“Expectations are the root of all heartache” ~William Shakespeare


That’s how it works, isn’t it?  Whenever I have an expectation, and it doesn’t turn out like I want it to or like I think it should, I get angry. Instant resentment. And you know what? I know better. I have been in recovery long enough to know the sayings about expectations (like the one above), and my favorite story in the Big Book is Acceptance is the Answer, which talks about accepting things as they are, and not having expectations.  Yet I still find that I often have unrealistic expectations of others and of myself.   And usually when that happens, the outcome isn’t so great.

When it comes to others, I have to be really careful about what my motivation is for doing something.  I have to ask myself why I’m doing it and what I am expecting in return.  Is it recognition that I’m looking for, a pat on the back?  Or is it sympathy?  Validation?  Agreement?  Am I doing it because of self-righteousness?  Believe me, I ask myself a lot of questions, but the questions about my reason for doing something often prove to be the hardest ones to answer.  I like to think that I’m a caring, compassionate person, and that I do things out of the goodness of my heart.  Sometimes that really is the reason, I do nice things just because I’m nice.  But, if I’m honest, that is not always the case.  So if I am doing nice things for someone because I am looking forward to the “thanks, you’re so great,” am I doing it for the right reason?  I don’t think so.  There have been many times that I have done favors for someone and not been thanked.  And I become resentful.  I have to remind myself that if I am doing something nice, it needs to be for the sake of doing something nice, not because I expect kudos for it.

That is especially hard for me when it comes to my job.  I know that, at times, I express that I am overwhelmed with work because the typical response is, “I know Jami, you work so hard, we couldn’t do it without you.”  That atta-girl bolsters my ego and helps me to work harder, to press on.  Or so it seems to me.  The truth is, I would probably get more work done if I quit complaining, and then I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.  Ugh.  You see, I know what the right thing to do is, it’s just doing it that’s hard.  And what happens when I don’t get the response I expect?  I get upset.  I feel resentful, under appreciated, ready to throw in the towel.

When I got out of rehab the first time, I expected everyone in my family to meet me with open arms and to tell me how proud they were that I had gotten help.  That didn’t happen.  They had already written me off.   Having had that expectation, and being disappointed by their reactions, I went spiraling downward.  I got angry.  Shocker.  And ultimately, I drank again.  Another shocker.  It was only when I was able to accept that their reaction to me was completely out of my control, and that I couldn’t have expectations about their behavior, that I was able to find any peace about it.

My expectations don’t just stop with other people though.  I get equally frustrated with myself, because I don’t live up to all of the expectations I set for myself.  I think that I should be able to do more, sleep less, be a better wife, be a better friend, have a cleaner house, fold the last dryer-full of laundry instead of leaving it to wrinkle, write perfect blog posts, return all of my emails, always be on time…the list goes on.  And when I’m not able to do all of those things, I’m disappointed and resentful toward myself.

So, what’s a girl to do about all of this?

I find that checking my motivation works.  When I do things for the right reasons, without a specific expectation, it’s so much easier to accept whatever the outcome is.  And acceptance is the answer, after all.  I also find that doing a 4th step inventory of my resentments, and talking it over with my sponsor helps me to see what my part is.  Often my part is simply having unrealistic expectations, and changing my perspective is the solution.  Ultimately, when I remember that the thing that can screw me up the fastest is having an idea of the way things should be, and instead I choose to practice acceptance, patience, and honesty, I have more serenity, more hope, and much more joy.



11 thoughts on ““Expectations are the root of all heartache” ~William Shakespeare

  1. You know, I had pretty much the exact same sort of thoughts about expectations not too long ago, and in the end, as you said, it came down to checking my motives. In fact, I have been doing the “check my motives” think lately (a LOT lately) and it’s really been helpful for me. And in doing so, I am true to why I want to do something. And this ties into expectations…you put it so well. Am I sticking my nose into something so that I can look like the hero later? Or am I genuinely concerned about a friend? hmmmmm… And the work examples are bang on – am i looking for glory or am I being honestly helpful? I have been able to navigate the waters a little better doing that motive checking thing and I love it! One of the best tools in the proverbial spiritual kit of tools for me these days.

    I am guilty of seeking praise or ego boosting, so this speaks to me loud and clear. And I find that when I do or say something just for the joy of doing it – man, there is a freedom to it knowing I don’t care one way or another if I get noticed for it. What a freeing experience that is!

    Great stuff -thank you for sharing this wonderful post 🙂

    Love and light,

    1. Thank you Paul. Work is where it is really proving to be challenging for me. But I am more self-aware than I have been in the past and I’m quicker to recognize when I have those unhealthy expectations…so maybe I am on the right path. 🙂

  2. Hi Jami, this post is exactly what I needed to hear this morning, so thank you for being my God moment! I too love Acceptance is the Answer, and it occurs to me I have not read it in a while, probably need to crack that book open…

  3. Great post, Jami! I read somewhere once that an expectation can be a veiled attempt to control and to make it a preference instead. I know that’s true for me. Checking my motives is right on. It’s ok to want acceptance and praise from others. It’s ok to have that motive sometimes but if I start to define my worth by how people see me, I know I’m in trouble.

    1. Thanks, Karen. You hit the nail on the head. When I start to judge myself based on what others say, nothing good can come of it, whether what they say is good or bad.

  4. Wonderful post, Jami! Acceptance was THE key when I first go sober. I never accepted things for what they were – I always wanted them to be how I wanted them to be. Of course, that always led to feelings of being let down. I still struggle with acceptance of people, things and situations out of my control, but I’ve learned that having acceptance is SO much easier than always fighting. Thanks for this reminder to lower my expectations and to continue to practice acceptance!

  5. Loved reading this jamilynaz and I thank you. It made me think of the most important spiritual principle and emotion for me which is gratitude. It is my best antidote to my fear and anger. Fear is why I don’t take action and anger is why I get stuck. I can’t be grateful and angry simultaneously, and I can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously. Whenever there is appreciation there is duplication in my life. It’s easy to be grateful when all is going well, but, it’s the problems that make me dig in, figure out who I am, and what I’m responsible to give back. There is never joy when I focus on self. When I live in gratitude my health and emotions are most peaceful and serene. Enjoy this moment, gratitude is a state of being.
    Once I began changing the word “expectation” with “appreciation”, my life has been sooo much better. big HUGZS, jen _/l\_

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