By Ellen Borowka, MA
What do you expect in your life? Do you find that you feel disappointed or angry, and you are not sure why? Well, you probably had an expectation that wasn’t fulfilled. Expectations play a big part in our lives. Our expectations determine whether we feel good or bad – happy or sad – content or angry – over what happens in daily life. They impact how we feel about our relationships, work, friends, and people we meet on the street, special days like holidays or birthdays and the world around us. Expectations set up the judge and jury on how we feel about our lives and ourselves. We give a great deal of power to our expectations! That is not to say that if we don’t get what we expect that we shouldn’t feel sad or mad. Yet, if we know more about our expectations and where they come from, then we can find ways to deal with them in a healthy manner. Then we can take our power back and have more choice in how we view and interact with our world.
The Source of Our Expectations
So, how do expectations work? Well, first we gather and accept our expectations from a variety of sources, starting from a very young age. We learn much of our expectations from our families, which can include what to expect of others and ourselves, how feelings should be expressed, and how problems should be handled. If we learned from our family that people could not be trusted, then that plays into our expectations of the world around us. Other expectations come from our religious beliefs (or those we have been brought up with); what we see in the media – television, movies, magazines, etc.; and what our society and culture holds as valuable and important. These factors all impact different aspects of our lives, like how we expect to raise our children or relate in our relationships. Or what we expect to do in our careers or believe of our limitations and responsibilities. An example of this is how media gives us definite and perhaps narrow views of gender, which influences what we expect from men and women.
The Struggle to Fulfill
The next step is how our expectations are met or not met, and we have many unhealthy ways to try to meet them. Many struggle to fulfill them by pushing or controlling situations to fit into the mold already created. We may use manipulation, persuasion, passive aggression or intimidation (with anger or tears) to fill our expectations. Or we might not do anything and allow ourselves to be disappointed so as to reinforce what we already believe about others or ourselves. When our expectations are not taken care of, then we feel those around us have failed us and that leads to anger and bitterness. We may feel used, abused and betrayed by others, which feeds into rage and distrust. Underneath the anger and betrayal is the feeling of not being loved and accepted by others and that really hurts. These feelings are made even stronger by memories of similar experiences from our past. Times when we had disappointments with our parents, siblings, friends, teachers and others. When we may have felt unloved or rejected by those around us. This can even drive us to set up expectations of others, to gain what we feel we didn’t receive as a child.
Types of Expectations
There are many different types of expectations that are based on looking to others for approval, respect, attention, and love; validation of our good self, qualities and success; to have control or power in situations; to be taken care of by others and so on. If we didn’t receive this when growing up then that would impact our expectations of whether or not we might achieve these now. We may even unconsciously select or attract people to fill these types of expectations, who may not be able to do so. So, we sabotage ourselves and create failure from the very beginning. We may choose people that have similar issues to those from our past, like someone who has a similar temperament to our father or mother. So, we are recreating the past with all the old expectations in an effort to resolve old issues. These situations will keep coming up until we are ready to heal them. For example, many people seem to have, time after time – job after job, similar problems with their supervisors or co-workers. They need to trace the issues back to the original source, and work them out there before dealing with the present issues.
Now, how do we handle our expectations? First, it helps to be aware of what you expect, and disappointment is your first clue that an expectation was unfulfilled. Ask yourself what did you expect? What were you looking for in this situation or this person? You might need to dig around some to get to the primary issue. For example, if I hoped for a birthday card from a friend and it didn’t come, then I would think of what I expected from my friend. What did I want and need from that person? The bottomline is I wanted to know that I was appreciated and accepted by my friend. Now, this is really important if I didn’t feel appreciated or accepted by someone in my past then I would have to deal with that first.
Next, it is important to evaluate whether or not your expectation was reasonable and realistic. Many times we have expectations that are not reasonable or realistic, but that doesn’t mean that we are “bad” or demanding. It just means that we hope for things that, perhaps, we didn’t get at some time in our life. Occasionally, I find myself expecting my husband to know something I want or need without him being informed of my desires. What I am doing is wanting him to read my mind, which might be connected to my past where I didn’t always feel emotionally attended to. Acting on unreasonable or unrealistic expectations can cause intense disappointment and conflict with others. When evaluating your expectations, be honest with yourself – is your expectation reasonable and realistic? For example, expecting yourself to never get angry or sad is pretty unrealistic. Lastly, be clear what you expect with others. You must be able to express your expectations and not assume that others would or should know what you want. It’s difficult to get your expectations filled if you can’t communicate them to others.
An exercise to help you explore your expectations is looking at various factors that impact them. For team members, you might want to consider what you are looking for, and what do you need/want from them. How do you expect to handle conflict and communication with them? Who has control and power in this relationship? Who makes decisions and what is expected around that? How are feelings and thoughts shared? How much trust do you have in your team member? How much do you rely on each other? How do you define forgiveness and how does that affect your work relationship? What experiences, beliefs and values are impacting your expectations with them? How do you approach problems and situations with your team member – as a team or independently and what does that do to your expectations?
We have many, many expectations that we place upon ourselves, which should also be explored. What do you expect of yourself? Do you expect yourself to be a certain way? Do you expect yourself to be perfect, good and controlled? Do you judge and criticize yourself when you can’t be that way? Do you feel you should be taking care of others – perhaps filling their needs and desires before your own? Do you need to be in control and what do you expect of others? How do you handle conflict and why? Is it ok for you to be wrong or not know something? Do you believe that feelings must be handled in a certain way, like never losing one’s temper? Where did all these expectations come from and why? When we can understand our expectations and where they come from, then we can begin to select those we wish to keep and begin to resolve those that hold us back. We begin to gain more control and feel more satisfied with our lives. Expectations can bring hope, excitement and profitability to our team and into the entire organization. We just need to be sure that we are directing, not following, them in our lives.
According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC (www.lighthouseconsulting.com) and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on hiring, please click here to see an article on this subject.
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Ellen Borowka, MA, Senior Analyst of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and her organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. Ellen has over 15 years of data analysis and business consulting experience and is the co-author of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”. To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.
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Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.