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How to Let Go of Blame, Confront Unrealistic Expectations, and Embrace Reality

Part 2 of 5: Overcoming Unrealistic Expectations

The reason I’m doing this five-part series is that having unrealistic expectations has been the story of my life. Letting go of those expectations has been an enormous part of my recovery and something I continue to deal with. I almost wrote “struggle” with, but it’s not a struggle the way it used to be. I see it and am much more able to let go more quickly.

But, of course, that was not always the case. Even when I could see I had unrealistic expectations, the letting go part was very rough. In fact, those were two of the top defects of character I discovered in taking a searching and fearless moral inventory of my life - unrealistic expectations and the inability to let things go. 

I’d have unrealistic expectations of people and couldn't let them go. Then, I’d make people “pay” for not living up to my unrealistic expectations. Their “payment” was mostly in my mind, but I’d also be a dick to them for not living up to my unrealistic expectations. And I’d blame them for being assholes. 

And that’s one of the things I want to address in this essay – laying blame. 

There’s a saying in recovery, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

The reason that’s a saying is that many of us in recovery have such unrealistic expectations of others that we don’t believe them when they show us who they are. Not the first time, or the second time, or maybe even the 100th time. That in itself is bad enough. What’s worse is that we then blame them for being the same person they’ve been the whole time.

There have been a number of times when someone showed me who they were, and I didn’t believe them. There was a friend who was notorious for blowing people off who I recommended as a contractor for another friend who was notorious for not following through on things. I was actually shocked when things didn’t work out between them, and the contractor got fired.

I had an unrealistic expectation that they’d somehow change their ways and each follow through on the commitments they’d made to each other regarding the contracting job.

There was my friend Dan who actually said to me, “You probably shouldn’t trust me” and then violated my trust. And I got mad at him for not being trustworthy. Dan is the same unhoused friend who helped me hit my codependent bottom and get into recovery, so this is yet another lesson he taught me for which I’m grateful.

I had an unrealistic expectation that someone who told me he’s untrustworthy would somehow magically become trustworthy. 

Then there was the colleague with whom I continued to do business, despite repeated difficulty in getting her to clarify what was included in the purchase I made, what the pricing was, and when the delivery would be made. And I got really pissed off and came close to letting “her” ruin the weekend plans I’d made around her products and delivery.

I had an unrealistic expectation that someone who was very difficult to work with through the entire purchase process would somehow come through in the end with excellent service and exceed my expectations.

When someone shows you – especially repeatedly – that they’re a certain way, face facts. 

If they never follow through, expect them to not follow through.

If they’re always insensitive, expect them to be insensitive.

If they’re continually cold and unfeeling, expect them to be cold, and unfeeling.

If they’ve proven themselves untrustworthy, expect them to be untrustworthy.

Don’t blame them when they continue behaving in ways they always have. You’re the one with the unrealistic expectation. And please, don’t use this to beat yourself up either! This is info, not ammo.

When it came to untrustworthy people, I acted like if I just love them enough, they’ll turn into a trustworthy person. I can see now that that was my stance, but I was blind to it until recovery. I learned in step 4 that “my part” in those situations was trusting someone who was untrustworthy. 

When you get your expectations in line with who the people around you are, life becomes much more peaceful. Instead of trying to manipulate people into being who we want them to be or walking around blaming others for our unrealistic expectations, we get to live in reality: this is what s/he’s like.

As they say, the truth shall set you free. When you expect people to be the way they already are, you let them off the hook. And you allow yourself to live in reality, which is so much easier than being continually disappointed with those around for being who they already are.

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