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That time when I learnt how to manage expectations

Some of the biggest moments of disappointment we can feel in life happen when our expectation of the world and the people around us fails to match our actual lived experience. We expect something from another person, they fail to deliver and we spiral into a whole host of emotional reactions.

Our misery and our suffering in those scenarios is basically entirely of our own making. The action doesn’t change, we aren’t in charge of that part. But our reaction…? That’s all us.

We start this process as children, albeit involuntarily. Our little brains map the world around us and set their expectations. They fail to enlist the rest of the world in their expectation mapping, so of course, the world and the people in it, do whatever it is they are going to do. Our little brains then spiral as they struggle to pick up the pieces.

As adults, our relationships continue to suffer as a result of the expectations we have of others. They form the bedrock for many of the disagreements and emotional disturbances within relationships, whether personal or professional. The idea of having a dividing line between these different kinds of people groupings really is silly, if you have at least two people attempting to communicate, you are in relationship.

Our expectations are also something we use to clip and restrict the people around us.

When we share our disappointment that people have failed to meet our expectations, we then pass the emotional reaction on, and the other person may then start to clip themselves to try to meet our ‘needs’, and make themselves behave in a way that means they aren’t really being who they are.

That isn’t to say that constructive feedback isn’t important, or that sharing your truth isn’t important, but it is important you become tangibly aware of the emotional loading you present to other people, and try to operate from your most rational state of being as often as possible.

Just imagine how powerful it would be for our emotional wellbeing if we were able to simple let things go without reaction, meet our own needs and let people just be who they are. If we are able to dismiss others of the ‘roles’ we expect them to assume in our lives, whether because they are titled to do so (brother, sister, mother, father…) or simply because we have landed them with our emotional responsibility and let them just be people.

When we allow others to be just who they are and develop a relationship with their truth, the whole world benefits. That’s the place where the magic happens.

This is something that I have been quietly working on; letting go of my own expectations and working on my ability to self soothe when I feel triggered. To create more solid ground within myself and find the means meet my own emotional needs and reduce my emotional loading on others.

I’m lucky enough to call my parents two of my best friends.  This is possible because we have worked (and are working) to remove the shackles of the roles we were assigned in one another’s lives, to create a platform for friendship and honesty together, to develop a relationship with one another’s truths.

When I first really buckled down on the journey back to myself, one of the things I found essential was to deep dive into my childhood and look at what led to me ending up making the choices I’d chosen. A bit like safe breaking in human form. We have to crack our own codes to crack ourselves open.

This deeper understanding of self is essential but the next step is even more so. Once you’ve figured this stuff out; Let. It. Go. Whatever experiences may have formed my blueprint of self, once I acknowledge them, I let them peacefully go.

Now we allow ourselves to just be Ruth, John and Tricia. I see them as the beautiful beings that they are. I don’t need anything from them, but instead choose to keep building and investing in the friendship that I have with each of them, and they choose to do the same in return. I am getting to know them on a deeper level; who they are, why they are the way they are and we continue to grow together.

There is no miracle pill here, there is only awareness.

When I feel that creeping ache of disappointment, or the angry flare of an expectation not being met, I do the following:

  1. Stop. I sometimes say out loud to myself and the thoughts in my brain; stop that nonsense Penfold! Talking into a mirror can work really well here. If you find that silly, I would ask you to consider how silly it is to allow yourself to suffer by playing things over and over in your brain. Smile at yourself, pull a face; honestly whatever it takes to break the reaction.
  2. Breathe. I take a moment to connect into myself at a deeper level. Find a way to access the calm, steady rational human that lives deep within. Meditation works well for me here.
  3. Rationalise. I allow myself a conversation with rational side of myself and realise that I am the master of my own disappointment here. A really good trick I have learnt is to allow your irrational self to write out their feelings on the subject, then have your rational self dissect it, bit by bit.
  4. Let it go. I sometimes physically shake it off. Mainly I allow my rational self to simply sooth the irrational side of myself, almost like singing myself a lullaby.
  5. Repeat as often as needed.

When you are able to better rationalise your expectations, you clear the space for true friendship to flourish and for love to blossom. It doesn’t mean the emotions stop coming, it just means that we become better equipped at letting them pass when they do.

It is completely possible to take total responsibility for our own joyfulness, by simply taking the wheel ourselves and releasing others from the shackles of our expectation drama.

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