A Wave reader in Ocean View writes:
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I took the advice in your column from last March about being resilient in the face of hardship. It has improved my attitude about everyday ups and downs, but I find that I am often still disappointed in people and things around me. I try to be non-judgmental and accommodating, and I avoid having expectations, so why do I feel let down if I didn’t know what to expect in the first place?
The presence of an emotion such as disappointment proves that you DID, indeed, have expectations all along. Expectations are hidden in our subconscious, and reveal themselves in the form of emotions. If you feel let down, then you had unspoken expectations that were higher than what reality had to offer. If you feel pleasantly surprised, then the opposite is true. Consider a movie you see, or a trip you had planned. If you end the experience with a sense of disappointment, this means you had expectations that were not met.
A lot of us shy away from having expectations. Some feel that it’s unduly harsh or ‘judgmental’ to expect something. Others automatically feel: ‘Who am I to expect anything?’ This is part of what psychologists have in mind when they talk about ‘self-esteem issues.’ If you respect yourself, then you are comfortable allowing yourself to expect something out of a person or experience.
There’s an added benefit to embracing and examining your expectations: You’ll actually end up with something better. Let’s say you plan a trip to Las Vegas. If you go on the trip just to do it—maybe because you’ve heard others talk about it—then, like it or not, your subconscious desires and hopes go with you. Once you get there, you’ll find out what they were, either in the form of happy surprise or annoyed disappointment. Saying, ‘Oh, I don’t expect anything. I just want to do something different,’ sets you up for a letdown due to the subconscious expectations you refuse to recognize.
Identifying your expectations can help eliminate potential disappointment. You could ask yourself, ‘What do I expect out of this trip? Well, I’d like to gamble, but that’s not mainly what I want to do. I want to experience the entertainment, the restaurants, and see the Grand Canyon. I don’t want to be around a lot of big crowds either, if I can avoid it. I wonder how crowded Las Vegas gets? I’ll ask a few friends who have been there. Then I’ll plan accordingly.’ Making your expectations clear to yourself enables you to evaluate just how realistic it is to experience all that you want in a certain time frame. If you determine it’s not realistic, you’ll alter your plans (your expectations!). If your research confirms that your plans are realistic, you’ll go with a more clear-headed view (your expectations are now grounded in reality). Life is precious, so why risk wasting even a minute of it on disappointment?
If it’s vital to identify your hopes about movies and vacations, what about choosing a marriage partner, or making a similar big decision? From my work with many unhappily married people, I’d wager a guess that the failure to embrace expectations is a major cause of why so many marriages don’t work out. One example I often hear is, ‘We married so young; we didn’t really know what we wanted.’ Young people sometimes act impulsively, but all of us, at any age, have to take responsibility, as best as we can, for knowing what we want. The issue isn’t necessarily how young you are when you marry; the issue is how consciously you marry. By ‘consciously,’ I mean knowing what you want in a partner, and refusing to settle for anything less, especially when it comes to important factors such as integrity, compatibility, kids, and the like.
Sometimes women get disappointed because they want a fairy-tale prince, and instead they end up with something a little different. They’ll deny it, but their disappointment proves they really wanted something other than what they got. Sometimes a man will treat his wife like he wants her to be his mother, rather than a partner in life. He’ll angrily deny that he expects anything of the sort, but the desires and resentments he displays in daily life prove that, on the emotional level (where the truth always comes out) he really does want a mommy. Expectations like these can, of course, be self-defeating, immature and unrealistic. Yet it’s still better to face them so you can at least try to correct and change them. By letting go of the impossible, you’re free to enjoy what’s real.
So, don’t rush to proclaim that you have no expectations. You almost certainly do, and your emotions will tell you what they are. Your conscious mind can play tricks on you, but, in this area, your subconscious feelings never lie. Curb your disappointments by remembering that—for better or worse—what you feel is what you want.