be flexible where we can. Don’t stifle creativity. Sometimes the unexpected is a good thing.
Solution? Know who you are and what is important to you, and then let the rest flow.
A breakdown in communications
Unmet expectations are usually a sign that we have not communicated well. This is especially so in relationships. It’s so important that in any relationship we set up parameters for what we expect so that you are on the same page and mitigate the chance of arguments. These expectations should be set up at the start of the relationship and then maintained and tweaked as it progresses. We are not the same person we were ten years ago, nor are our life circumstances the same, so some flexibility is required. However, at the heart of it all is the ability to communicate with the people around us. If we end up on a different page, it’s usually because we haven’t discussed something important and our new expectations are not being met.
It is also important that although we must communicate clearly, our expectations must be reasonable and mutually agreed upon. Compromise is important in any relationship, especially when you are committed to each other. But make sure that all persons involved are happy with the decisions that you make. Resentment breeds contempt.
Solution? Talk it out. When you are open and honest you can avoid unmet expectations. However, if disappointment should arise, wait until you are both calm, and talk it out then. Don’t let it fester away. Be honest about your feelings and seek a solution together.
It’s all take take take
Expectations are about taking. They are therefore an inherently selfish thing. When we expect something of a situation or someone, we are setting up the parameters for what we believe should happen. We, therefore, can’t see past what we want to see and are let down by anything less. It displays a need for control and an unwillingness to see the value in other outcomes. When we set the bar unattainably high we encourage our own selfishness and omit the space for creativity, possibility, and surprise to grow.
Solution? Consider the flip side of the taking coin. When we give, of ourselves, our time, resources, when we give freedom to other outcomes, we receive so much more in return. When you serve, give, work, without expectation of return, you will find that the people who surround you will respond freely, graciously, and generously. Give it a try.
The pain of perfectionism
Perfectionism is a right pain. Our expectations of ourselves and others are so high that when the standard isn’t met we are dashed by disappointment and regret. Perfectionism leaves no room for anyone or anything else. The need to control every little detail of a situation can become so all-consuming that all else is pushed out and we are left in the middle alone. The pressure we then feel, the worry, presses down and the only way we try to deal with it is to try to control it. And so the vicious cycle continues and threatens to consume us. It’s not a place we should aim to be.
Solution? If you are inclined towards perfectionism, don’t try and let go cold-turkey. Ask yourself what it is that you feel the need to be in control of. Some may be little things and others bigger. Write them down in order of strength, 1 being the weakest need to control and 10 being the strongest need to control. Start with the weakest one and ask yourself why you are controlling it and why it must be perfect to your standards. Then think of ways to take a step back. Maybe change up your routine, ask someone to take over, think of other acceptable outcomes. Allow yourself to see that the change isn’t bad, it’s just different. Keep working on number 1 until you are calm and accepting. Then progress onto number 2 and do the same. Gradually you will release your need for perfectionism and the drain of unmet expectations will subside too.
How to face the unavoidable reality of unmet expectations
Knowing some of the causes of unmet expectations can help us to set up preventative methods in our lives that not only help us avoid creating situations where our expectations are unmet, but also just to live better lives. However, we will undoubtedly encounter times when we will feel disappointment due to an unmet expectation. A promotion at work that went by us, a competition we worked really hard for and came in anything other than first, the hope to be married and with children by a certain age. No matter how hard we try, we will still feel the bitter sting of things that haven’t gone our way.
So how do we approach those times?
It’s just one moment in your lifetime.
Your life is made up of a succession of moments that join up to create your unique life story. We are a weave of good times and harder times, light and dark, and these momentary disappointments will pass. Remember to turn over the tapestry of your life and look at the beautiful picture you are creating. It all comes together.
You are more than what is happening to you.
It may not seem like it at the time, but remember that whatever is happening to you, whatever disappointment you are dealing with, it’s not all of who you are. It’s one event in the timeline of your life. If you allow this unmet expectation to define you and you dwell on it, you will only drag yourself down. You are more than this one thing.
Focus on what you want
Don’t remain in the past. What is done is done. Instead, focus on what you want to see. Goals are important, they are what drive us forward and encourage us to be our best selves. So when things don’t pan out entirely as you’d hoped, visualise your next step to getting back on track and get moving. Keep moving forward.
Be ready to learn
If we don’t learn from our disappointments we cannot seek ways to overcome them in the future. It will be a perpetually recurring issue where we encounter the same unmet expectations time after time. Note what went wrong, ask yourself the hard questions, and try a new approach. Flexibility and humility are key.
People will undoubtedly disappoint you. Even if you’ve set out agreed boundaries and you feel like you’re on the same page, people make mistakes or change and you’re left dealing with the fallout. What’s important is that you remember that we learn and grow through our mistakes. We are not perfect so we cannot expect others to be so. Leave room for mistakes and be ready to forgive them when they occur.
Talk it out
Sometimes we feel ashamed of things that happen in our lives. Particularly the things that we feel have blindsided us. Talking about it can lighten the load we carry. Disappointment is heavy but when we open up about what we are feeling we can lessen the load. New perspectives can be shared, comfort given, stability found and a way forward discovered. Don’t keep your unmet expectations to yourself. Freedom is found in sharing.
You’re not alone
The biggest thing to take away from all of this is that you’re not alone. We all experience unmet expectations in life, even the people who appear to have it all together. What we must endeavour to do is keep moving forwards and remain fixed upon goals you set yourself and with others. Yes, there will be deviations along the way, you must expect them and allow them to make you stronger. They will create colour and excitement, challenge and some pain, but they will ultimately make you, you.
Unmet expectations are unavoidable, but we are together in that.