June 15, 2024

What to Do With Unmet Expectations

As a licensed mental health therapist, I often work with clients who are grappling with the heavy feelings that come with unmet expectations. I’ve found that this can be especially challenging for folks struggling with self-advocacy and codependency, but the experience is all too common, and painful regardless who you are or what you’re struggling with. 

In this post, I’m going to offer some insights and practical steps you can take to navigate these tricky feelings.

Understanding Unmet Expectations

First, let’s define what we mean by unmet expectations. They are the gap between what we hoped, believed, or expected would happen, and what actually occurs. This gap can exist in various aspects of life – relationships, career, personal achievements, or even self-image. For those dealing with self-advocacy issues and codependency, unmet expectations can be particularly painful, often leading to feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and a reinforced belief that one’s needs and desires are not important.

Ways to Deal with Unmet Expectations

1. Acknowledge and Validate Your Own Feelings First: It’s crucial to acknowledge your feelings of disappointment or hurt. Your feelings are valid, regardless of the situation. By acknowledging them, you are taking the first step towards self-advocacy and recognizing your own needs and desires.

2. Reflect on the Source of Your Expectations: Sometimes, our expectations are based on internal beliefs or external pressures rather than our true desires. External pressure might be the things our friends, family, or significant others say to us, what we see in the media, or even the things we come to believe through our communities and spiritual practices. Reflect on whether these expectations genuinely align with who you are and what you want, or if they’re close to what someone else thinks you should want and need.

3. Develop Self-Compassion: Practicing self-compassion means treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a good friend. It’s about recognizing that everyone has challenging moments and unmet expectations are not a reflection of your worth. If this is challenging for you, working with a licensed therapist can be a great way to learn and practice this skill.

4. Reassess and Adjust if Needed: Part of dealing with unmet expectations is reassessing them and adjusting them if necessary. As you look at yourself, get curious: Are they realistic for the person or situation? Are they truly your own expectations, or are they influenced by others? Do they align with your needs and your values? Setting realistic, personal expectations is a key step in self-advocacy, and can help prevent future situations of disappointment and upset.

5. Talk About Your Needs and Boundaries with Those Who Need to Hear Them: In relationships, unmet expectations often arise from a lack of communication. Clearly expressing your needs and boundaries is crucial. This step can be particularly challenging for those with codependent tendencies, but it is essential for healthy relationships.

6. Get Support from Your People: Whether it’s friends, family, support groups, or professional therapy, having a support system can provide comfort and guidance when you’re feeling let down. In therapy, specifically, you can explore the roots of your expectations and develop strategies for stronger self-advocacy. Also, your friends and family can help you reflect on those expectations and learn how realistic they may actually be.

7. Embrace Flexibility and Openness to Change: Life is unpredictable, and sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t pan out. Embracing a flexible mindset can help you adapt to changes and find contentment in the present, even if it’s different from what you expected. This is often referred to as a “growth mindset” and can be really helpful for those times when someone or something doesn’t meet your expectations. 

8. Engage in Self-Reflection and Personal Growth: Use unmet expectations as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. What can they teach you about your values, resilience, and the areas in which you need to grow? What can you learn about the person or situation as a result of feeling let down? You might find there are a lot of helpful takeaways that can better inform the way you set and communicate your expectations in the future.

9. Set Boundaries and Have Your Own Back: While there are some expectations we may be able to reevaluate and change, there will likely be things that are deal breakers for you—expectations that you need to have met in certain relationships or situations. These might be expectations, needs, or desires that you determine you can’t or won’t go without, or things that need to change in order for the relationship or situation to continue. If this is the case, set boundaries when and where needed, and validate the fact that your needs are just as important as everyone else’s. 

Moving Forward

Unmet expectations can be a source of some pretty intense emotional pain, especially for folks struggling with self-advocacy and codependency. However, they also present an opportunity for some pretty cool growth and self-discovery. 

By acknowledging and understanding your feelings, communicating your needs, setting realistic expectations, and practicing self-compassion, you can begin to navigate these challenges more effectively.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help when you’re feeling hurt or disappointed by unmet expectations. Whether it’s through therapy, support groups, or leaning on trusted friends and family, support is a vital component of managing these big feelings. Therapy, in particular, can be a safe space to explore these issues, providing you with the tools and insights needed to foster healthy relationships and a stronger sense of self.If you’re in Seattle and looking for support and guidance for unmet expectations, reach out. I’d love to see if we’re a good fit to work together.

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