understanding expectations

the other day someone said that i was a picky eater. this was after telling them that i can’t have any dairy products in the morning – it gives me bad cramps. i was hurt that i was called picky and defended myself by saying that it wasn’t that i was rejecting their food, or having a sense of entitlement or something … and then it occurred to me: what’s wrong with feeling entitled to eat in a healthy way? what’s wrong with that kind of expectation?

some people say that expectations are premeditated resentments. as in – i expect you to do X, and if you don’t, bang, i’ll hit you over the head with a resentment. and i think to some degree that’s right, especially if the expectation is not clearly stated.

the word expectation comes from the latin expectare, which means to wait. does that help in trying to understand this concept? what am i waiting for? how long will i wait? what will i do if what i’m waiting for doesn’t happen?

laws are expectations in a sense, aren’t they? you expect me to stop at a red light. you expect me to not leave burning cigarette butts in a dry forest. you expect me to help at an accident. these expectations are so strong, they turn into assumptions. because you assume that i will stop at a red light, you pass through a green light. if we didn’t have these expectations of each other, we couldn’t function as families, communities and societies.

the trick is to figure out which expectations are reasonable and life-affirming and which ones aren’t. one way to see the difference may be whether they’re unspoken or not. laws work so (relatively) well because they are very explicit, very loudly and precisely spoken. one thing that happens when we speak anything out loud, or write things down (as we do with laws) is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it sounds and looks like “out there”, as opposed to just inside our heads.

let’s use an example. if i expect my daughter to clean up her mess in the living room without telling her i can wait until the cows come home. then the cows come home and her sticky cup full of old marshmallow hot chocolate still sits on the floor in front of the TV. then i sigh, pick it up, and swear under my breath about that irresponsible brat. if that happens a few times, i build up resentments. resentments are nasty because they hurt both the person who holds them and the person against whom they’re held.

the reality is, sometimes i tell her – and she still doesn’t do it. do i then still build up resentments? i know that when i’m clear within myself that my expectations are reasonable and life-affirming (which in this case i think they are) i may just be able to be strong enough to assert them. and assert them over and over again. and eventually achieve what’s reasonable and life affirming. i just do my part of asserting my expectations, and because i know i’ve done the best i can, i don’t have to build up resentments.

is it possible to have expecations without resentments, then? maybe that’s difficult. but if we reflect on our expectations and make sure that they are reasonable and life-affirming, and if we state our expectations clearly and calmly, we can drastically reduce the resentments.

(this, by the way, is the stuff of revolutions. remember martin luther king jr.? he had expectations, they were reasonable and life-affirming, and he had to do a lot of asserting. and it paid off.)

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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