All of us are walking around full of expectations for everything- other people, ourselves, and the future. Sometimes we are very aware of these expectations and sometimes we are not. When these expectations are not met many of us will struggle with feelings of sadness, anxiety or just a general feeling of “things are not right”. In addition to our own internal feelings, unmet expectations can lead to conflict in relationships and difficulty adjusting when things just don’t go as planned. So how can we best manage our expectations, so we aren’t emotionally shut down when things don’t work, and people don’t behave how we expect?
One of the first steps is to identify that expectations are the source of the problem. When discussing our feelings of frustration, disappointment or hurt in relationships one of the first questions to ask ourselves is, “Why am I frustrated/hurt/upset?”. Here we must be honest and ask ourselves, “Was I expecting something from this person?” or “Am I hurt because they didn’t do what I expected?”. If we have unmet and never communicated expectations, we need to own the fact that our feelings were a result of our communication. When we are hurt or disappointed because of unmet expectations in a calm manner we can share our expectations and feelings. By communicating both our feelings and expectations we might get them met and strengthen the relationship.
Most of us also expect things of ourselves and when we can’t live up to our own expectations there is a tendency to externalize or internalize inappropriately. When we externalize the problem inappropriately, we blame other people, circumstances or factors for things that were under our control and ability to change. This is unhealthy when we won’t take responsibility for our behavior when we should. Internalizing is when we blame ourselves over things we don’t control. Internalizing can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and failure when the factors causing the disappointment were never under our control to begin with. Both externalizing and internalizing common things everyone does. Part of managing our emotions and own mental wellness is to understand which tendency we have and then be aware of it. When strong feelings because of unmet expectations come up we can examine if the cause of our disappointment was under our control or not. If we caused our own missteps taking action will lead to a plan that will prevent the same situation. If factors that we can’t control caused our disappointment, then acknowledging this as a fact sets us free of shame and guilt.
Finally, most people look into the future and imagine life a certain way. Some of those expectations come true and some don’t. Sometimes the future changes in ways that are unpredictable, and we have to work to accept the place we’ve arrived was not the intended destination. Of all our unmet expectations this type can be the hardest to come to peace with. When our lives and our futures don’t go as planned, we have the ability to reach to God. In our faith and failing God still loves us and gives comfort and hope. The “why” questions may not ever be answered. When we share our pain and frustration with God, we know those prayers are meaningful. We learn in the Psalms, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book”. Psalm 56:8 NLT
Life, relationships, and our future often is not how we expect. When our expectations are unmet we have choices to strengthen relationships, understand our behavior and lean into God. By choosing to use unmet expectations for our growth we can make the most of our time in the present life while we await him to wipe every tear in our future life.