Great Expectations, Great Disappointments?
Unrealistic expectations, and even realistic expectations, have to be buried far beneath the soil of chronic illness to maintain good mental and emotional health and well-being. Living with a chronic, progressive and “incurable” neurological disease, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD/CRPS), for almost seven years has produced numerous disappointments, and they can each be traced back to unmet expectations.
Most of us have expectations. They are created and designed to help us attain peace of mind by predicting how the near or far future will unfold. They also help us make sense out of a world that is so often quite frightening and uncertain. When our expectations are fulfilled, we feel pleasantly surprised or satisfied; but when they aren’t, we often emerge bitterly disappointed and possibly traumatized because we have attached emotions to neutral outcomes. Everything is this world is neutral (no, it was not made by the Divine and then labeled “good” or “bad”), and we take the liberty to assign negative or positive meanings to situations, people and outcomes, ultimately affecting our health and well-being.
Inevitably, expectations lead to disappointment, especially when you are dealing with a chronic health condition like RSD/CRPS. I used to wake up every morning expecting to be healed, and morning after morning, my condition remained the same or worsened. It wasn’t until I surrendered to “what is” that I let go of expectation and subsequently disappointment, sadness and frustration. Your expectations, be they realistic or unrealistic, are the only causes of your disappointments and become the fertile grounds for which letdowns can and will flourish.
Concerning relationships and expectations, it is important to understand that certain people have limitations, whether they be mental, emotional, spiritual or physical, and that setting unrealistic expectations of others will end in nothing but bitterness, resentment, blame, feelings of letdown and even hatred. Understanding the limitations of others will allow us to circumvent disappointment by not setting unrealistic expectations that these individuals, even on their best days (perhaps, even in this lifetime), will not be able to meet.
A tip for avoiding the disappointments of unmet expectations and the judgment and resentment that often accompany them is to always approach each individual in your life as if you are meeting him or her for the first time. This will allow you to enter each situation without being clouded by the disappointments of the unmet expectations of the past. Avoiding the traps of expectations will allow you to have healthier relationships with others and ultimately with yourself.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have or what you wish could happen, focus on what you do have. Stop living in the past or future and start focusing on the present moment. Have gratitude for the abundance in your life, and if you can’t find anything to be grateful for, look harder. For most of us, we are accustomed to a culture of deficit, of wanting more. What if you have everything you already need? What if you stopped longing for more, more, more, and started seeing the blessings in your life? Not only will you be happier and more at peace, but you will also attract more abundance to you. Remember, like always attracts like.
Maria Mooney, MSW, LSW, is a raw vegan licensed social worker, writer, and sociology
Photo credit: David Boyle