The Poison of Expectations

By Greg Baer M.D.

October 28, 2008

The Common Thread Uniting Complaints: Expectations

“My husband never talks to me anymore.”
“My wife never wants to have sex.”
“My boyfriend didn’t call.”
“My boss doesn’t appreciate me.”
“My children just don’t do what I tell them.”

These are some of the more common complaints that people express in relationships, complaints that are often repeated over and over again, each time indicating gaping wounds that never seem to heal but only worsen with time. It’s a painful thing to watch as people agonize over these resentments, because they are absolutely clueless about why their wounds keep recurring and are therefore guaranteed to keep experiencing them.

All of these complaints have a common thread uniting them: expectations. In each instance the speaker is saying that he or she has an expectation that someone behave in a certain way, and he or she is disappointed or hurt or angry or frustrated or otherwise unhappy that the other person refuses to change and deliver the desired behavior.

Everything would change for us if we would realize that it’s not the behavior — or misbehavior — of other people that causes the frustration and pain in our lives. It’s our expectations that cause the disappointment, frustration, and conflict that make us so unhappy.

If we are ever to be happy, we absolutely must get it through our heads that we are not entitled to control other people. Only a moment’s reflection will convince us that such a world — where everyone could control everyone else — would be intolerable. And if we are not entitled to control people, we have no right to expect people to do anything either, because expectations are just another word for control.

The Consequences of Our Expectations of Other People

When we have expectations of other people, two things tend to happen every time:

First, we can’t feel unconditionally loved ourselves. If I expect you to love me, anything you give me won’t feel as though it’s freely given. I’ll feel only like you’re filling my order, and that’s not a rewarding feeling.

Second, other people can’t feel like they’re loving us. In fact, they feel pressured and controlled, and often they come to resent us. Have you ever had a friend call you when he wanted something from you? We all have. You can feel that he or she wants something, and under those conditions you feel controlled, not as though you can be a loving friend. I once received a call from an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. The moment he said, "Hello," I knew he expected something from me, but I agreed to meet him for dinner anyway. Sure enough, a few minutes after we met, he began his pitch to sell me on a multi-level marketing program that involved the sale of a number of items, including cleaning products. I had smelled the soap over the phone.

We’re all that sensitive to expectations. Our most precious possession is our right to make our own choices. Without it we are nothing, and within us there is a kind of sensor, virtually an alarm that screams if anyone attempts to meddle with that inalienable right.

For that reason, we must always be sensitive to our expectations. If we are disappointed, irritated, or frustrated, our expectations are undeniable. Even when we are afraid, we are demonstrating our expectations about how things should be.

If we have expectations that people will love us — which includes our expectations that they will respect us, be grateful to us, be courteous to us, appreciate us, and so on — they will feel controlled and will react with Getting and Protecting Behaviors, which makes Real Love impossible. If we love other people and have any expectations of their response to our love — gratitude, appreciation, a decrease in anger, anything positive — they will not feel loved but only manipulated.

Expectations are a poison that will destroy our personal happiness and eliminate the joy of our relationships. We must learn to identify our expectations, tell the truth about them, and listen to the counsel of wise men and women who may help us to avoid them.

Without expectations, on the other hand, we become grateful for everything. Disappointment and irritation simply disappear without our even thinking about them. Our lives become filled with an abiding peace that is worth everything we will ever devote to finding it.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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