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Why Do Expectations Always Lead To Disappointment?

Caroline NettleIt is often said that the most disappointing aspect of life is when things do not turn out the way we thought they might. When you look at our expectations, and where they originate from and why we believe them, it can be said that we are programmed for disappointment.

If we were to consider a fictitious couple who have been together for a few months and are getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas together, we would quickly see trouble brewing. This made up female was brought up in a relatively sombre and religious family, who shied away from excess and spent Christmas day celebrating the year that had passed and heralding the one that was to come. They rose early, put the modest meal on to cook, went to church, and came back to a hearty and tasty meal, enjoyed with the family. The afternoon was typically a long walk in the countryside, followed by an evening of singing carols for those less fortunate.

In contrast, the made up male came from a family where excess and relaxation was the order of the day. Presents were opened as soon as they got up, and the day consisted of playing games, watching TV and eating and drinking to excess. In the evening, friends and neighbours popped in for some drinks and merry making and it usually went on late into the night.

Neither one of these families or characters is real, but they do represent us as we approach different situations in our lives. Both presumed that their experience was “normal” and was just what people do at Christmas. Unless they verbalise their expectations and have a discussion prior to the festivities, both are going to be sorely disappointed and will feel that their needs are not being met. Both parties will feel hard done by, and yet no one has really done anything wrong. We usually assume that others see things the same way that we do and most arguments seem to be “My way is better” in a number of different guises.

The same is true of relationships. We all bring with us into a new relationship our set of criteria – he must be…tall…rich…strong…healthy, or she must be….beautiful…fertile….a good cook…or whatever your expectations are. These are totally stereotypical views, but it is amazing how much of this is programmed into us from birth. We bring our expectations to the table, and impose them on our latest partner, whilst saying all the time, “This one will be different”. One of the biggest disappointments in relationships is that the other person is different to how we perceived them in the first place. Is this because we didn’t really see them, as they were hidden behind our expectations? We do this unconsciously, and have very little control over it until we become aware that we are doing it.

Let’s say that consideration is high on your list of “must have” qualities in your partner. We project this onto our other half and then one day, he is less than considerate (because he is human) and we say “You used to be so…thoughtful, considerate …fill in the blank”. Our expectations have been disappointed. While our partner is just being himself / herself, we are not seeing them as a person, or allowing then to be fallible because we are expecting them to live up to our expectations.

Another area where expectations often lead to disappointment is with the latest gadget/toy/car that we have to have. The advert promises the new item will make you sexy, powerful, cool, and desirable (and thereby loveable), so you buy it. For a short while, it fulfils all its promises until the novelty wears off, and it becomes “normal”. Normal equals dull and unexciting, and so you start to pick up leaflets for the next new thing that will give you that feeling. The marketers know that this is what we are essentially looking for, and so they concentrate on telling you about it, knowing all the while that it will be short–lived and so you will be back on the market for their next latest product in not very much time.

The make-up industry has been selling their own version of this concept with women’s make-up for decades. Buy this lipstick and you will look and feel like Scarlett Johansson, and most importantly, be just as sexy. A few short months later, and the next product will come out promising you that feeling of being desirable, and they will tell you again that you absolutely need it, and the one after, and the one after that.

As long as they can keep the dream alive and keep linking to your deep seated wants and desires, they can sell you almost anything. Eventually, it will end up in the back of the closet with all the other broken promises, but for now, it appeals to the part of me that wants to be desirable / thin / beautiful (and thereby loveable), so I shall spend my money on it and believe their promises.

Expectations lead to disappointments because we choose to see things differently than they really are. When we meet people, we think that they have the same beliefs as us, and project onto them all our history and experiences. We do not really take time to see them for who they are, or listen to their opinions and beliefs. We make assumptions based on our experience and we very rarely question our initial judgement.

Parents do this to their children. They look at the life they have led and the lessons that they have had to learn, and in an attempt to safeguard the child from harm, they pass on all that they have learned. They expect that their children will do them proud, as their parents did of them, and they project onto their child what they wanted for themselves. This is often done unconsciously, but all these behaviours mean that no one is really seeing the child or asking for its opinion, and in this way, the real identity of the child is ignored and their true spirit is not allowed to shine.

No one is wrong here, as we all learn what we know from our parents, who learned what they know from their parents and so on. However, how many of us are guilty of not truly seeing the person that is in front of us when we are talking to someone? Of listening with our opinions, instead of trying to see how that person sees the world? Of judging and assuming, instead of being open minded and having no other agenda, apart from to find out who this person is and what makes them tick? If you can begin to listen in a different way, there is a chance that you can begin to see the truth in front of you, and not your reaction to what you see.

Here are some assumptions to consider:

Do you think that…

  • All men should earn the money
  • Mow the lawn
  • Protect the family
  • Carve the meat
  • Drive the car
  • Carry the suitcases
  • Open doors…

These are all expectations, and one question would be “Says who?“

Do you think that…

  • All women should stay at home with the children
  • Cook the food
  • Clean the house
  • Be beautiful
  • Entertain you and your friends…

These are all expectations, and the same question would be “Says who?“

As you look at what it is that you are expecting, and then instead try to see what is actually happening in front of you, you will be able to be more honest with yourself and others.

We can never really know what is going to happen in any given situation, but I know a lot of people who talk themselves out of situations, because they think they know what is going to happen because they are drawing on their past to assess their future. This can really deprive you of some amazing experiences. One of the best things to do is to go into situations and relationships with an open mind and allow the future to unfurl in the way that it wants to.



My website is the culmination of many years of seeking answers about my own health and well-being, and studying the human condition. I write articles, am a healer and give talks about subjects relating to spiritual growth and personal development. I am passionate about healing, recovery, and assisting others to grow.




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