Being a Victim of Unmet Expectations

And why it breeds a constant state of disappointment.

Shannon Leigh
Jul 2 · 4 min read

Some people in the 12-step community refer to expectations as “premeditated resentments,” and I mean — they’re not wrong. Personally, I’m an avid collector of expectations and a long-time feeler of quiet, seething animosity for those that go unmet. Let’s just say that if expectations were a sickness, I’d be chronically ill and overly disappointed about it.

I get frustrated when people don’t treat me the way I treat them. I hit a wall when I place certain people into specific roles in which they never seem to fit. I’m often left upset when the preconceptions I have regarding an event or a situation end up being false.

Me, I’m a perpetual victim of my own unmet expectations, and I’m avidly working on changing this narrative. Because frankly, I’m done with being consistently let down by my own beliefs.

Realistic vs. Unrealistic

First and foremost, I think it’s important to make the distinction between realistic and unrealistic expectations. Realistic expectations are things that a reasonable, rational person would be able to predict without much difficulty. For instance, you can realistically expect that if the weather is overcast, you may benefit from bringing an umbrella to work.

When it comes to other people, it may be realistic that you’d anticipate a certain behavior. Or it may not be. This is where the territory gets a little murky, and where you easily cross into your expectations being unrealistic.

An unrealistic expectation, then, is one in which making an assumption about someone else’s behavior is unfair and ultimately, false. Because humans aren’t always predictable, no matter how well you know them. Other people can’t read your mind, and you can’t read theirs.

So how can you tell whether your expectations are realistic or unrealistic? Well, it’s about meeting people where they’re at. You have to clearly identify (i.e. voice) your needs and find alternative ways to get them met if you happen to hit a wall with someone. Anything less sets you up for failure.

Controlling vs. Hopeful

So I’m not sure if you’ve received the memo, and as much as I hate to admit it myself— you don’t have control over very much in this life. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control other people, and you can’t control what happens to you. You can only really control how you react to your life, but even then, only to a certain extent because some things will be hard and there’s nothing you can do to make them better.

Expecting someone to treat you how you treat them can easily cross over into controlling behavior. For example, if I’m being a people-pleaser because I want to cash in the same behavior from you in return, then I’m treating you a certain way for the wrong reasons. Selflessly means no strings attached.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have boundaries in place, protecting you from being taken advantage of. And it’s not to say you can’t have hope for how something will go, or for how someone will behave. It’s just to suggest that you have a lot less power over things than you realize.

So respect the unexpected and welcome a change of plans. Give people the benefit of the doubt when they don’t follow through. Don’t assume you know how someone feels, or ascribe your own meaning to the motives you believe they had. Hope for the best, but don’t set expectations. Sometimes the greatest outcomes are the ones that are unplanned and unpredictable.

Needy vs. Self-Sufficient

One surefire way to end up disappointed is to be overly needy in the sense of always placing the answer to your problems in other people’s hands. The thing about being a victim of circumstances beyond your control is that it’s too easy to stay stuck, unable to own your life, and unwilling to take responsibility.

If you truly depended on someone and they let you down, they’re showing you who they are — it’s up to you to listen. If you expect to be provided a service, the details of which have fallen short — you can advocate for your needs, and you can seek an answer elsewhere.

Nothing is a guarantee in life. Your wealthy spouse may die before you. Your trust fund will eventually run out. Your partner may decide they’re unhappy and choose to leave. Your children and parents have lives of their own, separate and aside from you. The one person you can always depend on is yourself — the rest are simply blessings.

Disappointments are not all created equal. Sometimes they show you who you can depend on; other times, they reveal deeper issues within yourself that are at the root of why you feel so let down.

Too often, what you interpret as being an unmet expectation is a lack of communication and an inability to define your needs. But sometimes people will simply let you down. Sometimes they do need to take a break and tend to their own garden.

So be self-sufficient, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Just be discerning with your support network, and make sure to instill healthy boundaries in your relationships. The overarching point, I think, is to be understanding that we’re all flawed humans doing our best in this thing called life.

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Shannon Leigh

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I’m basically a house cat with a penchant for introspection |

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +504K people. Follow to join our community.

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