Just kidding. I don’t know anything about your sex life. And this is not an ask for the details.
But I do have some experience with expectations. My mind (read: ego) are full of them. And they’re the biggest ruiner in all of the land.
Expectations are when you create a mental story about a specific outcome you desire. Except that, instead of stating this desire out loud – to the universe, to your lover, to your friends or to your students (where it could actually be a useful behavioral guideline or an ask) – you just keep it inside. Expectations are sneaky like that, because they are stories created in the subconscious mind. Without self-awareness, you often don’t know or aren’t able to identify exactly what they are, and so you remain frustrated and throwing tantrums like two-year-olds when you don’t get what you wanted.
Expectations are what we think should happen naturally without our intervention or input. In other words, expectations are mental delusions.
Expectations are most damaging when you apply them to those you love – in your relationships. When you expect certain thoughts, beliefs or behaviors from someone you interact with without actually asking for what you want / need, then you’re sure as shit asking for trouble.
Ask me how many times I’ve done this.
You could build a house with one dollar bills – one for each time my expectations have gotten the best of me. I’m pretty sure it’s what killed all of my past relationships. When you don’t understand your expectations and don’t learn how to translate them into needs, desires, wants and demands (yes, you can have demands), then you create confusion, anger and pain wherever you go. Expectations need to be made conscious so that you can communicate lovingly with the people in your life and avoid pain, anger and confusion.
How many times have I come home, seen my husband’s mess on the floor and thought, He knows how much I hate this. Why hasn’t he cleaned this up already? Then made some snide comment about his shit piles, hoping he gets the message? Or jumped into his waiting car and barraged him for not coming to my door? He should have known better.
No. Just no. I should have asked him to please clean up a mess and kindly asked him if he’d be willing to ring my doorbell instead of honk a horn every now and then.
This happens all the time. When I first started my business, I had clients emailing and texting me at all times of the day and night. I was torn – I was so fed up, but I loved my clients and was afraid to make them angry with me. My colleague looked at me and asked, “Well, have you asked them not to do that? Have you clarified your communication boundaries?”
And my mind blew into a million glittery pieces.
The next day I created a new policy which laid out what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not. Guess what happened? People stopped texting me in the night and no one got angry. It was a miracle!
Not only can your expectations hurt others, they can really wreck havoc on YOU and your mental state.
This is why yoga asks us to detach from our expectations – to de-link yourself from what you think you should be able to do, and just let your practice unfold in front of you. This is what going with the flow is supposed to be about – releasing your expectations.
When you create expectations for yourself but leave them unconscious, you’re still attached to them. They rule you. And I’d bet dollars to donuts your workout / productivity / creative project suffers because of it. If you don’t meet those ruling expectations and can’t detach yourself from them, you easily turn what could have been a day full of potential and promise into day of doom, gloom, self-punishment, a bottle-of-whiskey-dinner and a tequila sunrise.
Well, at least the doom and gloom and self-punishment part.
Although we all struggle with managing and bringing awareness to our expectations, I see highly sensitive people struggle in a two specific areas:
- Being afraid to define what we want in relationships in order to accommodate a partner.
- Trying to be perfect and control everything in life in order to try and be safer.
When we are afraid to define what we want in relationships for fear that we will be too much or otherwise drive our partner away, we begin to dance with our partner’s expectations. We dance to them, around them and within them, whether or not they match our needs and desires. But the thing is, our expectations (of which some are important subconscious needs and desires) don’t go away – they just get buried. Over time, this builds resentment and one day you wake up feeling like your life can’t possibly belong to you; it’s nothing like you really wanted.
Number one can be a product of number two. If we’re unable to embrace our sensitive nature, including the specific needs we require PLUS our desires, we might instead work to control everything in our life so that we don’t seem quite so sensitive. We’ll get good grades, please our parents, be kind to everyone (even the assholes), take the extra shift, be the designated driver, cook for the neighbor and deliver underpants to the homeless – all in one week. In other words, we fit ourselves into other peoples lives in the ways in which we believe they expect us to. So that we can ensure their affection.
The thing is, meeting people’s expectations doesn’t guarantee affection. But it guarantee one thing – if you’ve been putting your needs and desires under the rug, you’ll be suffering. You won’t feel like the real you. You’ll feel small, cornered, anxious and caged.
The good news is that, if you just pay attention, you can start to bring awareness to your expectations. Then, you have the power to manage them.
For expectations that affect other people, you can learn to make asks or set demands. An ask is simply that – it’s an ask for a specific behavior from someone close to us. Note that you can’t ask people to change how they think or what they believe, but you can ask them for behavioral change, because we all have the power to change our behaviors. An ask assumes that it is okay for the person to say no.
If it’s not okay for the person to say no, then what you are making is a demand. A demand is a non-negotiable need or desire. It is a firm boundary that others are not allowed to cross. We all have demands, and we should – it’s what keeps us safe and comfortable. For example, I don’t like to be touched when I’m angry. It’s a hard line and I can’t handle people crossing it – it’s too overstimulating. When I make a statement about that boundary, it’s clearly a demand.
For expectations that only affect you, things like really wanting a specific outcome or to reach a goal by a desired time, you can learn to manage. The first part is to be aware of what your expectations are. For example, I went to to have a routine medical test performed to determine health in an area of my life. I was expecting a simple, positive result – because everyone on the internet told me it was safe to assume that. But the test didn’t go that way – it wasn’t bad and there was nothing wrong, but the results weren’t clear and it required further testing.
Until I got this news, I had expected to get the results – easy / peasy – and then take myself out to brunch to celebrate. When this didn’t happen, I was presented with a whole host of uncomfortable emotions and a choice to make – do I let this ruin my day or can I detach from it? What I realized was that if I had gone into the procedure with an open mind instead of a fistful of expectations, I would be fine right now and no harm would be done. So I learned to adjust. The next time I went in to monitor my progress, I kept my mind focused on the present and in letting what happened, happen. I left smiling and confident.
Expectations are sneaky little buggers, but they can be brought to light through self-awareness and humility. We all have expectations – don’t beat yourself up over them. And once you know what they are, you can adjust them, make asks, or work on positively visualizing a lovable future with the desires that you have. You’ve totally got this.