Getting Unstuck From Our Expectations Hanging onto to unmet/misplaced expectation can keep us stuck

Getting Unshackled From Expectatations, Releasing Resentments

Expectations can keep us stuck. Hoping for some outcome, despite clear indications – that’s not what will happen can lead to frustration and resentment.

I have been trying to free myself from my misplaced expectations of others. At the same time, de-programming myself to not live up to the oppressive expectations of anyone.

In processing my trauma, I have slowly begun to understand that quite a bit of my disappointment, sadness, anger, and depression stemmed from feeling betrayed.

I expected my family of origin to step up and be there after my mother died. Rather, it was the other way around I was supposed to be the woman of the house and take on the role of my mother.

I just wasn’t prepared for this twisted dynamic. A child of 11, who has just lost a parent is now expected to take on adult responsibilities without much support, understanding, or acknowledgment.

Getting Unshackled From Expectatations, Releasing Resentments
Often we remain stuck, waiting for our expectations to be met

My assumption, that my family would be extra caring was based on their earlier behavior. But it was just an act put on for my dying mother.

Expectations & Relationships

Every relationship is built around certain expectations.  We expect a certain behavior or outcome because our prior experiences prime us to assume that’s how someone will continue to behave.

In healthy relationships, expectations are a two-way street. We hold mutual expectations about one another’s behaviors, based on shared understandings of the rules applicable to that relationship. The rules differ depending on the relationship – family, friendship, work, society, etc. The underlying essence is care, support, and respect.

During my mother’s terminal illness, my extended family was the model of loving support. And then wham, my mother died instead of their kindness increasing, shockingly it was the opposite. I felt like I was dumped into the deep end of the ocean.  I tried to hang on to someone, however, the one’s who I expected the step up became brutish aliens.

My father (he made his hatred very apparent), my grandmother (she overnight changed into a moody crone), a maternal uncle who acted the compassionate soul (became a real meanie), and the aunt who was supposed to be my surrogate mom (became an evil jealous Cruella).

My trust was rudely shattered. The cognitive dissonance was unbearable, my reality was on shaky ground. My underdeveloped child’s brain chose to be blind to the betrayal, ignoring their neglectful/abusive behavior, while I became a super efficient, compliant people pleaser.

I had to live up to everyone’s expectations but no one seemed to be living up to mine.

Role Reversal – Oppressive, Unrealistic Expectations From The Family

As a grieving child, I had to completely repress my needs to manage the unfair responsibilities. Moreover,  I was not expected to fall short.  No one in my dysfunctional saw me as a child. And so from 11 onwards, I was expected to function as an adult. Empathy and consideration went out the window.

As if that wasn’t enough, my extended family on my maternal side saw me as a free dishwasher, babysitter, and therapist, placing on me additional burdens that weren’t mine. Slowly my anger and resentment kept building up. But I couldn’t say anything. I had to repress these intense negative feelings, and my body bore the burden. No surprise, I developed scoliosis.

I just couldn’t understand how my mother’s death would change my role in the family dynamics. Overnight, I was in the midst of self-centered, manipulative, and mean people. I became the parentified child who grew up to be a codependent adult always sensitive to everyone’s feelings and needs while mine were insensitively ignored.

Tragically, this became my family role. Unconsciously, I became so attached to their expectations and the crumbs of acceptance that I was unable to see the reality of the situation.

Waiting In Expectation – Becoming Trauma Bonded

The problem with toxic families/relationships is intermittent reinforcement. In between cruel, callous treatment are episodes of random affection, particularly if there is an audience.  This kind of behavior really f**ks up your mind. You live in hope, waiting in the expectation that there will be a turnaround but it is a futile wait.

Toxic people don’t just change without rhyme or reason. They only pretend to change when they have some devious underlying motive.

We have to wake up from our somnolent indolence and realize our expectations are actually an illusion. If we don’t do something we will be forever stuck in this unequal relationship dynamics. Being the nice guy/gal, and ending up bitter and resentful, thereby ruining our health.

Our Brain And Disappointment

Disappointment is closely connected with expectations. When we positively anticipate certain events, our brain releases dopamine. We excitedly look forward to the anticipated outcome.

But when those expectations are not met, we feel let down, it feels like a painful betrayal. According to negative prediction error theory, we lose all the dopamine generated by anticipation and we feel low. Because that’s what the brain is experiencing – a loss of a very important source of inspiration/excitement which then leaves us bereft of hope.

On top of that, pain centers in the brain fire up and we feel hurt.  Our dopamine levels crash with being let down and we begin feeling intense emotional pain. If this keeps on we begin feeling resentful, spiking cortisol, the stress hormone.

And then we get stuck in rumination cycles of rage and revenge.

Rescue Fantasy

Since my family did not meet my expectations, I began fantasizing about meeting my knight in shining armor who would rescue me from my intolerable loneliness and unhappiness.

I was on top of the world when I met a much older, daddy surrogate who promised me the moon.

He love-bombed me into believing that indeed he was my savior. He was there to take care of me, assuage my grief and pain. Foolishly, I believed I would finally be happy. How naive I was. That was the pre-internet era, there was no information on this kind of narcissistic behavior.

I lapped up the empty promises and future faking of life in paradise.

My rescue fantasy became a horror reality. My vulnerability and desperation were again blatantly exploited. I was back in the expectation loop.

After years of horrible emotional suffering, I realized my expectations were never going to be met. But I felt I was trapped, having burnt my bridges with my family of origin. Thankfully, he departed to the other realm. The only good thing that came about was my son.

Expecting The Worst

After this relationship disaster, my hopefulness changed to pessimism. I expected nothing, in fact, I expected people to treat me badly just like my prior experiences.

It affected my self-esteem, confidence, and worthiness. Every encounter with someone new makes me hypervigilant. If they are good, I think what do they want? And if they are nasty, I immediately begin feeling I’m to blame.

The dark shadow of our earliest relationships continues to haunt us for much of our lives. Or until we begin working on our childhood wounds.

Letting Go and Grieving

So, with much care and compassion, we need to learn that it’s time to let go and grieve our losses. It does feel terrifying to deal with the uncertainty of letting an idea or an actual person go.

We have to let go of the illusion of a parent/family who we expect will one day see us and care for us the way we want to be cared for. We have to release the false belief that this person has our best interest at heart and that someday they’ll be exactly what we need.

Expressing  Expectations

As I heal, I’ve realized that expressing my needs and expectations is crucial for everyone concerned. In the very beginning, I clearly state what I expect from a relationship rather than hoping the other person will read my mind and act/behave how I want them.

No one is a mind reader, even the so-called empaths. Everyone responds to the world from their own encoded childhood programs.

Not Living Up To Everyone’s Expectations

I grew up with the mindset of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. If I was nice, others will be too.

However, this is a misnomer, particularly when dealing with narcissistic and manipulative personality types.

As a child, I had no choice and had to conform to the expectations of my caregivers. But now as an adult, I don’t need to keep playing my childhood programs of being good and compliant when there is no reciprocity.

You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

It is not easy learning to stand firm with my decision to not do something for someone, particularly when I still have the image of my brutish father towering over me when I’d protest against his unrealistic demands.

Nonetheless, by becoming self-aware and practicing assertiveness in small ways I’m slowly overcoming my encoded patterns. I’ve stopped letting fear, obligation, or guilt make me do things I don’t want to do.

It’s not my job to manage other people’s upset, disappointment, or anger.

Boundaries and Expectations

Expectations and boundaries inform each other. Expectations are directed externally, while boundaries are about us.

However, if we fail to discuss what we want due to fear, aversion to conflict, feelings of obligation, or guilt, we end up jeopardizing our relationships. Because first we are all different and secondly we cannot read each other’s minds.

When we communicate our boundaries, we can expect the person to honor them. And if they repeatedly don’t, we can express our feelings and if they still persist in repeating their disrespectful behavior, we have cut them off.

Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them”

In a relationship, it is very important to communicate our expectations. Furthermore, one has to clearly state our bottom line, if someone continues treating you badly, maybe after 3 chances, they will be out.

Adjusting My Expectations

One important step in my healing process is becoming wise about human nature. It has meant changing how I view the world and my relationships. There were so many untruths from my childhood I’ve had to discard and see situations realistically.

I no longer believe the uncomfortable lie I told myself was “all people care about others”. Quite a few people are not what they pretend to be and they could be operating out of a hidden agenda.

Furthermore, I’ve stopped having too high expectations of others. No one is here to cater to me.

And if my expressed expectations are not met consistently, I’ve realized it is better to cut my losses earlier than later and move on. It is very painful and harmful to live in a time warp of waiting for something to happen.

Learning to adjust my expectations has helped me move on.

Image Source: Pixabay

Further Reading:

The Art of Self-Therapy: How to Grow, Gain Self-Awareness, and Understand Your Emotions (The Path to Calm) Nick Trenton 

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