Expectations and Resentments

Each week, I attend a support group meeting. We read a passage from a book and then discuss its relevance in our lives. Is it true or not? Are we affected by this? How? Last week’s meeting has stuck with me, as many do. But this time, it’s not because it was a positive experience. I’d like your take on it…

The reading last week is my least favorite one in the book. At least so far, and I’ve read most of the book. I’m not going to reproduce the entire reading here, but I will give you the relevant bits, starting with this:

“A friend says, ‘An expectation is a premeditated resentment.’ I take this statement to suggest that when I have a resentment I can look to my expectations for a probable source.”

I had a real problem with this, and I voiced it… By this passage (and the rest of the reading backed it up), I am to assume responsibility for resenting when others screw up. For example, I seriously resented it recently when, two days before our Pack’s Popcorn Kickoff, the entire project was unceremoniously dumped in my lap. I knew that nobody else was going to step up to take responsibility, even though the Chairman of the project had an “Assistant” that she completely bypassed when giving the materials to me. I resented the fact that the Chairman didn’t follow through on her promises. I resented the fact that the Assistant didn’t step up when she heard what happened, and say, “Oh, I’m the Assistant, I’ll take over,” but instead, let me handle the whole mess.

But when I read this passage, I understood that my resentments were misplaced; that my expectations were too high. And I’m sorry, but I cannot reconcile that.

I understand that we bear the responsibility of understanding when our expectations are too high. I do not resent the fact that I must drive Steve everywhere (yeah, I get pissy because it’s inconvenient) because I cannot expect him to drive himself, since he’s blind. THAT would be an unrealistic expectation. But is it unrealistic to be resentful when he says, “I’ll take out the garbage tonight,” and I find myself trudging down the driveway at 11PM, dragging a smelly can behind me, while he’s upstairs sawing logs? According to this passage, yes, it is unrealistic. My expectations were too high.

When I brought this up to the group, they agreed with the passage.  “We’re dealing with recovering addicts,” they said. In essence, we know that they are unreliable, so if we have expectations that are not realized, we should not be surprised, and therefore, not be resentful.

The example from the reading told the story of a person who resented that every time she made plans to meet her brother at a certain time, he would be late. And she resented him for it. But when they attached no specific time to their plans, everything was fine, and she wasn’t resentful. Moral of the story – don’t include time in your plans with Brother, and everything will be ok. That means no movies. No dinner dates with reservations. No events of any kind that involve a start time. No projects that involve starting at a particular time. How can anyone function that way? And I’m a pretty laid-back type, who is as likely to say “oh, somewhere between 9 and 10” as “we need to be there by 10”.

So I’m supposed to completely lower my expectations to practically nil, because if I have expectations that others don’t live up to, it’s my fault??? What do you think? Am I wrong to be applying this the way I am? Are my expectations too high?

This entry was posted in addictions, adulthood, adults, advice, character, choices, disappointment, people, questions, relationships, respect, responsibility and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Expectations and Resentments

  1. Ellen says:

    Great post, Laura. Read it with my full attention. This is my view on your article: I do not think your expectations are too high, they are YOUR expectations. Do not make the assumption that others have the same expectations because they don’t. Respect your own expectations and ventilate them to your friends and family but respect their’s also. You will never be able to let someone else have the same expectations you have put on yourself how to live. To be honest, I am just like you, expecting that other follow the same way of “rules” I have set for myself. And every time I am facing that other people do not have the same expectations in general as I have. It is tough but also it is good to realize it.

  2. SKL says:

    Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I think that you have a right to expect that people will do what they promise and whatever is their clear duty. At least, until you have enough information to know it’s not a realistic expectation.

    In my life, I have people who I know are completely unreliable, based on a consistent history. If Ms. Q knows she’s supposed to be here at X time, I know that there’s a 95% likelihood that she will be at least 10 minutes late. So I just plan on it, and focus on what she does right. Similarly, I know that Ms. B does not see clutter, especially if it’s her own mess, so I have long since decided not to expect her to take the initiative to clean after herself. I know Mr. M is going to be foolish with money regardless of the source, and that my cleaning lady is not going to scrub my bathroom properly unless and until I say something about it. A feeling of unfairness may be justified, but getting angry is not going to do any good. Holding people to expectations “in MY mind” equals setting them up to fall short, and setting myself up for disappointment.

    That does not mean these folks’ behavior is acceptable. If it’s important enough, they need some sort of behavior modification. But “I just knew you would do this to me again” doesn’t seem to be an effective motivator. Rather than fume, put that energy into figuring out a course of action that might motivate better behavior next time. Or at least compensate you for the extra trouble. For example, with Ms. Q, however late she is on arrival, she has to work that much later into the night. And if I really, really need her at X hour, then I schedule her to come earlier and make a big point about why she needs to rise to the occasion. Generally, people who fail my “expectations” will perform for a very specific request.

    Now in the case of the scout situation, that person broke a promise/sidestepped a duty, not an expectation invented by you. A duty / promise is a lot different from an “expectation.” You have a right to expect, for example, that your spouse will remain faithful, that a parent will provide for his child (to the extent possible), that an adult customer will make good on contracts he has signed. But at some point, there is a gray area where you think the other person should know you expected X, but s/he didn’t realize how important that was to you, or lacked the requisite skills or discipline. At that point, you need to have a conversation / negotiation that transforms your “expectation” into an explicit promise along with undestood default penalties that both parties can live with.

    If your group is arguing that certain people should be absolved of basic promises and duties, then I don’t agree with them. I do strongly believe in forgiveness, but not in reducing an adult to a child.

    Not sure if any of the above makes sense to the reader.

  3. Sue says:

    No, I don’t think your expectations are too high and I don’t agree with the passage either. I do think, though, that we set our expectations differently for people b/c we know everyone operates differently. I also think that expecting someone to be late b/c they always are is different then volunteering for the popcorn drive and then dumping it on someone else at the last minute. When you volunteer for something, everyone has expectations for you and you should have expectations for yourself in fulfilling that spot. I work in a place that everyone loves to have high expectations for everyone else, but those same expectations don’t apply to themselves and it makes it very hard to get through the day!

    • Joy says:

      That reminds me of the person who said to you when they found out you got another job, “but Sue, you’re the only one who does anything.” Not sure if that’s on topic or not but your last few sentences remind me of that.

  4. Joy says:

    Well. Boy what a topic. It’s tough. I think you should be able to expect what someone tells you. Or expect when someone does a job, they’re going to do it the way it’s supposed to be done. I’m not sure if that’s an expectation or not. Should you have to expect that someone is going to do their job?

    I also think there are “unspoken” expectations like SKL mentioned. I think you should be able to expect your spouse to be faithful to you and parent’s should be expected to take care of their children. However I don’t think recovering addicts should be allowed to “not meet expectations” because they might fail. I also feel it gives them an easy out. “Oh well, Joe Blow is a drunk, no wonder?” I don’t buy that for a second. By allowing “them” to be “different” and not have any expectations to be met, it’s like saying their “drug of choice” is okay and maybe not even their own problem but ours. I know someone who was in a treatment program years ago and the “family treatment” was to cross examine everyone other family member and place “blame” there. I do NOT buy into that at all.

    I also feel if we give our word, that’s an expectation that we’ve set up for our self. I feel you should be as good as your word is. I’m not sure people think too much about that anymore but I remember my grandpa always telling me that if you give someone your word, it’s set in stone and that our word is all we have. I still remember that and still believe that.

    I can also see a touch of the side that you should only expect out of someone what they can give. If someone is always 10 minutes late, you can really overlook that. There are battles to be picked and some are easier to overlook that others. If someone made me wait an hour that would be a different story.

    I feel like I wrote all over the place about this!! LOL!!

  5. Nikki says:

    How is anyone supposed to have personal responsibility if they have no expectations? That teaches someone, nothing. I do not think your expectations are too high, they are totally reasonable. I think it’s natural to have some sort of expectations of certain people. They have to be different for different people though. If you tell me to be there at 11am, I expect you to be there. If you tell me you are going to do something, I expect you to do that. I may not resent you at first for it if you don’t, but disappointment sets in, and after so many times, yes resentment does also. It wouldn’t be my fault, that I resent you…that would fall on your own personal responsibility.

  6. Laura says:

    Thanks, ladies. This has been helpful. I’ve been stewing in the juices from this for a good week and a half. That group has helped me in so many ways, but I do get tripped up, sometimes, on the “I must look at myself” aspect of it. Yes, I must take responsibility for my own actions, and it certainly isn’t my responsibility to make excuses for the addict. But in a situation like this, a passage like this… it is telling me to do exactly that! It’s saying, essentially, “this person is an addict (albeit a recovering one), so don’t have expectations”. B.S. That addict certainly has expectations of me! And I certainly hear about it if I don’t live up to them!

    I guess this is one of those “let it go” moments. I have GOT to learn to quit obsessing about stupid things.

  7. Just a Mom says:

    I live with an alcoholic who wants no part of sobriety. I know this passage well and at first I also struggled with it. But I have actually come to like this phrase ‘An expectation is a premeditated resentment.’ I read it as ‘MY expectation is a premeditated resentment.’ If I expect my husband to be home when dinner is on the table, I am setting myself up for a resentment and that is my fault. When 6 o’clock comes and he is not home if I expect him, I am going to be pissed and resentful. So I do not expect him to be there, because I have no control over him. I can only control the fact that I am having dinner on the table at that time. That is the way my mind must work in order to remain sane while living with an addict.
    Now as for the Popcorn deal. That is a different situation in my opinion. Other people dropped the ball completely and you picked it up. Some resentment is healthy.

  8. avomnia says:

    Oh HELL NO!

    I’m with you on this, Laura. I’m all about punctuality and keeping commitments. If you can’t make it then tell me in advance. Pretty simple. And don’t drop sh** on me at the last second and expect me to be happy about it. My time is the same as yours . . . just as important and precious to me as it is to you. So what makes it okay to waste mine, yet I can’t waste yours?

    Being a doormat is no fun. And the older I get, the less apt I am to allow myself to be one.

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