I felt so angry. It really shouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t really that important. I didn’t plan to be angry, I mean it’s not something I plan, but suddenly that was how I found myself.
In an instant I had gone from content and happy to mad as a cut snake. If you had asked me a few minutes before about my plans and expectations for that morning, I would have honestly said I had none. Within moments though my sudden, violent reaction to a simple change in plans exposed my hidden expectations.
The emotional turbulence of unmet expectations can be both surprising and difficult to deal with especially when we don’t realise what is really going on.
The turbulence can manifest as anger, frustration, sadness; guilt, anxiety or an irrational desire to run away and hide; or a volatile concoction of impulsive over reactions to insignificant issues.
Alexander Pope thought he nailed it when he penned the words “blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” I am not convinced. I think when push came to shove he’d admit that having no expectations makes you miserable. Whether we like it or not (and whether we admit it or not) we all have expectations. Positive expectations fuel our hopes, dreams and desires while negatives ones feed our internal fears, worries and concerns.
So what can we do to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of disappointment and unmet expectations?
1. Identify the expectation
As soon as you start to feel agitated, disappointed, angry or frustrated pause for a moment and ask yourself what expectations are not be being met. The quicker you can identify these expectations the quicker you will be able to find a way to resolve the yawning gap between what was hoped for and what is actually happening.
2. Acknowledge the disappointment
Whether you were aware of it or not, the expectation existed and your disappointment is valid. You are not a bad person for feeling disappointed, irrespective of how it is currently manifesting. Your spontaneous reaction to the disappointment tells you that something is wrong. By simply acknowledging and accepting your experience of disappointment you can stop fighting it and look for ways to express or respond to it in a more resourceful way.
3. Discover the source
Now that you know what you are dealing with you can begin to question where the expectation is actually coming from. Is it something you really wanted but haven’t be willing to acknowledge to yourself or others? Did you think you had communicated something to someone and they simply haven’t understood you? Do you have an internal rule about behaviour that has been crossed? Have misinterpreted someone else’s comment or suggestion? Often people make suggestions which are taken as gospel by others.
Sometimes you may feel like others have expectations and you feel angry, conflicted or guilty about not meeting them. I have found in these situations it is always a good policy to check in with the other party. Do they really have those expectations or are you just assuming they do? Clarifying expectations (spoken and unspoken) means that you at least know exactly what you are dealing with and can make more informed choices.
Sometimes you may think other people are placing an expectation on you when in actual fact you are responding to one of your own internal rules. For example, ‘Mum just expects me too…’ or ‘my brother will be really offended if I don’t…’ when in fact you may simply have an internal rule that says ‘I am a good daughter if I…’ or ‘I am a bad sister if I don’t…’
4. Look for the positive intent
Whether the expectations are yours or someone else’s there is sure to be a positive intent behind the expectation. Uncovering the positive intent can make all the difference in how you experience and respond to the expectation. Ask yourself what was behind the expectation. What would meeting that expectation have given you? What need was it meeting? If you can identify the positive intent you can probably find another way to meet that need that fits in better with the situation you now find yourself in.
5. Take responsibility
Now it is time to take responsibility for your own expectations. If you created your own sense of expectation, own it and choose whether or not it really is important enough to fight for or whether you could choose to change it. If it really is being imposed as an external obligation, take responsibility for how you are choosing to respond to the expectation and then decide how to push back.
It’s your turn to share…
We have all had to deal with the disappointment of unmet expectations. I would really love to hear about the strategies you have used and how they worked for you. Drop me a note in the comments section below.
Also, please feel free to let us know what personal development topics you would find most helpful for us to explore in this blog so we can serve you better… I can’t wait to hear from you!