We are planning a week-long holiday with my family this Summer. My family being my parents, my brother and sister with their partners and children, and me with my partner and my children, 14 people in total.
Lots of people means there are tons of expectations going around at this moment, not in the least in our children. They expect fun, and good weather, and good food, and ice cream, and to stay up way past their normal bed time.
The adults all hold expectations too. We can’t help it, it’s how we’re wired. Expectations help us manage the unknown future. They provide a possible framework of how things might unfold. If you’re into control, like me, you pack them into every empty corner of your suitcase.
We’re often not really aware of what our expectations are. We usually find out afterwards. In the case of hopeful expectations, we find out if they haven’t been met through a deep sense of disappointment.
In the case of negative expectations, we also feel disappointed when they are met (though not surprised), or we feel positively surprised when something goes against those negative expectations.
How do you know you’re holding these expectations? Look out of thoughts such as “I can’t believe this happened…”, “I knew it was going to be like this, didn’t I say so beforehand?”, “Why are things completely falling apart?”
There are expectations that go before all of these thoughts, either positive or negative ones. And if we clarify them, to ourselves and to each other, we can avoid a great deal of disappointment, resentment and grief.
In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown illustrates the risk of not being aware of these expectations and of not expressing them. She gives an example from her marriage which I recognized from my previous marriage. Not having a partner living with me and sharing in the household chores now is, in some ways, easier than having one because it means I don’t expect someone else to clean the kitchen, and am thus not disappointed when I still have to do it at 9 p.m.
Dr. Brown also encourages us to express our expectations. Make them known, line them up, check them together to see what is or isn’t possible. And yes, that’s scary. Telling a friend you expect them to call you twice a month may sound too forward. Telling your partner you expect to make love tonight leaves you wide open to rejection. And telling your family you expect them to listen when you share your story might set you up for an awkward moment.
But not sharing any of this, will likely lead to pain and disappointment as well. Giving your loved ones the chance to see you at your most vulnerable, also gives them the opportunity to help you adjust your expectations to what works for all parties involved.
I have to be honest. I’m still reading the book Rising Strong, and this sharing of expectations is scary stuff for me, too. I’m afraid I’ll come across as demanding, or naive, or pessimistic. I’m worried that I’ll clash with other people’s expectations and disappoint them. It’s not always easy to not take responsibility for meeting other people’s expectations, but I know what happens when I do that too much: I leave myself out in the cold and I get angry. I get angry at myself and then take it out on others. That’s a place I don’t want to go anymore, and the only other direction I can go in is to stand up for what I want, need and feel, with plenty of falling along the way as the training wheels slowly come off.
It’s at those times I fall, I am glad to fall back on the wise words of others:
All you can do is get back up the exact same amount of times as you fall.Brené Brown