Just so you know: YES, your expectations of other people ARE valid…sometimes.
Other people might not like your expectations of them and some relationships may not stand the test when you express what you really want. But would you rather live knowing you stood your ground and respected yourself, or would you like to live a life sensing that your feelings and values do not matter?
There’s a quote I hear and read every once in a while that I describe as one of the most dangerous quotes to humankind because it’s constantly used out of context.
“If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
A friend has said it to me in an attempt to help me feel better about a disappointment. And I’ve heard and read others use it in various scenarios.
In some cases, people say this quote in an attempt to help others feel better. In other cases, folks will use it to defend their own or others’ questionable actions.
In all cases, this quote and variations of it invalidate people’s feelings, disregard their values, and do harm rather than good.
If this quote from Sylvia Plath was in a book that featured a protagonist who had healthy relationships with herself and others, and who was self-assured and mentally and emotionally healthy, this quote would be a gem.
However, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath tells the story of a woman and college student, Esther Greenwood, who descends into a loneliness so deep and dark that she considers suicide multiple times. Her experience has taught her that she can expect nothing from no one.
Knowing this context now, the quote feels desperate. Britanica.com says “is now read as a damning critique of 1950s social politics.” It’s said that the story is autobiographical, and tragically author Sylvia Plath committed suicide.
Context matters, and we need to remember that we can hold expectations of others, and it’s actually in our best interest to do so.
On the other hand, I don’t want to give the impression that we should put expectations on others to make us feel good or abide by our own rules of life. I agree in many cases that we can hold expectations of others that are unreasonable.
In fact, our expectations of others can get us into a bit of emotional trouble.
For example, if I find myself on the side of the road with a flat tire, I can phone my friends and ask them if they can help me, but I shouldn’t expect that any of them drop what they’re doing to come out and change my tire. I would consider this a huge favour, and I would also expect that if they can’t help me, I will need to call roadside service.
If I was angry with my friends because none of them could help me, people could consider my feelings as a “misplaced” expectation, an expectation that is unreasonable and puts the blame squarely on my friends who had nothing to do with my tire going flat in the first place.
Be mindful of others’ expectations
And if we’re going to hold our expectations to others, we should hold ourselves responsible for reciprocating the same behaviour we expect, as the golden rule “do unto others” goes.
In other words, if you want people to treat you well, you sure as heck better treat others well. This isn’t a one-way street.
Sure, we’re never going to be perfect. The expectation is that we’re all going to make mistakes, and we can try our best to treat others with respect.
Identifying your own expectations and boundaries is going to help you pay attention to when you might not be meeting other people’s expectations and when you’re crossing their boundaries.