When Expectations Turn Ugly


“Every expectation is resentment waiting to happen.” Richard Rohr

I was attending a conference at a very nice resort, waiting my turn to check into the hotel. In front of me was man throwing a fit, chewing out the woman at the front desk because of his less-than-full-ocean-view room. He was red in the face and spewing out words faster than the receptionist could say, “I’m sorry,” or “It will be my pleasure to fix the problem.

Round and round he went with his complaints and demands. I was embarrassed for him.

Even if the room was less than promised, why did he have to be so mean? Why was he so bitter?

You’ve probably witnessed similar encounters at the airport, in lines, or at customer service desks. Or maybe you’ve seen such ugly behavior between a parent and a child, a husband and a wife, or work colleagues.

If you’re honest, maybe you’ve BEEN the person acting out.

Have you ever wondered what drives this demanding nature in us? (May I use the collective “us” and not make this just about me?)

My observation is that much of the energy that fuels our complaints is wrapped in our expectations.

When we don’t get exactly what we expect, what we feel we deserve, what we are owed, we respond by holding someone, anyone, the person in front of us responsible.

If I don’t get what I want, we reason, someone is going to pay!

Don’t believe me? Test the theory.

Think about the last time you were intensely frustrated. What was the situation about? Did you want something and NOT get your way? Did someone fail to live up to their promise? Were you expecting a particular code of conduct and were disappointed?

Welcome to the power of expectations - they impact our attitudes whether we realize it or not. They cause us to give up on people, to yell, to resent people. If Richard Rohr is right,  if “ every expectation is resentment waiting to happen,” then we should recognize that we are playing with fire.

Wherever we have relationships, we will always have expectations. This fact is unavoidable. However when we identify where our expectations lie, we are better equipped to evaluate how tightly (or loosely) we should hold them.

Consider at the office, do you EXPECT

  • credit
  • honor
  • recognition
  • deference
  • to be understood

At home do you EXPECT

  • to be first
  • quiet
  • honor
  • your spouse to serve you
  • your kids to act like grown ups

As you consider what you anticipate from others, ask two critical questions:

1. Are my expectations self-focused or other-focused?

2. Am I willing to apply the same demanding standard to myself?

I'm curious to know what you think... though I won't expect a response : )