A great service we can do for ourselves and others in our lives is to learn to convert our expectations into hope. Expectations are a great source of grief and aggravation both for us and for others. An expectation consists of a rigid, self-made construct that maps out in advance what others are supposed to do, feel, or be. So much of our frustration in life comes from expectations. Living with expectations rather than hope can also be a significant source of anger. Expectations need to be deconstructed and reframed in the form of hope. In order to do this, we first have to learn where our expectations come from. Many of them are learned from various sources, but we will focus on expectations that are formed in response to an experience.
When we grow up with chronic unmet needs, we may learn to look to others in the present to fill those needs. This often leads to unrealistic expectations of others. Not only does it result in constant disappointment for us, it also leads to feelings of inadequacy and shame in the other. Holding someone responsible in the present for something someone else did in the past is not reasonable or fair to that person. For example, if we grew up never receiving affirmation from our parents, we may go through life constantly seeking and expecting affirmation from others. Others have no way of knowing this and so do not meet those expectations. As a result, we react to these unmet expectations with hurt and anger. In essence, our expectations set us up to be revictimized, except that we are victimizing ourselves.
Another example is if we had parents who did not really parent. Perhaps their parents never received proper parenting and so did not know how to give it to their children. In such a case, we may go through adult life looking for others to parent us in various forms. This inevitably leads to unrealistic expectations that others are unable to meet. Again, we end up re-victimizing ourselves and repeatedly feeling neglected, rejected, and resentful.
We may also have unrealistic expectations of life itself. If we grew up in a difficult home or had a chaotic or traumatic childhood, we may develop unrealistic expectations for how the rest of our life should turn out. We may define success as making sure we never again experience what we did growing up. We may feel we suffered enough and expect that God will grant us a peaceful, quiet, and smooth rest of our life in this world. We develop rigid expectations that everything should always be perfect, with no untoward events, for if anything bad does happen, then we feel as if our early life is happening all over again. In essence, we can actually retraumatize ourselves with unrealistic expectations. When the inevitable trial or tribulation arises or when life does not go our way, we are unable to reframe it, and we assign the meaning that we are once again reliving the past.
We see also how our life experiences can lead to developing unrealistic expectations of ourselves. In an attempt to make sure we never relive past painful experiences, we expect ourselves to be able to control what we cannot—namely life itself, other people, and events. We may even define our success or self-worth by our ability to control and prevent certain experiences from happening again. However, in doing this we are trying to manage the unmanageable. This can quickly lead to discouragement, shame, and feelings of depression.
One example is if we grew up with an unpleasable parent who frequently became angry with us. In response to that experience, we develop the expectation that so long as we please others, no one will get upset with us. Such an expectation is unrealistic, for the reality is that inevitably some people will get upset with us unjustifiably. When such incidents occur, we might feel that our expectations weren’t met, that the other did not keep their part of the “deal,” and that we failed. We had an expectation that if we can control the moods and feelings of others by pleasing them, we can be safe. When that expectation is not met, we feel the same feelings we felt from the original experience and feel revictimized. So many of our expectations are protective in nature; however, ultimately, the people in our life are being made to pay for the failures and sins of others.
Some expectations can be born from pride, ego, or narcissism. When our own pride or narcissism is not kept in check, we can develop expectations that are not healthy and will ultimately set us up for grief. We may expect adoration and praise and then get resentful when we see others receiving it. We may expect others to shore up our own weak ego by constantly complimenting us or flattering us. We may expect others to have no needs of their own, so that all of their efforts should be to help us.
Some expectations can result from our disowning or projecting onto others traits or aspects we see in ourselves that we do not like. These types of expectations are born when, rather than holding ourselves accountable to change, we hold others accountable. For example, we may sense on some level, even unconsciously, that we are needy, and rather than accept this and work on it, we refuse to see it in ourselves. We then become intolerant of that trait in others and find ourselves having a particularly strong negative reaction to it. We expect others not to have that trait and are especially annoyed by it, for, quite simply, it reminds us of ourselves. Though these types of expectations do not result from a response to an experience, they are still worthy of note.
Now that we have identified where so many of our troublesome expectations come from, it is time to shift our focus to replacing those expectations with hope. Hope is far healthier. Where expectations are rigid, hope is flexible. Where expectations are unforgiving, hope is forgiving. Where expectations lead to fragility, hope leads to resilience. Where expectations lead to repeated setbacks in our spiritual life, hope allows us to navigate life’s disappointments without losing ground. When we replace our expectations with hope, we are opening to ourselves a well-spring of humility. Expectations are often born from pride, whereas hope is born out of humility.
Hope could be defined as a peaceful and gentle desire or a gentle longing. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, when describing the great virtue of love, states that love “hopes all things” (13:7). Love hopes; it does not expect. Expectations and love are incompatible. If we are living according to expectations, our rigid self-made rules will limit our ability to love. In essence, we end up binding and chaining others with our expectations, often forcing them into a mold that was made as a result of the actions of others. How can we truly and fully love if we are shackling others with our expectations? Indeed, love and hope go hand in hand.
When we reframe our expectations into hope, we make peace in advance. This peace says, “I hope my life may go this way, but I realize it may not.” Hope implies acceptance, a widening of the margin for error in our life. Others will feel the pressure of the expectations we have of them, but they will never be stressed by our hopes for them. Whereas unmet expectations lead to anger and resentment, an unfulfilled hope takes a gentler path. It may involve some disappointment or even grief, but a peaceful one, one that is less destructive to us and to others and that ultimately leads to resilience. With an unfulfilled hope, we are not revictimizing ourselves or retraumatizing ourselves, since we have no expectations.
Expectations cause us to throw off our cross and expect others to carry it for us, even though they have their own crosses to carry. Hope, and the acceptance it contains, carries the cross for us, and though we may long for a time when it feels lighter, we accept it for what is in the present. Hope allows us to reframe negative experiences when they do occur. It allows us to process an unwanted experience in a healthier way. Hope allows us to say, “I did not want this to occur, but it did—now what I am going to do about it?” It allows us to view the difficult situation or challenge as an opportunity to grow and learn.
~From “Healing Your Wounded Soul: Growing from Pain to Peace”
Joshua Makoul 2020