The Power of Expectations

Posted on

Unmet expectations can create a lot of anger, hurt, and pain. These expectations are often created over time based on past experiences, unmet needs, and past relationships. Sometimes we are not even aware of some of the expectations we have. It is important to gain an better understanding of ourselves, others, and our relationships in order to better understand our expectations and their power. We can then manage our expectations. The insight we can about ourself can help heal us and provide opportunities for joy, authenticity, hope. When we can accurately see the other person, our expectations shift, and we are free to appreciate the relationship and person for who they are.

We often create expectations as a way to try to predict and/or gain control of a situation. Expectations can be created based on our past experiences, unmet needs, future hopes, etc. The problem with expectations occur when they are unmet or unfulfilled by reality. It is the gap between our expectations and reality that can create disappointment, hurt feelings, shame, anger, frustration, etc. In fact, studies by Professor Wolfram Schultz show that when we are rewarded, our brain releases dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel pleasure. However, when we are expecting a reward and those expectations are not met, dopamine plummets, and we are left feeling angry and frustrated.


High expectations can help motivate us and others to achieve more than we thought possible; however, when expectations are too high, they can lead to shame, disappointment, and frustration. Lowered expectations can lead to greater contentment as a result of being happier with less. This does not mean that lowering expectations is always a positive thing. Expectations that are too low can lead to apathy, shame, and unhappiness. The key is to manage our expectations in a healthy and realistic manner.


When we find our expectations are not met, it is important to revisit them to understand how realistic or appropriate they are. Sometimes, our expectations are right on target. For example, we expect our partner to be faithful to us, especially if we have communicated these expectations and both made promises to live up to these. If our partner is then unfaithful to us, we are likely to experience a wide range of negative emotions. Does this mean that our expectations were off? No, we had accurate and healthy expectations that were not met. At this point, the work is about dealing with the hurt and betrayal.


However, often are expectations are not realistic or appropriate. For example, due to unmet emotional needs in childhood, I may feel unloveable or have a lot of insecurities about my self-worth. I may look to others to make me feel lovable or worthy. As a result, I will likely expect my partner to meet these unmet needs to feel loved and worthy. However, no one is perfectly able to meet all of our needs all of the time. Perhaps my partner is late coming home or does not notice a accomplishment leaving me feel insecure and unloved. I may become angry, disappointed, shamed, hurt, etc towards my partner. Is this all my partner’s fault or could it be that I was expecting him to live up my desires of him?


I often encourage people to examine their expectations of others and potentially shift or manage their expectations. In order to do this in relationships, we need to first look at ourselves to focus on gaining a better understanding of how our own emotional wounds, unmet needs, and past experiences shape our expectations. By working through these, often with the help of a therapist, we can learn how to better meet our own needs and heal.


I also encourage people to really learn and listen to the other person to see the amazing things that person brings to the relationship as well as their limitations. For example, if you are expecting your mother to provide emotional support through hugs and signs of physical affection, you would be disappointment when she does not do this. However, if you begin to understand your mother more, you may see that she is an amazing listener although not comfortable with physical touch. As a result, you can then appreciate her listening skills instead of focusing on her lack of hugs. The relationship with improve, and you will become more content.