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The Art of Letting Go: How to Unhook from Unconscious Expectations

Part 5 of 5: Overcoming Unrealistic Expectations

Photo Credit: Yunus Tug

Now that we're on my 5th essay about overcoming unrealistic expectations you might be thinking, “I’m starting to understand how to not have expectations ahead of time, but what if I'm still resentful because of an expectation I had in the past?” Good news! You can get rid of your expectations after the fact.

If you’re like me, it might be that you don’t even realize you had an expectation until that expectation doesn't get met. That is, you didn't even know that you had an expectation until you get upset and realize it after the fact. Maybe it was so subconscious that you weren’t even aware of it.

Here’s how I let go of my expectations after the fact: as soon as I realize I had an expectation, I “unhook” from that expectation (at least that’s what I call it). I retroactively let go of that expectation by looking at the situation and thinking to myself, “Oh, I had an expectation, and that’s why I’m upset.” Here are three examples.

When I said “I love you” to someone and they didn’t say it back, I got upset. When I looked at that, I realized I had an unconscious expectation of that person saying “I love you” back. 

The only way I realized I had that expectation is that I felt a little wounded when they didn't say it back to me. When I looked at it to examine what the wounding was about, I saw that it was about me having an expectation of them saying I love you back to me. That they should say “I love you” back to me.

Then I thought - why did I have that expectation? Did I tell that person I love them just so they’d say it back to me? Or did I say it as a genuine expression of how I was feeling in the moment? Honestly, I said it because that was a genuine expression of how I felt.

Now that I’m in recovery, I realize that the way to know people love me is through their actions, not just their words. Truth be told, I don’t say “I love you” to just anybody. I reserve those words for people that I know for certain I love. And I love them for who they are and how they make me feel, not because of what they may or may not say to me. 

As one friend in recovery says all the time, “Love takes effort” so it's not necessarily them telling me they love me that I feel loved. It’s from showing me that makes me feel loved, by doing kind, loving things for me (which may include saying I love you). I’d much rather have someone express their love to me genuinely because that’s what they’re feeling in the moment than have someone say “I love you” because they feel like they have to reciprocate.

Having expectations is very similar to making assumptions. Here’s another situation where I was able to unhook from my expectations after the fact. I made an assumption in a work situation. I assumed that simply because I was an employee of an organization that I’d automatically have access to some of the benefits the customers receive. When that didn't happen I was terribly upset. 

I had to do some thought work on it and realized I wanted special treatment. I assumed that just by being an employee of the organization, that meant I got the same benefits the customers get. 

That was not the case. I had an expectation of getting benefits that were not for me. When I acknowledged that, I was then able to unhook from my expectations, which removed my resentment. And let me tell you, I was pretty resentful about the situation! It was quite a relief to be able to let go of that resentment. I will say that it came back up a couple of times, but I was able to use my mature, adult brain to remind myself that my assumption had been wrong – I don’t get those benefits. I’m not a customer. 

Here’s another example that’s relatively benign. This is the kind of thing that used to send me reeling before recovery. I’m blessed that I’ve learned to accept so many things that used to really piss me off. 

There's a suburban-ish neighborhood here in New Haven with a stop light that I expect should work a certain way, and it doesn’t. Every time the light changes, there's a walk signal in between the lights changing. There are almost never any pedestrians at that intersection, mind you. And there are stop lights in downtown New Haven where there are pedestrians galore that don't have a pre-programmed pedestrian signal between light changes. 

Every time I got to that stop light with the walk signal, I’d get really annoyed. When I finally realized how much of my serenity it was taking, I did some thought work on it. I realized I had an unrealistic expectation that that light shouldn't be programmed that way. I can either continue to be resentful about that every single time I get to that light, or…I can let go of that expectation. 

I can also stop going through that intersection! Which I sometimes do, but it’s pretty inconvenient to do that. Now, when I get to that light and have to wait for the walk signal, I use it as an opportunity to make conscious contact with my Higher Power. I’ve let go of the expectation that there shouldn’t be a walk signal there. 

I hope these three examples for how to unhook from expectations after the fact will be enough for you to be able to start implementing this concept for yourself. If you weren’t able to lower your expectations ahead of time, hopefully you’ll be able to use this method and get rid of your expectations after the fact.

You're still going to have expectations from time to time, and maybe you won't even realize it until they're not met. But as soon as you realize “that was an expectation,” do the best you can to unhook from it to let go of your resentment so you can be happy, joyous and free.

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