“If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed.” — Sylvia Plath
There are few things in life that you can control; other people’s reactions, the way they treat you, and how an event will turn out are not among them.
Yet it’s human nature to enter into an important event or conversation with ideas on how things will turn out—the tricky part is being fixated on an outcome we want.
Just like when we were little kids, we would get upset if we didn’t win a contest. The bag of delicious candy promised as the prize was passed on to another kid. We sat there, jealous and envying the toddler that won.
Can you see how this could carry on into our adult life? No longer is it just a cute little tantrum you threw as a child; now your expectations are affecting your happiness.
I am no saint here. I learned the hard way that my expectations were causing my unnecessary anxiety.
In my romantic relationships, I would have serious conversations and went full-force into them thinking that the person would react a certain way.
Whether it be their empathy for a stressful day I had at work or their readiness to change a habit of theirs that was upsetting me, I believed that I knew what a normal reaction to the situation was.
Any deviation from this notion was a definite lack of care for my feelings. And let me tell you, the divergence occurred more often than their reaction being in alignment with my expectation.
After feeling like I was completely let down, I resented that person. I held on to this emotion from my lack of needs being met and caused a rift in our relationship, all over thinking that they should act a certain way.
Humans are complicated creatures. You can’t truly know everything about another person—that includes their actions.
You can, however, consider if you are causing our own problems. If you are going into a situation with no wiggle room for an outcome, you’re essentially going in with premeditated resentments loaded and ready to fire.
Being aware is the first step—most people don’t even realize they’re partaking in this behavior pattern.
Now let’s discuss ways to break this expectation-resentment cycle.
1. Focus On The Situation Moment By Moment
See the interaction or event for what it is, not what you think it will be.There are nuances that can be picked up about how a person feels if you take the time to notice.
If it’s an event, there are moments to be relished that will quickly pass you by if you’re tightly focused on the end goal.
As cliche as it is, live in the present. That will get you far in letting go of expectations.
2. Consider The Opposite Outcome
This is a practice I do, though I want to be clear that this is different than dwelling.
If you’re extremely attached to a specific outcome happening, it might be worth considering how you would feel or react if the complete opposite happened. I am all for positive thinking—sometimes we just need a gentle reminder that we’re not in control of everything.
Don’t stay too long in the negative, though. Hope for your ideal outcome but recognize that things could go in another direction.
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky
Going into an important conversation can be stressful. But leaving the conversation thinking you weren’t understood or your feelings were attacked is worse.
I am plagued with this exact scenario except that I am the one oftentimes missing people’s expectations. I am not the kind of person that shows great excitement naturally. I have to be really into something for me to show a hint of ecstatics.
That doesn’t mean I’m not happy, it’s that my expressions just don’t show my reaction. Oftentimes, people feel like I don’t care about their gift, the situation, the promotion, etc. Yes, this did play out to the extent that I received a promotion and my boss looked at me and was like, “Are you not happy?”
Sometimes people feel a certain way but don’t express it in the same manner that we are used to. That’s why communication is key.
Ask questions until you completely understand what is going on or how the person feels. You’d be surprised how much communication can alleviate your assumptions and misunderstanding.
4. Be Clear
Communication on your end is essential as well.
If you’re beating around the bush, aren’t firm on how you feel, or don’t express what you need, then how can you expect someone to react in the way you want?
I’ve found that transitioning from “Well, I just think that…” to “I feel this way…” has been a game changer. No longer is the other person trying to decipher what I am trying to say; It’s clear because I made it clear.
Resentment is a shame to have unless someone deliberately hurt you.
Relationships are important to our needs and risking the strength of one for an expectation isn’t worth it.
It’s time we live an expectation-free life. Let’s feel less let down and more authentic.