When you stop for a moment to think about all the issues the human race face today, you will inevitably conclude that they are linked to the idea of expectations.
We expect ourselves to be rational human beings, when in fact, we are not. We expect others to behave like us, when in fact, that will never happen. We expect situations to resolve themselves in the next three months, but they drag on for years. Basically, we have enormous expectations of ourselves and the world around us.
Let’s be clear: I am not saying that expectations are toxic. On the contrary, depending on the context, some expectations are perfectly healthy and reasonable. For instance, it is logical to expect our parents to love us unconditionally and rush to protect us when we are in danger. However, it is foolish to expect they will display their love for us in a specific manner since they have their own ways of expressing familial affection.
Carrying high expectations can inflict plenty of internal damage.
It can consume us from the inside out. We become more easily disappointed. Our temperament becomes more sensitive. We become more resentful toward people who have let us down. When life is not what we expected, we might point our fingers at others and ourselves. Alternatively, perhaps we feel so emotionally wounded that we retreat to our protective shell, disconnecting ourselves from those who genuinely care about us and the world in general.
Eventually, when we return to the surface, we lack interest in all that life has to provide. Uninspired, sad and deeply cynical. In extreme cases, these festering emotions open gateways to some very dark places.
To prevent ourselves from succumbing to a deep state of depression and raise our quality of life, we must continuously search for ways to abandon our habit of setting high expectations.
This is easier said than done. “Old habits die hard,” they said. Getting rid of anything can be a challenge. Our emotional connection with objects, habits, people, and behaviour grows stronger with time. However, it is not impossible if we exercise self-awareness, constantly work at letting go, and have patience with ourselves when it is tough.
My expectation of others and myself attracted disappointments.
I do not know when, how and why I have expectations of others, but one thing is for certain: my expectations of others have led me to many disappointments and, in several instances in the past, episodes of rage. I have left myself vulnerable to disappointment when others have not seemed to offer something valuable to me. As I am composing this, I become fully aware of how trite it sounds. I know this is completely about my views and expectations. However, it is also something I have to fend off sometimes.
This viewpoint has not been reserved solely for those who are dearest to me, either. A friend of mine once mentioned to me, “Terence, the core of your problem is that you set the bar incredibly high for the people in your network.”
And in that sentence lies a gargantuan element of truth—something I have had to fight hard against.
I am aware that I hold expectations of others in a variety of situations, and the result is always the same: disappointment. It could be frustration with a close friend for pulling out of plans last minute (even if they had a legitimate reason). It could be a colleague at work for missing a deadline, which I believe is realistic. It could be a stranger who did not express their thanks because I held the door open for them.
Any disappointment I sense in any of these circumstances is completely about my own expectations. What I expect others to do or how I expect them to behave. Nonetheless, emotions never abide by the laws of logic. Hence, I have had to be mentally cautious when destructive emotions are consuming me.
Strangely, I can get annoyed at my own frustration, too — because I expect myself to do better, to be better. I am someone who values solitude and peace in my life. Also, I am someone who views himself as being realistic and emotionally grounded. When I let any perceived “infringements” destabilise this peaceful state of mind (and heart), I unavoidably reflect on the improvements that I have yet to make.
Self-evaluation without criticism
Such experiences and the way I reacted to them have made me question myself.
Since when I developed a sensitive temperament? Why am I so emotionally compromised? Is it because of my ego, or is something deeper fuelling this problem of mine? If indeed there is, what I can do to remedy the more significant issue at hand instead of keeping myself trapped in my troubled feelings?
Did I absorb any benefits resulting from harbouring this energy? What good would it do my social connections if I vented out my disappointments and frustrations?
Was I guilty of not sticking to my words and behaving maturely? Is this the human being I want to be? Can I, in any way, do better?
Do I expect lots of other people due to the fact I expect the same of myself? Would lowering the standards allow me to do the same for others?
This self-inventory is a crucial measure for each of us if we want to develop ourselves in a healthier, more positive way.
We all have something we are particularly good at, and we all have areas that require further refinement. Without being too harsh on ourselves, we have to ask some really tough, uncomfortable questions of ourselves sometimes. If we want to steer clear of negative reactions in the future and be more adept at managing expectations and emotions, we must understand them too.
As for me, I have learned that life is too precious to be wasted on negative energy. I do not want to spend the rest of my life resenting people that failed to live up to my expectations. I do not want to be the person that turns sour each time someone fails to meet the bare minimum. Hence, I am still learning to let go of the negative emotions so that it does not drag me down.
Along the way, I discovered that the disappointments I felt indicate areas of my life that deserve attention.
If it has something to do with a friend who constantly breaks promises, perhaps we need an open discussion about the subject directly and clear the air. Alternatively, that is not the friend worth keeping for the rest of my life. Some relationships stay with you forever, and some are only meant to be in your life for a short while.
I have also come to realise that my self-esteem also plays a role in these scenarios. It gets on my nerves every time I take things too personally — that someone is bailing out on me, and thus, they must not value our social connection as much as I do. Oftentimes, however, when people frustrate me, it has little to do with me and everything to do with their own life circumstances.
This is an area of my life that I must observe and improve on. Of course, I am not perfect, but I am confident that I am getting better with time. I have come a long way since I started to cleanse my mindset, and today, I think my ego-driven behaviour has been toned down significantly.
I have also made attempts to develop an appreciative mentality whereby I express my gratitude towards everything I have in my life to combat the pain of unmet expectations.
When we feel gratitude, genuine appreciation and joy for someone or something, it is difficult to venture back to our dark corners.
Gratitude allows us to celebrate others for who they are rather than vilifying them for not being who we want them to be. We can take in the fact that each of us is unique. We are bound to make mistakes and be proven wrong. We all have our own definition of weird. This is what it is to be a person. We can opt to be less critical of everyone around us. The option to accept and move on has always been there for us to choose.
It is up to us as individuals to decide whether or not we want to take it.
Letting go is an adventure
Wherever you go, expectations can be found. They are everywhere because they are a natural part of life. It is worth emphasising once more that not all are necessarily negative. However, they often need to be kept in check. If our expectations give us nothing but pain or transform us into a person we do not wish to be, we must educate ourselves to let them go.
This is a process that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Patience is required to ingrain new habits — life self-reflection, ego-challenging, and gratitude — that will help you achieve a more contented life.
Also, this may sound strange: sometimes our unfulfilled expectations indicate something else we need to let go of — like social bonds that no longer add value to our lives or a career path that drains the energy out of us. This means we need to check in with ourselves periodically to ensure we are not being thrown off the tracks. Additionally, we need to be brutally sincere with ourselves about what matters most in our lives.
Letting go means facing ourselves and making difficult decisions. Letting go involves challenging our biggest internal insecurities and pre-existing perceptions of the world. What we thought was essential and healthy may not be what we actually need to feed ourselves. For instance, once we grasp the importance of validating ourselves, seeking validation from others is pointless.
Learning to release our expectations is tough, undoubtedly. However, it is also important to preserve our relationships, harmony, and sanity and become the best versions of ourselves.
So now, let me ask you a question: are you prepared to let go?