The Emancipation from the Expectation!

“Expectation is the root of all heartache” – Shakespeare

Ugh.  Expectations.  I’m sure that every person reading this post knows about expectations:  the burdensome ideals place upon your life by other people (and oftentimes, yourself):    All those things you’re supposed-to do.  The way you’re supposed-to live.  The way you’re supposed-to look.  The company you ought-to keep.  All the stuff you *ought* to do.  The things you’re supposed-to say (or not say).  The ways you’re supposed-to raise your kidlets.   The things you’re supposed-to want.   All the flaming hoops you’re expected to jump through – in order to please other people and keep everyone happy.

In order to be liked.  In order to fit-in.  In order not to piss-people-off.  In order to keep-the-peace.

I understand why Shakespeare said that expectation is the root of all heartache.  Because it is.

Expectations hurt BOTH the people doing the expecting… AND the person upon whose shoulders the expectation has been placed.

But first – a differentiation (my wise friend, Charise, reminded me of this yesterday).  There is a difference between agreed-upon expectations… and the *other* kind… (the damaging kind).

An agreed-upon expectation looks like this:

  • Charise and I have a discussion and make a plan to meet for lunch.
  • We both agree to meet at 12pm at a certain venue.
  • Because we have agreed… Charise will now *expect* me to arrive on time at said venue.
  • If I don’t arrive on time… and if I’m hopelessly late (or – if I forget completely… like I once did with my friend Ryley)… then I’m going to owe my friend an apology (and, in the case of Ryley, who sat waiting for me in a coffee shop for two hours… a fair bit of grovelling!)

Another agreed-upon expectation is – say – a wedding vow.  When Nick and I got married, we both promised to be faithful to each other.  This is now an agreed-upon expectation.  I expect him not to cheat on me.  He expects me not to cheat either.  Fair’s fair.

However…  it’s the unspoken expectations that are the vile and insidious ones.  Those are the ones that – I believe – are the root of all heartache.

Here’s how they look (I’m sure you’ll find a number of these very familiar):

  • “You didn’t call me on my birthday”
  • “You didn’t send condolences when my dog died”
  • “You didn’t greet me at church on Sunday”
  • “You didn’t thank me publicly during your acceptance speech”

In the case of relationships, unspoken-expectations can wreak absolute havoc.  Here’s what some of those look like:

  • “I expect you to clean up after yourself and not just leave your clothes on the floor”
  • “I expect you to do the dishes after I cook.  After all, I’m not the house-slave”
  • “I expect you to bring me flowers”
  • “I expect you to be well-groomed at all times”
  • “I expect sex.  And I expect you to enjoy it”
  • “I expect you to change poo nappies”
  • “I expect you to be good with children”
  • “I expect you to get up and see to the baby when he cries at night.  I’m not the only parent in this relationship”
  • “I expect you to fill the car with petrol when the tank gets low and not just leave it for me to deal with”
  • “I expect you to be a fabulous hostess”
  • “I expect you to visit your mother on your own – without expecting me to come with!”
  • “I expect you to dish up my supper for me”

There are, of course, gazillions of examples of unspoken-expectations.  And, unless they are all discussed and agreed-upon… (and preferably before one skips merrily down the aisle) it’s just going to cause a whole LOT of simmering resentment!

Here’s how unspoken-expectations hurt the person (upon whom the expectations have been placed):  Firstly… it feels stifling, limiting… it feels like we can never measure up… we’re never “enough”… we always seem to be doing something *wrong*… it feels as though we’re followed by a constant stream of judgement and condemnation.  It feels as though we’re constantly disappointing others.  It feels as though we just…. can’t… truly…. *BE*… ourselves.

And here’s how unspoken-expectations hurt the person who is doing the expecting:  They feel offended.  They feel disappointed.  They feel as though the person in question just doesn’t care about them – or their feelings.  They feel frustrated… ie:  “Why can’t they see what they’re doing wrong?”… or … “They’re being deliberately obstinate!  They’re doing this just to piss me off because they *know* I don’t like it!”

See how unspoken expectations cause such hurt?  And, I think we’re all guilty of placing unfair, unspoken expectations upon others.  I know I have.  And I don’t want to do it any more.

Okay… so now I’m going to speak personally.

In the interests of NOT feeling as though I’m living under a cloud of expectation… both with my blog… my book… my workshops… my shows…

I need to make it abundantly clear who Heather – or “Hat” IS… (and who Hat is NOT)…

That way, if I say “fuck”… or if I talk about (or draw) uncouth things like Dream-Poo’ers… I’m not going to receive howls of offended protest… long, earnest e-mails from folk expressing their disappointment in me (this has already happened a few times).

So… in the interests of being as real and honest as I can possibly be…  here are some of my scribbles that can possibly express my Hat’ness (better than a long-worded post)… and will (hopefully) put to rest any unspoken expectations of who folk think I’m *supposed to* be… or what I’m *supposed to* believe… or how I’m *supposed to* live… and what-not….

One of my favourite "expectation" quotes (by Anthony Hopkins)

One of my favourite “expectation” quotes (by Anthony Hopkins)

this I believe


the fuck-it list


I once wrote this post about How-to-Spot-a-Dream-Poo'er... (a Dream Poo'er is, of course, the well-meaning person who finds it necessary to poo on your dreams and aspirations and tell you that your dream is a terrible idea... and you shouldn't even bother because it will never work... and they end by saying something like:  "I'm only being realistic, you know".... or "I'm telling you this out of love"....

I once wrote this post about How-to-Spot-a-Dream-Poo’er… (a Dream Poo’er is, of course, the well-meaning person who finds it necessary to poo on your dreams and aspirations and tell you that your dream is a terrible idea… and you shouldn’t even bother because it will never work… and they end by saying something like: “I’m only being realistic, you know”…. or “I’m telling you this out of love”….

who I am

they who say

I’m going to end this post with that wonderful Anthony Hopkins quote (I aspire to *live* this quote):

“My philosophy is:  It’s none of my business what other people say about me or what other people think about me.  I am who I am and I do what I do.  I expect nothing and accept everything.  And it makes life so much easier”.

Bravo, Anthony!

PS:  I’d love to hear any of YOUR stories about expectations…  how they’ve hurt or limited you…  or any other lessons you’ve learned about how to politely extract yourself from other people’s expectations…  X

25 thoughts on “The Emancipation from the Expectation!

  1. Yes. Un-agreed to expectations are so damaging in family life. In my particular experience some of the expectations between parent and child were spoken but still not agreed upon, they were foisted upon. When some of these expectations I’d never agreed to, that had nothing to do with how much I loved them, finally became too much for this docile but avoidant daughter and I didn’t comply with one my father buried me undera pile of guilt and shame for how he saw me as responsible for my mother’s emotions. I didn’t speak to them for three years. In our case, it was the best thing that could have happened, but my point was “yes!” and that behind these foisted expectations is the abdication of responsibility for our own happiness/emotions. Great post.

    • Thank-you for writing and sharing some of your story. Two big things struck me while reading your comment… the first was how unspoken (un-lived-up-to) expectations also usually come with an added burden of shame…. (extra-ugh!!)… and then – your FABULOUS thought at the end that… “behind these foisted expectations is the abdication of responsibility for our OWN happiness / emotions”…. Oh jeez – YES! I’m gonna write that in my quote-book!! Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Those un agreed ones are terrible! I have issues with my mom with those all the time! I feel I can never be the daughter she wants because I never know of all those unexpected things I should have done.
    And you doodle! I am an impulse doodler – all the time

    • Hehe! Yes – I doodle on EVERYTHING… ALL the time. Serviettes… till slips… business cards… scraps of paper… I *have* to doodle. I just… *HAVE* to doodle! And I hear you about the unspoken, un-agreed-upon expectations from family members (possibly the MOST damaging, methinks). Thanks for connecting! 🙂

  3. Love, love, love! I always tell my husband when we are stressing or upset about something, “no expectations”. When we are raising our kids and they seem to not fit the mold “no expectations, he/she is their own person, unique” I loathe expectations. Shakespeare was right. What play did you take it from? I also enjoy seeing someone out there who doesn’t believe she has all the answers. As if we all have arrive at the same conclusion. How limiting. Keep on living differently. I will 😉

    • It is limiting, huh? And yes – I *will* keep on living differently… for the simple reason that living “normally” and living-in-order-to-please-everyone-else led me into a VERY dark place… and I have NO intention of returning there! I’m not sure which Shakespeare play… I read the quote on a beautifully created piece of art. I guess I should look it up… 😉

  4. As you know…..I press on regardless. Not everybody is going to like me or accept what I do. So what! I’m fulfilled and have purpose, and I’m making a difference…and that’s what counts! People pleasing doesn’t make this world a better place. Doing what you feel is right..does.

  5. This couldn’t have come at a better time. Yesterday I got a call from my daughter-in-law, who always starts out the conversation cheerfully enough, but soon gets around to the real purpose of the call—to scold me for some further aspect of my “selfishness” and “self-focus at the expense of others’ feelings”. I admit that I’ve always been a loner in life, and picking up social cues that seem to be obvious to most people just pass right by me. However—growing up with a drug-addicted mother and then marrying a narcissistic, abusive man, I was also forced to guess at behavior cues. The theme songs of my life have been: “But you should have KNOWN!!” or “Why didn’t you—–(fill in the blank)??” Meanwhile my son and daughter-in-law both harangue me to “get out there and make friends”, but in the next breath tell me why no one would want to be around me anyway. My Mom, who was a real belle during her school days, used the same tactic—telling me to “get out there and try to be popular” yet also telling me why it was perfectly obvious why nobody liked me. My ex-husband, when I would be fed up with his treatment of me, would snort, “Where would you go? Who’d want you, anyway?” So I pretty much keep to myself, now that I am retired. It feels a lot more comfortable and safe that way.

    • Oh Holly… I am so sorry to hear that! That sucks! And all this SHAMING! Jeez…. what’s with the shaming??? Shaming just doesn’t make sense to me… it’s like this weird form of punishment that people seem to think will *fix* or *change* a person. Ugh!

      So – yes – totally understand your need to protect yourself… and keep to yourself in order to feel comfortable and safe. I get that. I do. But I hope you DO have some peeps in your life who don’t burden you with a gazillion expectations and whom you feel safe around 🙂 (I have a little tribe… and they’re my life-force!)

      And that theme-song-of-the-life thing… “But you should have KNOWN”…

      How often has that sentence been asked, I wonder?

      I don’t know whether I have more of a problem with the word “should”… or the world “KNOWN”. *sigh*. Expectation and Assumption seem to be very close friends.

      I had someone text me angrily to ask why I hadn’t contacted her during a time when I should-have-known-that-I-should-have-contacted-her-and-asked-how-things-were. Clearly, I missed that social cue entirely… I was still obliviously convinced that her and I were on good terms!

      I think it’s just one of those it-is-what-it-is things. I don’t think Expectations are going to disappear any time soon… but I *DO* think it’s wise to learn how to manage them… or politely extract ourselves from their sticky grasp!

      Thanks for sharing…. x

    • My goodness Holly, I just want to come over and hug you. You sound just like my Mom, with all her past mother and husband issues. She is also a loner and doesn’t need many friends. We’ve always done the same in the past…tell her to get out there and what she needs to change to make friends. Oh my, how I cringe now!! All she wants and needs( like all of us) is to be loved and accepted just the way she is now. And since we’ve done that, she has finally been able to breath and relax. Sending you lots of hugs Holly😘

  6. Reading about the difference between “agreed-upon” expectations and the other “unspoken” expectations made me realize that there are many “unspoken” family expectations within my family… and although they were never “agreed-upon” and always “unspoken,” they were still established and deeply imbedded into my psyche by a lifetime of action/reaction patterns. The big problem for me is that I let these deeply imbedded expectations dictate my responses to requests from family members… thus stirring me to agree to an expectation, only to end up regretting it. It’s such a vicious cycle… and made me go back to that quote from Chant, “behind these foisted expectations is the abdication of responsibility for our OWN happiness / emotions.” WOW! By the way, I laughed so hard when I saw your “Dream Poo-er” pic. That image will never leave my mind, and will resurface every time I run across another “dream poo-er.”

    • I’m glad you liked the dream-poo’er pic. Just the other day – I actually moulded a big poo out of polymer clay… coated it with gold glitter… and put it on my desk (as a remind of what I USED to do for a living – and as an extra-reminder that I never wanted to go back to *those* days!). I hear you also – about the endless family expectations. I think – in fact – that the expectations that inflict the worst kind of long-term damage are those that come from family. You’re right… it IS a vicious cycle… but – I think – it starts with an awareness of what we’re dealing with… and then… taking teeny, tiny baby-steps that will politely extract us from the tendrils of what OTHER people feel is right for OUR lives. x

  7. As usual, loving this!! I feel like I’m transitioning through this expectation thing. Becoming deprogrammed, if you will. I feel sad I have to be in my 40’s before I get all this. Also, you might want to rethink the spending money on shoes thing. I always said the same thing but now with a bad back, knees and feet I am finding sadly that supportive shoes are costing me more. Haha!

    • Bwa-ha! Yes… well… just the other day, I passed the store which was always known (and especially when I was a teenager) as the horrifying-granny-shoe store… all the very comfortable… very supportive… (very ugly)…. shoes. And I found myself looking at their window-display and thinking… “Hmmm… those aren’t too bad – they actually look rather comfy”…. and then, instantly having a giggle at my 15-year-old-self who would have been shrieking in horror at the very THOUGHT that I’d ever wear *those* shoes… (tee-hee)….!

      • Hmmm, maybe the Clarks? They actually have a cool “unstructured” line out, alas even clarks are not working for me! The good thing about getting older is you don’t care anymore what those stupid teenagers think…lol! You know what’s coming for them.

  8. I can see that not only did you hit a chord with me, you hit a chord with everybody! What a response!

    I didn’t know that “expectations” were bad until a couple years ago when I read the book “Fearless Living” by Rhonda Britten. I started on Chapter 6, “NO EXPECTATIONS”. I was going to a book group and there was a woman in her sixties there who said, “I never knew what it was before, but expectations are what I’ve been living under them my whole life. And I’ve been putting other people under them too.”

    When I’m having a terrible time, one of the questions I ask myself is, “What were you expecting?” Usually the answer is so ridiculous (I was expecting my child to have perfect robot-offspring behavior while tired and hungry and in a boring store!) that I laugh and then instantly move on to solving the problem in the real world.

    When you expect things from other people, you are giving away all your power of voice, action, and choice, and you are also taking away responsibility from yourself for your own happiness.

    When you allow yourself to be controlled by other people’s expectations, you are again, giving away your power of action and choice (I HAD TO) and placing the blame on other people for your unhappiness with a situation, with a responsibility, with your LIFE.

    When you are aware and fighting against expectations, the sentence: “I COULDN’T spend any time in the studio because I HAD TO clean the house,” becomes “I DIDN’T spend any time in the studio because I CHOSE TO clean the house.” Then, when you realize you’re making a choice, that means that you can CHOOSE TO leave the dishes unwashed and go out and work if you want to. You take responsibility for the decision and outcome. This works fighting against others’ expectations too. “I HAD TO go to dinner at my parents’.” You start asking yourself: “Do I WANT TO go to dinner at my parents’ house? If yes, then I don’t HAVE TO, I choose to. If no, then why am I going? Do I WANT TO sit here and listen to my friend complain about her kids? If no, then why am I listening to relentless negativity?”

    It sounds so selfish. But yet, it is not. Expecting others to read your mind and do everything perfectly the way you want them to without ever having to ask for anything is selfish, and it makes you angry when they disappoint you, as they inevitably will. This isn’t Star Trek. Nobody reads minds here. When you release yourself and others from poisonous expectations, recognizing that EVERYTHING IS A CHOICE …. suddenly you have so much more to give when you choose to give it. And you give it so happily and freely.

  9. Oh…..expectations……..had to give this some thought after seeing your facebook post last night, but how I can relate to this one……the dream poo’er (wickedly creative btw lol) particularly got me here. So often I hear from my grandmother especially about why I can’t do this or that, or why I need to see things her way, (particularly as it relates to money she is incredibly controlling there even when it’s mine I am spending, we also get into arguments with haircuts), and then she’ll preface it with “I’m only trying to help you” and I generally come back with “No you’re trying to control me” she’s always been very coddling, helicoptering basically, been like that all my life and I really resent it. How can I grow on my own if she’s not letting me you know? She’s always trying to dictate what I do, how I do it… drives me up a wall. It’s why I wanna get out of here in the worst way, the environment is so incredibly stifling.

    Speaking of that….that’s another thing…..anytime I even SPEAK about getting out on my own, I always get back “you can’t go on your own” (you can’t is a favorite thing of hers “you can’t cook that” or “how you gonna do that” (no support there whatsoever when I want to experiment in the kitchen), or “you’re making such a mess” when I do do it anyway, takes all the fun out of it for me, “you can’t go out it’s too cold/far” is another one too I could come up with a million of these really), “how you gonna live” “you gotta have a job” (big expectation there from both sides of my family) and sometimes adding “you’ll find out when I’m not around anymore, I don’t know what you’ll do” and on and on and on, at times I’ve even believed it all, but that’s changing a bit in the last few years as I’ve stepped out a little more. But it really sucks, this environment sucks the life right out of me you know?

    And following on food for a sec….that’s another expectation…..this idea that I’ll always eat like my mom and grandma do, that is to say, not well. We eat a lot of junky, processed foods, and I am tired of it and want to eat better, but they make it hard when it’s all they buy. Been trying to get my own stuff more, but even then, we get a lot of food out from places too (my mom in particular) and there’s an expectation that if they get something for me even if I don’t ask, I’ll eat it, be it fast food or otherwise, and of course I do and sometimes even rely on it a bit……it’s bad. It’s like a form of sabotage in an indirect way even if not intended per se..I feel I’m always paddling up stream trying to fight for my own voice, but it’s always drowning amongst what I’m supposed to do and think.

    No room for other forms of political thinking either, either here or on my dad’s Catholic side (there was an expectation I’d always be a Catholic for a while. and still is some that I’ll go back but I never will), can’t argue with them on them, they won’t hear me, always ends in a fight. And heaven forbid if I “curse” , if I call something bullshit, or fucking bullshit or whatever else…suddenly that becomes the vocal point rather than WHAT I am saying (and sidenote, who the hell defined what a damn curse word was anyway? isn’t it entirely arbitrary? I suppose that’s a topic for another a blog though but just saying….), that irritates me to no end. Forget HOW I am speaking, and listen to WHAT I am, you might learn something you know?

    So yeah…..I know all about expectations…….and they suck…..a passionate guy like me just doesn’t fit those molds……

  10. I’m late in the game of responses (blame it on being in another hemisphere)… THANK YOU. I needed to be reminded of this… especially the ‘un-agreed ones’ – they cause turmoil in my marriage. As for those other expectations… it’s like that age old quote (which someone may already have put here) – “it’s mind over matter – those who matter don’t mind and those that mind don’t matter” 🙂
    AND thank you for sharing your most amazing creative journal. Inspiring 🙂 (I’m just starting on that journey). Love ya for all ya share and think – uncensored and without expectation 🙂

    • Thank YOU, Yumiko. Apologies for my late response… I’m getting a bit confused with the comment-system… and sometimes I write from my laptop… and sometimes from my phone – and then I forget who I’ve responded to (or not). (NOT the most *organised* person on the planet!)… I like that mind / matter quote. I’ve got it scribbled down in one of my (many, many) notebooks… and it’s TRUE. I read another quote today which said: “Stop letting people you don’t know act as your board of directors” (always relevant for me to remember… since I often fall into the People-Pleasing trap). Anyway – thanks again for responding! Enjoy your art journal… and your day! 🙂

  11. Great post. We’re trying to recover from a family vacation – a celebration for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. So many expectations unspoken and so much blame thrown around. I’m worried that the 10 days we spent traveling have done damage that we will never really recover from.

    • I HEAR you… *those* family vacations… I know them all-too-well. We had a similar situation (but only 6 days)… by the end of those 6 days, I felt as though… I was going to explode with frustration. (We’ve never been on another).

      And that’s another expectation… the expectation to go on holiday with family members – because they are – after all “family”.

      I’m now convinced that the best vacations are those spent with the people we TRULY enjoy and connect with (regardless of whether they’re family or not). The other stuff can be draining – not to mention damaging. And I can’t say that I’m super-keen to attempt any of that again….!

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