Expectations. For many, our ideas of what life should look like, how our marriages look, what our pursuit of our dream job entails, drive how we chose to live our lives. These expectations of life develop early on, shaped by princesses and superheroes, as well as what we were exposed to growing up. Many of the expectations we have are appropriate and reasonable, such as expecting that you will be cherished and loved by a spouse, that you will be able to have a family, that your loved ones will be around for a long time, and that you will be able to achieve your goals. There are, however, some expectations that are irrational and inappropriate, such as expecting your spouse to “complete” you or that you should always be treated like royalty, or that you will be able to achieve your goals without really having to put in the effort. As we grow and mature, we hold out hope that life will be exactly the way we hope and dream and that nothing will taint those ideas.
Until reality sets in and we realize that what we expect from ourselves and other people rarely materializes. When we fail to achieve the goal of working at our dream job because they just won’t give us a chance to prove we can. When the marriage you prayed and hoped for your entire life is crumbling around you and there’s nothing you can do to stop the pain and disappointment because it’s not you that has to make the choice to fight. When the child that you’ve longed for never comes and you suffer repeated losses. In this fallen and broken world, having expectations and dreams can lead to devastating pain and hurt, especially, if you seek your identity and value in the outcome of those expectations.
When you are in the middle of those painful life situations, especially the traumatic ones such as broken marriages, child loss, loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, and so forth, you naturally question everything. There are many people who don’t understand that trauma, especially the kind of trauma that leads to post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health struggles, includes those devastating life changes that leave us shattered and looking for answers beyond what we can see.
These are what have been coined “little t” traumas, not because they’re any less devastating than “big T” traumas (mass casualty events, devastating nature events, etc.), but because they’re not global to everyone. This means that when you’re struggling to regain your footing, are depressed and checked out because of the severe emotional pain and traumatization you’re enduring in your marriage, that it’s OK. Your expectation that “you should be able to handle things better than this” or some other variant of “be better and stronger” is part of the problem and keeping you stuck in the place of pain. How we grieve, yes I said grieve, those places where our expectations and hopes have been struck down, allows us to move forward, stronger and more resilient.
In order to truly address unrealistic or unmet expectations, we have to understand that they are a part of our identity. Our identity is comprised of numerous different components, and one of them, our expectations for our life, what we will be able to accomplish, how our relationships and friendships will look, and how we will eventually get from Point A to Point B, whatever that is, are core components of our identity. It’s sometimes seems easier to give up hope and dismiss rational expectations when faced with heartbreaking situations, however, that always leads to more pain and suffering because you are ignoring a part of your identity. It is not possible to separate our expectations from our identity, they are symbiotic. However, it is possible to address our unrealistic expectations and to alter our responses to unmet expectations by identifying where they come from and why they are so important to us.
Not all of our expectations have an impact on us when they are not met. However, there are some expectations we have that cause significant emotional chaos when they are dismissed, ignored, minimized, or otherwise not met. This doesn’t mean that our expectations are necessarily unreasonable. For example, expecting that you won’t be targeted at work and singled out by your boss, or expecting that your spouse will treat you kindly and be your partner instead of cruel and distant, are absolutely appropriate. This doesn’t mean that when these things happen you won’t have a strong emotional reaction because they’re appropriate expectations, you will. It means that we need to be aware of the original wound caused in childhood, such as feeling unloved, being abandoned, childhood bullying, etc, and we need to be proactive in healing those wounds.
Proactively identifying and healing those soul wounds that contribute to our inability to move past those emotional upheavals, to readjust our expectations based on circumstances, and leave us constantly struggling just to breathe, is the only way to effectively take back your life after those painful experiences and move forward. Our expectations come from somewhere, from what we see on medias to painful experiences and traumas we survive as children, but they do not have to dictate how you live your life and interact with other people. There are certain things that may always spark a deep emotional response even when you do the healing work on your past, but it’s the healing that allows you to keep moving and not become paralyzed in those moments.
Healing the wounds that lead to powerful and at times life altering reactions to unmet expectations, allows all of us to adjust and become more resilient. We are able to move and continue to walk forward when everything we ever hoped and dreamed would happen, is irrevocably shattered and we are left broken and bleeding. This doesn’t excuse the actions of the people who intentionally ignore and dismiss our reasonable expectations, but it does allow us to continue to live our lives in the midst of the hurt. Living a life where we pretend we have no expectations or where we have “learned” not to hope for anything is not the life we were created to live. Those early wounds can trigger many different responses, however, we can and should always be willing to address them when they come up. Expectations will shape the way we interact with the world, but they do not have to define who we really are. They are part of our identity, but they are a part that can be molded and changed, grow and mature, and can help us develop the ability to be resilient and bounce back from all the pain that we will endure.