Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief



Continuing with last week’s theme, I think the concept of expectations is another good therapy idea that has gotten overused and taken to a bad extreme. To be human is to have expectations. Period.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a session with a client. She was talking about something and then used the word “expected” in a sentence. She stopped her flow of thought and looked at me with an apology and said, “I know I’m not supposed to have expectations,” as if her disappointment with her situation was ultimately her fault because she dared to expect something.

I told her that I wasn’t “that kind” of therapist, and many therapists are not either. She will never hear me tell her not to expect anything. It would be easier to tell her to stop breathing. However, having REASONABLE expectations is a very, very worthy goal. I asked her if when she makes an appointment with me, if she expects me to be here when she arrives. Of course she does. And that is a reasonable expectation for her to have.

Expectations for me personally, are yet another example of the interesting way people perceive me. Most of the time, people fall in two camps. Either I am told I have too high of expectations of others, or I am told my expectations are way too low. Usually, the people who think I expect too much are people who have disappointed me, not kept their word, or something else. So it’s similar to last week’s blog. Encouraging others to lower their expectations was not intended psychologically to be used as an excuse for poor behavior.

The second camp of people usually come after a discussion of my dating life. Sometimes people who haven’t been out there in the dating world assume that an almost fifty-year-old is probably single because she expects too much from a partner. People who are close to me? Well, they usually say I don’t expect enough. I tend to be much more tolerant and patient for my own good. Kind of interesting.

If you are a human being, you will expect things. The goal of a healthy individual is not to eradicate having expectations, it is to keep them in check. It is to make sure you are expecting things that are fair, reasonable, things others are capable of.

Oh yeah- if I tend to be unreasonable with my expectations, it is usually focused on one person- myself. I tend to be stupidly hard on myself, expecting that I am beyond human. I’ve been working on that one for a few decades. I’ve made some progress, but I will always err on the side of beating myself up. That’s why I work so hard to eliminate outside forces that seem to enjoy beating me up as well.

I mean that in an emotional/verbal sense of course. But it should be said that one expectation I have, especially as a woman, is that I not by physically touched in a way that I am not comfortable with. There is an entire spectrum of things that can go on that- from extremes like rape, to jokes that are demeaning or uncomfortable. Whatever on that continuum, I expect to be respected physically and it is my job to make sure that it happens.

Of course, the lower the expectations are, the less disappointed you are. There is truth to that. Maybe the rule of thumb should be when it comes to others, expect as little as possible and be pleasantly surprised. But then again, it you expect nothing, then sometimes you get exactly that. Nothing.

Telling someone else they should lower their expectations? I suppose there is a place for that also, but I would be very, very careful with that. Most times, tossing that out there is a way to deflect away from your own behavior that you would be better off taking responsibility for. That requires some maturity, but it is often times the much healthier route.

All things in moderation… I say that a lot I suppose. But to be human is to have expectations. People who truly seem to have none, are the scary people I wrote about last week. You don’t want to lose your humanity, your heart, your capacity to truly love another. Just keep your expectations reasonable, and don’t be afraid to meet other people’s expectations if they are reasonable. A little compassion is a GOOD trait. That other extreme stuff is not what the intended message was. Seek to be healthy!