I recently mediated a conversation between people who are part of an organization dealing with some growing pains. The conversation reminded me of a lot of lessons I have had to learn the hard way, some that I learned well the first time and some that I sometimes wonder if I’m doomed to repeat. If you’ve had one (or more) of those lessons yourself, welcome to the club. You’re in good company.
One thing that stood out for me in this conversation is how easy it is for disappointment to set in when going into a situation with expectations for how someone should receive what you are offering.
Let me give an example: Years ago, before Charlie and I were acquainted with love languages, I found myself hurt, upset, and disappointed when Charlie wouldn’t receive something from me in the way I thought he would or should. For instance, I would pick up or make his favorite dessert on a day when I thought things may have been rough for him at work. I expected his reaction to be a bit more effusive than what I received from him.
Yes, I had my feelings hurt, but I had my feelings hurt because of my expectations of the way he should have responded and behaved. I wanted greater acknowledgement for the effort that I put in and for anticipating his needs and desires. I wanted to be shown more praise for the relationship work I did that day. Even now I’m not sure what he could have done that would have felt like the “right amount” of praise and acknowledgement; I just knew at the time it didn’t feel like enough. Talk about setting yourself up for disappointment.
I’m not saying Charlie shouldn’t have acknowledged and appreciated the gesture — he did and he said so. What I’m saying is that I should have been clear with myself about why I was doing this for him. It would have been better to have done this without the need for a specific kind of reaction and praise.
I saw a similar dynamic show up in the conversation that I mediated within the growing organization I mentioned earlier. One person (let’s call him Troy) needed to know that the other person (let’s call her Nancy) was seeing all the effort and sacrifice that Troy had put in to be part of the organization and relationship. Troy needed to be seen and acknowledged in a certain way for all that he had sacrificed, and that set up an unwinnable situation for everyone involved. Troy and Nancy were both going to continue to be disappointed.
Nancy was not responsible for the decisions Troy had made to become part of this organization, but she was being treated a certain way because Troy thought she should be more grateful for what he had done.
Of course, there is more to the story. There were more people involved and other dynamics at work. And, yes, there were ways that Nancy behaved that were also not helpful. It’s usually never just one thing.
I’m highlighting this one thing though as it was an important reminder for me, and a great learning moment for them, that we should be very clear with ourselves about the WHY of our actions. (Tweet this.)
Are you performing a task because it is something you want to do, and that is all, with no other expectations about how others should respond? OR are you performing a task because you (maybe) want to do it and you definitely want the acknowledgement and praise from doing it?
Remember that we only get to choose how we react to things, not how others will react to them or recieve them. If you do something expecting a certain level of bravo, acknowledgement, or praise, you will continue to be disappointed and hurt.
Next time, before doing something for someone else, be sure to ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you setting yourself up for disappointment? Or is it enough to know that you did it and you will be satisfied with that?
Hazel Behrens says
A friend at my Al-Anon group gave us this quote:
“Expectations are premeditated resentment.”
If I don’t check my motive, my expectations, then I am planning to resent any response other than the one I expect. Yet I never clued the other person in to what I was hoping for which sets the other up to be blindsided by my anger. Uncool.