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  • Writer's pictureBecci

Why is it we expect so much?

Sometimes, I doubt if I expect too much of people. I doubt if sometimes, I set the bar too high and don't even give people a chance to reach my expectations. I expect people to understand how I think or feel, to know me without having to explain myself. I expect people to work using the same structure as me, to be guided by the same principles. I expect people to believe the things I believe in. I expect an answer after I poured my heart out. I expect a Christmas card after I sent four. I expect a big gesture of romance or friendship. Often, I expect immediate gratification for my actions. I expect my books to be returned. The list is endless.

What this boils down to is that I expect something from pretty much all the people around me. I think I am not alone in this and that having expectations is a normal human action. According to my brief internet research and the arguments of a friend of mine, our expectations stem from a continuous learning process about beliefs and attitudes. We learn from other people’s behavior and we adjust our interaction with them according to how we perceived their behavior in the past. Meaning we expect people to behave in line with how they have behaved previously. If you meet someone new you might adjust your expectations to that person based on comparisons with similar character traits of people you already know. You have preconceived ideas of how people will behave. Having expectations is an integral part of being a human because we constantly want to anticipate what will happen to us, how we have to react. I constantly try to adjust my expectations to the individuals I interact with. We all do, on a daily basis and for the most profound things.


But how do these expectations influence ourselves and the people we interact with? An ex-boyfriend from a long while ago used to tell me that when you are being hurt by someone, it is essentially your own fault because you yourself set your expectations too high in the first place. I never forgot how he told me this and I just recently passed on this argument to a friend. Ever since I have been wondering about it.

I used to disagree with the argument greatly. I used to think my ex used this line of thought as an excuse to circumvent his own responsibilities, in our relationship and towards others. To make his life easier and wind himself out of every argument by saying: 'But is it me not doing the right thing or you just expecting too much?' (I am exaggerating here, to my memory, he never said it like that exactly).

Over the years I've grown to learn: he had a point. I figured, that if you have any expectations in whatever form of human interaction, the only person who gets hurt or disappointed is yourself at the end of the day. Not having expectations, therefore, is a self-protection mechanism. No expectations lead to no disappointment. In the past months, I used to believe in this argument in two different ways: First, I wanted people to expect less of me so I would not feel pressured to live up to their expectations. But also, to a much bigger extent, I wanted to protect myself from getting hurt. I opened up to people and told myself - like a mantra: "You cannot expect them to react how you want them to. You did your part, now the ball is on the other side of the court!"


But the constant conversations about this line of thought and the constant use of it also made me reflect on it more. And I came to see that thinking in this way is a very pessimistic and stoic point of view. Lowering your expectations for your own protection means you are always facing people thinking of their worst. Or, to be pretentious and borrow the words of Marcus Aurelius: "When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil" (Quote taken from the Financial Times, I still haven't read any M. Aurelius originals - duh). Depending on how full you see your glass of water, you can think of Aurelius‘ quote as either rational or pessimistic.

I have grown to think of it as more pessimistic. I think the other side of the medal has to be considered too. While we protect ourselves by lowering our expectations, we are inevitably not giving the people we interact with enough credit. I refuse to think the worst of people. And from the opposite perspective, I would hate it if my friends woke up in the morning thinking 'Becci is meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly' - just so they would not be disappointed in me. Of course, this argument is exaggerated for dramatic effect, but my point is: if we keep our walls up by lowering our expectations and thinking the worst of people, we are unsupportive. We choose to protect ourselves over thinking that others are actually more than able to live up to their potential.


This thought interlinks with the question of 'who do we do things for?'. I know, the best case life philosophy is that every one of your actions should be sought out for intrinsic motivational factors. You should live up to your potential because you see that potential yourself and want to reach it. There are people in this world who just work like this and I have the deepest respect for them. But, as always - life is not that simple.

Take me as an example (because I am really the only person who I can somewhat reliably represent): I am yet learning to act purely for myself. However, I am still pushed by other people’s expectations of me. I can filter them, for sure: There is a line in my moral compass where I differentiate between 'I could totally do this for you' - and 'no way, this is not what I want from life - I don't care what you think'. But not all of my actions are purely for me. I am still very much learning how to be more 'selfish' and most importantly - how to not care about other people’s expectations – but that would be a topic for a whole new blog post.

So where am I with my doubts that I wrote about nine paragraphs ago? I am still doubting, of course. But I came to the conclusion that I will have to be more careful about what I expect and why I expect it. I want to be more analytical: do my expectations serve the purpose of pushing others to do something better, or if my expectations serving myself and are purely protective. It is not feasible to believe that I will stop expecting altogether, even if that would mean being completely protected from other people’s actions. So instead, I want to learn to steer my expectations into support. I choose to support the people I interact with by pushing them a little bit. I want to choose if I harm or support others.



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