Your gain: Discover tools to be realistic with your expectations, and accepting of unmet expectations to process your loss in a healthy way. My hope is this entry provides guidance so you can process without experiencing disappointment or hurt from those around you.
From everything I’ve gathered from my experiences with fairly or unfairly expecting something from someone or a group of people, I feel splitting it into the following categories in a good place to start.
The Expectations Funnel
I think most people would agree there are expectations you’d require on a human-to-human level (i.e. committing a horrific act like murder). This would be followed by societal expectations, like those of the country or state you live in. Then, community expectations like those within your city (though this could also be societal), or perhaps a smaller community you interact with like a church group.
Then we get into the nitty-gritty, like familial expectations. A standard you might have of close family or friends who know you better than someone from the community might. This leads us to one-on-one relationships within the funnel, which I think can often be at the core of what can hurt us when it comes to unaligned expectations. I put together this Expectations Funnel to help visualize this a little bit.
It might be easier to accept that someone from another culture from a completely different country behaves differently than you on a societal or community level, right? Though one could argue there are certainly some human-to-human norms that could cross over.
But when we talk about having varying levels of expectations between family or friends, that’s where things can get deep and that’s really the focus of this entry. These 1:1 relationships. Relationships where, because these family members or friends know you better than ol’ Joe Shmoe down the street, you (rightfully) expect a little more.
You expect them to respect you, love you, be there for you physically and emotionally and treat you as they would want to be treated. However, expectations have the potential to get muddied by so many things. Nature vs. nurture, poorly communicating wants and needs, etc. only begin to scratch the surface here.
Nature vs. Nurture
I want to touch on nature vs. nurture real quick before I get into another super important point. I believe there’s a part of us that comes into this world and will, simply based on our nature, have a set expectation level. However, I think a far bigger part—the nurturing part—plays a critical role.
How were you raised? By who? What expectations did they have and why (and who were they raised by)? Were you raised in a household that was very strict, where excellent grades and a doctorate degree was the gold standard? Was your upbringing laxer where a “do the best you can” mentality was at the forefront? Was it a home where there were zero expectations and the child (sadly) was more of the parent? Consider work experience, other peer groups you/they associate with, schooling or education and the impact an educator could have—consider all possibilities, because the list goes on.
We go deeper into this in the “Considerations With Expectations” below, so I encourage you to keep reading. Your homework—should you choose to accept it—is to take a step back and think about this in every relationship where you’re struggling with managing expectations.
Don’t Expect You From Someone Else
This is incredibly important. Read that heading one more time. In fact, I challenge you to read and re-read that a whole bunch of times. Let it sink in, and really work on understanding that. I made this mistake so. many. times. I still do without realizing it sometimes.
Truly, this statement is accurate whether you’ve lost someone or not. Having expectations of people is totally fair, and I encourage you to keep people around you who are in line with yours. If it’s a relationship that is no longer serving you, doesn’t make you feel your best or is someone you can no longer trust, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship or lovingly release them from your life.
More to come on handling relationships in the LBG Journal for sure.
Know Your Worth
Know your worth, know what you mean to someone, and if they’re not bringing quality into your life, have that tough conversation. Rip the bandaid off, because the last thing you’ll want to do in this lifetime is be left wondering or wanting more out of people. It’s a very sad, dark place to be on top of what you’re already dealing with if you’re going through a loss.
For me, this happened so many times and in so many different ways when one or both of my parents died. Did I have that tough conversation about my disappointment every single time? Absolutely not, I’ll admit it. Sometimes relationships or people phase in or out of your life naturally, and only you can determine whether it’s meaningful for you to do that.
As an example of my unmet expectations, some close family members barely said a word to me or offer any real condolences. Scarcely a “how are you holding up?”. This happened with a shocking amount of people I had expected more from. I had expected maturity, grace, and self-awareness from adults far more grown than I. Usually not an unfair thing to do, right? But they’re just humans on this planet, too. Keep reading…
Appreciating What’s in Front of You
Listen closely, because what I’m about to say next is where you have to put your focus. Put your energy with the people who are showing up for you. Thank them, love them, appreciate them, and show up for them the same way however they may need it one day. It will honestly turn your mindset around, surrounding yourself with this kind of love and energy. It’s uplifting AF.
Despite the lackluster folks in your life that you expected more from, here you have people that are making the effort. Maybe some you didn’t even expect! Or some that came out of the woodwork when they heard of your loss. Perhaps because they went through a similar situation and want to connect. That’s happened to me, and I’ve also been that person for others (and, with Losses Become Gains, hopefully you as well!). It’s a truly uplifting feeling to both receive and give it back in abundance.
Embrace those beautiful, meaningful connections. Nurture them. And if it feels appropriate to step away—whether temporarily or permanently—from those who aren’t keeping you at your highest frequency, keeping your spirits up, and keeping your happiness alive, then that’s an action you may want to consider. Guess what? That’s perfectly healthy and okay, too.
The Reality of Expectations
Let’s be real here for a second—not everyone around you will know what to say, what to do, or how to treat you after what you’ve been through. That’s the reality of the situation.
A perfect example of this in my world is my husband, John. This flaw (for lack of a better term) in my expectation level toward the beginning of my grief was the inspiration for writing this post, because I learned a great deal from it.
Nowadays, I must say John is exponentially better at handling someone (uhm… me) who’s processing grief, and I’m far better at having more realistic expectations of myself and others than when my losses first happened. But that wasn’t the case at first, and getting to where we are now took time and a lot of communication.
That said, this is a pretty important situation in terms of why I formed Losses Become Gains. His lack of understanding or empathizing with my pain and my high expectations ultimately led to us taking a break in our relationship with no sign of getting back together. It literally led to one of the losses I based LBG on, which ultimately led me to create this community and resource for you to turn to if you’re experiencing something similar.
So, here we are! What a full circle moment. By the way, clearly we did reunite, but there’s more to come on that process and how we overcame our divide.
Expectations Throughout Grief
Whether it’s a significant other or some other friend or family member you’re not aligning with, to dig a little deeper, I’ll keep using John as my example. Let me preface this by saying he’s been pretty lucky in the ‘hasn’t experienced loss’ category. He’s lost a family member or two, a couple of dogs he wasn’t deeply bonded to, but not one person he was remotely (that) close to. Trust me, after seeing what I’ve been through, he knows how blessed he is.
Point being, how can someone genuinely empathize or even remotely understand someone’s loss–especially that of a loved one–without having gone through it yourself? Probably not super easy, right? So why did I feel like I could hold him to an expectation of someone who had?
Well, I was blinded by grief and the whole world was one big, fat, unfair place to be at the time. So there’s that. And hey, that’s a really normal part of grieving, so don’t be ashamed of it. Chances are we’re going to act out or think a touch irrationally, it comes with the territory.
Fallacies with Expectations
My mistake (I don’t love that word because I didn’t know better at the time, but bear with me) was expecting people to understand my grief at the same level I was at. I was expecting them to meet me where I was. But guess what? That’s completely unfair to do to yourself, and to those around you.
For example, even if you’re one of multiple siblings, you experience your loss of a parent (or some loved one on an even playing field) differently. No two journeys are the same. Each has their own fingerprint. Realistically, I knew that. But at the time, no one could match my grief as far as I was concerned. Little bit of ego creeping in there, right? But that’s how I felt.
I thought this all the time when my parents first died. In fact, I threw quite a few pity parties because of it (so not the fun kind of party).
“No one understands me and what I’m going through”.
“I feel totally alone, on my own (sinking) life raft… this royally sucks.” The whole “oh whoa as me” bit.
“Why can no one relate to what I’m dealing with? This is a tragedy, and no one seems to care or get it.”
Any of those sound remotely familiar? Feel isolated? If so, I’m right there with ya. No matter what or who you’ve lost, please know your feelings are so valid. Looking back on it, before I had lost my parents and I was just blissfully living my life, I for sure couldn’t begin to grasp the loss of someone this close. It took me some time to realize that and give others grace for not understanding.
How could they? If my journey is my own and we all feel things differently, why would I expect total and complete understanding?
Dealing with Frustrations of Unmet Expectations
The process of coping with unmet expectations can, frankly, be frustrating and isolating. If you’re struggling with finding some patience with this practice or find it a little anxiety-inducing, I’d love for you to read my entry on “7 Steps for Practicing Breathing & Being Present”.
At times, it takes a little bit of bringing ourselves down to earth again, finding our breath and some stillness. Taking a moment to look at things high-level. See through the muddied waters of our loss, and understand that this all needs to be taken a step—a moment—at a time. I hope you find this useful to do just that.
Considerations With Expectations
So, before you inadvertently (or knowingly, I’m not judging here) jump down someone’s throat, or expect them to grieve the way you are, or be as hurt as you are, or treat you a certain way… consider these things:
Consider what they’ve experienced in their life, and think about if it’s possible for them to be able to fairly relate to you.
In my situation, it was not fair of me to expect John to know how to act with a girlfriend who lost two parents in six months when his are perfectly healthy. There’s just no way.
He didn’t see what I saw. In fact, he never saw either parent truly in the thick of their illness because I never brought him around out of respect for their privacy. John didn’t experience the trauma of seeing my mother trying to clean out her own tracheotomy tube. He didn’t see my dad and I in her hospital room getting trained on how to do that for her. He didn’t see my dad lying in bed, not being able to form a sentence properly because it had spread to his brain without me knowing.
That’s some gritty, raw stuff right there. Many parts of it were worse than that, but I’ll spare you. Point being, if he was spared from all of the horrific things that would cause me to feel my hurt so deeply, AND he had a different relationship with them than I did (not being their daughter and all), who am I to judge his reaction? He was doing the best he could at the time. That brigs me to my next point.
Consider that they have a different relationship with the loss than you do.
It wasn’t fair for me to expect John to be as torn up about my parents as I was. While he loved them, he didn’t know them nearly on the level I did. I mean, damn… they created me, right? I had a right to be upset! But I took it out on him, and it wasn’t his fault they were gone.
Consider how someone might process a loss.
Some people are more outwardly emotional, some people process emotion more internally, and there’s about a million levels of that in between. John isn’t a particularly emotional guy, while I’m probably more on the “average” (maybe even below average, actually) scale of emotion in terms of physically crying when things make me sad, etc. But I can think of members of my husband’s family and some friends that are far more emotional than we are.
Think about this: if there’s a disconnect between how you and another person process emotions and grief, it could lead to unmet expectations.
You might be going through this awful situation and not understand how it doesn’t make them emotional. How they’re only giving you one word answers in response to you sharing how you feel. Or constantly hearing, “yeah, I hear ya” or “uh huh, yeah that must be really hard, babe.” Can you tell I’ve been through that a few times? The list could go on here.
Let’s be honest, some people are more deeply empathetic and better at putting themselves in other’s shoes than others. I find that to be one of my strengths, but I know plenty of people where that doesn’t come naturally. Here’s the kicker—you could come across someone who has gone through the same exact tragedy as you, and they might not live up to your expectation of understanding you and what you’ve been through. One would think they could, right? Nope, think again. Because of all of the reasons I mentioned above, I’m going to say it one more time… don’t expect yourself from others.
Just because you sent your best friend flowers when they were going through something tough (or something wonderful, whatever the occasion) doesn’t mean you can or should expect that from them. Just because you set up a meal train for someone so they wouldn’t have to worry about cooking for a week doesn’t mean you should expect that, too. Love languages show up very differently in each person.
The Five Love Languages
By the way, if you haven’t heard of the 5 love languages or need a refresher, definitely give that a quick Google. There’s actually a book on it, too, called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman that I would highly recommend. John and I used it once we got back together and it sparked some amazing conversations. We learned a lot about each other and what we needed for a healthy relationship. It’s so helpful with setting expectations and understanding how someone does or doesn’t resonate with the way that you give and receive love. This goes for friendships, too!
My best friend is the gift-giving, card-writing queen and I love her to death for it. Truthfully though, that was never my thing. Gifts are lovely and I love me a card with a great pun, sure. But I’m more of a quality time, acts of service with a side of physical touch kind of girl (I crave cuddles and hugs).
I can’t stress this enough, especially if you’re in a relationship and suffering a loss of some kind. Take the time to learn about each other’s love language. What do you need to feel supported through grief? Is it alone time? Extra cuddles? A distraction, like going on a walk or binging a show? Show up for each other.
Communicate with Expectations
Is it completely your job to be the one to communicate what you want and need during your grieving process? No, absolutely not. You’ve got a lot going on, and perhaps communicating well at all is a chore right now. It takes two people to create a successful friendship or relationship.
But from where I’m sitting now and having gone through it, I would say it should be a healthy mix of good quality people checking in on you and supporting you, and you.
Your Loved Ones Aren’t Mind Readers (Most Likely)
I hate to break it to you but, unless a loved one of yours is an actual mind reader, your loved ones aren’t mind readers. I learned this the hard way. It’s actually kind of comical what I expected, looking back on it. There were ways John could have been more understanding, more proactive, and asked how I could best be supported in those days. Not just in the moment, but big picture stuff.
Taking the time to realize my grief wasn’t going to go away overnight. That it would come and go in waves, and those waves would knock me on my ass some days and he had to be prepared for that. It still does.
He couldn’t truly comprehend what I was feeling, and I didn’t know how to process or communicate what I needed because it was all a first for me, too. It was chaos. Oh, and add taking care of a geriatric dog and working full time on top of that. It all compounded and led to our breakup on the same day I had to call 9-11 for my dad for the second time. Good times… can’t make this shit up.
Check-in With Yourself
If you’ve made it this far, do yourself a favor and check-in with yourself. Allow yourself to sit or lay, eyes closed in some quiet if you can (sit in your car, a salt bath, in nature, whatever). Ask yourself how you are. Like, how you really are. Ask yourself what you need. What would spark joy right now? What do you humbly ask of those around you? Do it. Say it.
The truth is, they might not know exactly what to say or do. You’ve got to find it within you to tell them, and be honest with your feelings. Be honest about how your loss is affecting you. Be honest about what support you need. Don’t keep the ones who love you in the dark. Deal with your expectations and grief head on and your coping process will be a far more peaceful, pleasant process… I assure you.