Do Your Expectations Meet Reality?

Have you ever noticed how much easier things are the second time around? Once you know what to expect of a situation, or a person, you are more emotionally prepared for how to respond. I recently had a second baby, and while there are differences between my first and second child, my experience has been overall much easier. I was prepared for the late night feedings, funny baby sounds, strange rashes, and even my own physical adjustment.

Sometimes,we don’t always adjust our expectations to reality.  And when this happens, it can lead us to feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, or sad.

Here’s an example- You know your co-worker is not a morning person, but you still insist on talking to them before they finish that morning cup of coffee, and then get your feelings hurt when they tell you to “get lost.” I’m not focusing on the right or wrong of the snappy co-worker here, but if you continue to attempt conversation pre-coffee time and get your feelings hurt every morning, it’s time to adjust your expectations of early morning interactions with that person.

Disclaimer: this post is not about setting high expectations for your kids to make good grades, or for you to meet your weight loss goals, etc. This is about the emotions that we feel when we expect one outcome and we get another. I believe that if our emotions are appropriate with the situation, we can respond that much better in finding a solution.

When I was an intern, one of my supervisors had a great illustration for expectations versus reality that I have found to be so true. The idea:

The greater the gap between your expectations and reality, the greater the emotional distress you will feel.

I did some searching online to find the perfect illustration for you (because I have no idea how to create my own or time to learn). I didn’t find exactly what I needed, but I found something pretty close. (although, it’s a pretty good post so click on the picture for a link to the source).

For the purpose of this post, pretend the “Opportunity” is not there. Just focus on the area of disappointment. Assume that “Disappointment” here can also be anger, frustration, or sadness. You can see from this illustration that the farther away your expectations are from reality, the greater the emotional gap will be. Now, visualize the “Expectation” and “Reality” lines moving closer together. The “Disappointment” line gets smaller.

Expectations and Relationships: At some point in your life, you have probably felt let down and angry about something your significant other did or said, even though you should have expected it based on past experience. Men and women in relationships with someone with ADD/ADHD report feeling extremely frustrated when things don’t get done. The couple may struggle for years, while patterns persist and emotions continue to rise. Knowing your partner’s personality, patterns, strenghts, and weaknessness will help you in setting expectations realistically.

Expectations and Kids: My toddler has a routine, and part of that routine is his meal and snack times. I know that if he misses lunch or a snack and feels hungry, he is a very cranky little man (like most of us). However, I will admit that I have thrown out this bit of knowledge on occassion and become very frustrated with him for getting fussy, only to remind myself that dinner is late (or whatever the chaous may be that day) and punishment is not the solution… food is the solution! It’s important to remember the needs and patterns of our kids because it can help us to maintain some sanity when they are behaving inappropriately.

Expectations and Ourselves: Many people are harder on themselves than they should be. When I was an intern, just starting out in counseling, I pictured myself in my first session as comfortable, confident, and recalling all the techniques and theories I learned in graduae school. Boy, was I let down. I was nervous, awkard, and all my graduate school classes swirled around my head like a tornado! It took some support from fellow counselors to reassure me I would be better with experience. A more realistic expectation for myself would have been one with the expectation that I was inexperienced and trying something for the first time.

Expectations and Circumstances: Like I mentioned above about the second baby being easier than the first, it was because I knew what to expect of my life after having a baby. What if I had convinced myself that this baby would sleep through the night, or that I would be back in my skinny jeans in two weeks? There would have been a huge HUGE gap between those expectations and reality and I would have been very VERY disappointed.

So how do we make sure our expectations are close to reality?

  • Consider past experiences/behaviors
  • Consider patterns
  • Consider an individual’s abilities and limitations
  • Be flexible with new situations, understanding there will be surprises along the way

There is so much more that can be said on the topic, but hopefully you get the idea. What areas of your life have you been repeatedly disappointed? Maybe it’s time to evaluate your expectations and save yourself some frustration, disappointment, or more.

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Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

9 thoughts on “Do Your Expectations Meet Reality?”

  1. Hi and nice to meet you. Stopping by from Bloggy Moms 1000+. Trying to close the gap on expectations is kinda hard I think, but your post gives great tips on how to ease into it. Following you on face and twitter.

  2. Thanks for this post. I think I will have to read it again though (I am really tiered atm). But I have a question: What happens when your expectation IS disappointment?

  3. I really like this topic. I am big on setting high expectations on myself and others. I am learning that if I can accept and respect my own limitations, I can do that for others more easily. It also helps me to remember the realities you talked about, remembering past experiences, bringing my expectations a little lower, raising my belief that the reality has more potential of working than the false standard I had previously set.

  4. My wife expected me to be a leader, make decisions for us and certainly guide her spiritually. Over time, I have failed and presently we are going through a time of separation. It is quite difficult, we have two boys together, ages 5 & 3. She has been out of love with me for about 3 years, she claims. And has not wanted me to touch her, any intimacy had been out of obligation. I expected a wife that would do whatever I wanted and that is certainly not reality!

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