Expectations: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Understanding is that often sought after commodity that seems elusive at times. I hear people say “so and so just does not understand me” and they want to explain or educate them on how they feel.  And then becomes the journey of frustration. We can not make someone understand how we feel if they have never experienced it. And our expectations are not met and leave us feeling upset and angry.

I find with chronic illness, many that are chronically ill have this determination to explain all the time and prove to others how sick they are and get mad when those that are not sick do not understand or even those that are also sick but maybe not sick the same way. It is human nature for people to rely on what they have experienced for understanding and so if being chronically ill is not in their “experience” bank inside their heads, nothing you say can make them understand. And so, the expectations are not met and without realizing it, anger creeps in and the person pushes harder and harder to prove they are sick and “make” people see it. And it becomes this rat race instead of enjoying the good things in life.

I will have some that will get really mad at this next statement but am going to say it anyway. Chronic illness can make people become very self-absorbed with themselves and their illness and it can cause family problems. Sometimes the chronically ill can become so obsessed on “how bad they feel” that they do not seem to have time for their own family around them or become short-tempered or impatient with family members with an attitude of “I am the one so sick, so get over yourself” if a family member feels sick one day or has a bad day or is just not as “caring and attention giving” as the chronically ill person expects them to be. This is one reason I refuse to make every minute of every day about how sick I am. I do not want to spend my life that way and do not want to live with the unspoken expectation that the world must revolve around me because I am so sick and that sets me up for disappointment.

No, family does not always get it about how sick we are but that is because they simply do not understand as they have never experienced it. Anymore than someone who has never lost something in life can truly understand what it feels like to lose a loved one, your health, your home, your partner, your pet, etc. Or someone who has never lost a baby finds it almost impossible to understand what it feels like to lose one. And if our expectations are that everyone should understand and be sympathetic and that falls short, resentment creeps in. Perhaps we have one set of expectations for how we want people to treat us and another for how we treat other people.

People in general seem to build up these expectations in their heads and when these expectations fall short, it upsets the person. We have expectations on how we think other people should be, how our jobs should be, how our families should be, how we should feel, how others should act, how food should taste and the list goes on. The world is a continual list of expectations; unfortunately we do not seem to have a guide on what to do when our expectations fall short. And believe me when I say, we will always have expectations that do not get met.

We seem to have become a world of labels and try to stick labels on ourselves all the time and try to live up to what we believe those labels mean often to a point of frustration. It starts in childhood as we are labeled the smart one, the funny one, the pretty one, the talented one, the brave one and those labels stick and then we have created an expectation that we feel we must live up to. We see movies of the perfect romance and think that is how it should be never realizing that relationships are not fairy tales and take time and work. I truly believe this is why so many marriages are failing…that and many go into marriage thinking “well, if it does not work I can just get a divorce”.  It is all about expectations and not having our expectations met.

I do not believe in setting myself up with unrealistic expectations or expectations that do not match how I live myself. I should never expect someone to do what I am not willing to do myself. I remember when teaching and I would ask our helper in our classroom (back then we called them Teacher’s Aides)…to do something like take a child who wet their pants (being a K class) to the bathroom and help them clean up and change clothes. I would never ask the helper if I was not willing to do it myself and yet saw many teachers force their helpers to do menial and often unpleasant work because they did not want to do it themselves. I never had a problem with my helpers as they knew I respected them and that I did not mind doing these things. I was not dumping on them just to keep my hands clean. All about expectations and I did not expect them to do things I would not do. I also had the expectation that accidents happen to five year old children and kept a box of children’s clothing for them to change into when it happened.

I think the hardest thing is when we finally see (or are made to see) that our expectations are unrealistic and sometimes those expectations are way off target for what they should be. I taught my sons early how to cook, clean, do laundry and basically all the things to be self-sufficient but this did not mean at the age of 8  that I expected them to do all their laundry or cook all the meals or basically not be a kid anymore. I wanted them to have the knowledge and to be able to use it but I did not want to place an expectation on them that robbed them of their childhood.

Anymore than I wanted just because I was chronically ill to rob my children of having their emotions validated. I see it a lot ; “well, I am the one chronically ill and can not do anymore so just because your friend hurt your feelings…it is not as important as my being sick” attitude. I am setting myself and them up with my expectation that what is wrong with me takes precedent over everyone else and it just simply is not so. The world does not revolve around us and we are in the world with many others with the same problems. We are not unique in being chronically ill, losing our jobs, losing our homes, losing our partners, etc.

Sometimes we need to sit and look at our expectations and how rigidly we stick to them and see if they are ruling our lives instead of us just living our lives and finding the joy in them. Seriously, is it worth having war because your significant other does not put the toilet seat down every time? Is it worth hurting your loved ones because they are crying or upset and we think it is insignificant because our expectation is that  “We are the sick one” and deserve all the attention and help?  Is it worth having this expectation of others being perfect and following every rule when we do not do it ourselves?

Sometimes I think we have to stop and ask ourselves why we expect this or that to be a certain way and see if our expectations are too high and causing us misery and problems in life and running people off from us. Sometimes life is just meant to “be” not meant to have us impose a set of rules or expectations on. Expectations can be wonderful if they are realistic.  We need some expectations/goals in life. We just have to make sure we have not created expectations that are totally unrealistic or that create this fantasy that we are the center of the universe and all our expectations should be met.

I am chronically ill but do not expect everyone to stop in their tracks and take notice or rush to help me. Maybe that is why my son came and asked me to let him take care of me and not the other way around. I did not have the expectation that he owed me because I was chronically ill.  I watched my mother do that and expected us children to entertain her and do everything for her regardless of what was going on in our lives or if we had children or families to take care of or jobs to go to.  Our expectations have to be realistic and not just self-serving and they have to be expectations that we would do ourselves. If we would not live up to one of our expectations than it is not realistic.