A dear friend of mine, who is also a therapist, once told me that the source of our pain as humans essentially comes from our expectations of one another.
I initially disagreed. It is healthy, I though to myself, and even necessary as humans, to have expectations. But the more we discussed his belief back and forth, the more I understood what he meant.
Expectations can be like quick sand. We get stuck in a belief or a storyline about why we should get the outcome we hope or long for. And when that expectation is not met, we can sink into feelings of hurt, anxiety, anger, resentment, or self-doubt.
When I was 16 years old, for Christmas I wanted a framed print I saw in a store. I was very specific in asking for it and so when I saw a square-shape wrapped in green and gold paper under our family Christmas tree, I was absolutely certain it was “my painting.” I began to imagine exactly where I would hang it in my room and woke up each morning seeing it there, in its future spot on the wall. I can still feel the immense disappointment when I unwrapped the gift on Christmas morning. My heart sank as I ripped the paper open and saw an entirely different painting staring back at me.
Looking back now, I realize that the shape of the wrapped present under the Christmas tree was not at all the shape of the print I wanted. The print I had wanted was in a rectangular frame. The wrapped present was in a square frame. But I had been so fixated on getting what I wanted, I somehow convinced myself that it was a square shape. This fixation caused me to miss the special meaning of why my grandmother had picked the painting she chose for me…I missed a kindness and tenderness that my grandmother was offering me with her gift.
Sometimes, expectations keep us so focused on what we want, or what we think or believe that person should say to or do for us, that we cannot receive what is being offered to us. We are still waiting for it to be like what we expected. The trick, in my experience, is to find the balance of seeking out healthy relationships and experiences without defining too rigidly what that should look, feel, sound and be like.