“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”
― Sylvia Plath
In June 2019 I visited a workshop on the Enneagram in Nashville – an amazing tool for personal development that I use in my daily practice as a consultant and coach – learning much about myself, about others and about expectations.
I myself am an Enneagram type 2 – The Considerate Helper. I know it sounds great when you first hear that but if you dig a bit deeper you would be surprised – I most certainly was when I discovered the Enneagram for myself seven years ago. Why am I telling you this? It was something that one of the participants (also an Ennea 2) of the workshop said that stuck with me and where I recognised myself and other Ennea 2’s as well:
“An Ennea2 asks for nothing but expects everything”
When I took the iEQ9 Questionnaire for the first time 7 years ago, I felt quite uncomfortably caught. But the wonderful thing was that what had been going on unconsciously until then suddenly became very conscious to me (even if somewhat painfully). It was a real eye opener and I quickly realised that I urgently need to distinguish between
Unrealistic Expectations and
Let’s begin with Unrealistic Expectations:
Unrealistic Expectations occur when we expect something to happen without good reasons or justification for that certain expectation. Our expectations alone will not bring us what we want by wishful thinking but it will be cause for great disappointment and possibly resentment. It is simply impossible to think something into existence. If you want a cup of tea, you have to take the needed steps to get it. You need a tea pot or a cup, the tea leaves or a tea bag, hot water and pour it over the tea leaves. Anyone would agree that it is absolutely hideous and even delusional to simply expect a cup of tea to appear. And most of us will (hopefully) agree that making something materialise by will is rather unrealistic.
Interestingly enough we often want other people to behave the way we want them to and make them fullfill our expectations. But how do we feel when the other person does not live up to our (probably) Unrealistic Expectations? We are deeply disappointed, even shocked, possibly angry and most likely at some point resentful.
In essence, if we expect life to always turn out the way we want it is guaranteed to lead to disappointment. Those unfulfilled expectations involve the failure of other people that will not behave the way we expect them to, also leading to resentment.
Where does our sense of entitlement come from, to think that merely expecting others to behave the way we want them to will actually make this come true? And why do we get angy or disappointed with others when they fail to meet our expectations?
One of the reasons is certainly that a great part of our lives take place in our heads and not in reality. That is, without actually verbalising expectations about give-and-take in a relationship, we so easily construct stories in our heads about legitimate expectations of one other. We tend to forget how difficult (or impossible) it is to live up to someone’s expectations when they don’t know what these are, but you still might see this failure on that persons behalf – and we are back at disappointment and even resentment.
We have scratched the surface of Unrealistic Expectations, so what about those Realistic Expectations? Do they even exist? Is there actually such a thing as Realistic Expectations?
I believe that under certain circumstances, yes! But let’s face it, the people in our lives usually do not have a crystal ball at hand or have the capability of reading minds to know what our expectations are and how they can be met. So what is the secret to having Realistic Expectations? Can you guess what is about to come?
Of course it can only be one thing, the one thing that keeps popping up regularly in so many of my blog posts….
COMMUNICATION! What else…
But even when we do voice our expectations – which should also be at least fairly reasonable – that is not the guarantee for these to actually be met. There is still plenty of room for disappointment and resentment here as well. But the chances that they can be met will definitely rise significantly when we honestly communicate these. But truth be told, the less expectations we have the more room we leave to be pleasantly surprised. I doubt though that anyone manages to be completely free of expectations – whether realistic or unrealistic. However, if we can practice to bring our sometimes muddled mental pictures into reality and communicate these clearly and respectfully, we at least have the opportunity to avoid disappointment and resentment – at least sometimes. For some people this is a really difficult lesson to learn (like the Ennea 2) and for others (like the Ennea 4) it seems to come a lot more naturally, even if the expectations are not always necessarily realistic.
Last but certainly not least, let’s not neglect those Great Expectations we often have in ourselves. I wrote a bit about that in last weeks post About The Inner Critic. We so often put ourselves under this immense pressure of trying or expecting to be perfect (or to at least come close). I can assure you that nothing is more boring than perfection. It may be fun to strive in that direction but if there is nothing left to improve, nothing left to learn, nothing left to discover, just imagine how empty our lives would be. We would lose one of the most important an fun things that keep life interesting; our curiosity.
“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
― Paulo Coelho
Wishing you a Happy Easter 🐣🐇 weekend