Expectations are typically viewed in a negative light, and for good reason. But in this blog post, we will explore two sides of expectations, focusing on how unspoken expectations can be the source of unnecessary suffering while spoken expectations can liberate us by helping us understand our own limitations and set necessary boundaries.
Unspoken Expectations: The Source of Unnecessary Suffering
Unspoken expectations are those hidden hopes and desires we have for ourselves and others, which we never communicate openly. Unfortunately, these unspoken expectations often lead to misunderstandings, disappointment, and resentment. We assume that others should know what we want or need without expressing it explicitly. However, when these expectations remain unvoiced, we set ourselves up for unnecessary suffering.
Consider situations like expecting your partner to intuitively understand your needs or assuming that your friends will know you want them to throw you a surprise party for your birthday. When these unspoken expectations are not met, it can cause frustration and strain in relationships. Moreover, unspoken expectations can lead to unnecessary suffering as we struggle with disappointment and feel unsupported without ever giving others a fair chance to meet our needs.
Buddhist Teachings about Expectations
In the Buddhist teachings, expectations are said to be the root cause of all suffering.
When I first heard this, I was confused. I could logically understand why unrealistic expectations could create unnecessary suffering, but I wasn’t sold on this idea because expectation is an essential part of being human.
We all have expectations.
We expect people to treat us with a certain level of respect and dignity. We expect things to work when we purchase them. We expect that a job is done to completion after we pay for it.
So if expectations are the source of all suffering, a significant question is raised.
How can a person have standards but not expectations?
So after a little bit of digging, I realized that this quote by Buddha was actually referring to a specific type of expectation that comes from attachment and desire. In Buddhist teachings, the root cause of suffering is considered to be a desire and attachment to worldly things.
Therefore, the expectations that Buddha was referring to come from attachment to outcomes, people and relationships, and self-image.
Buddha taught that these expectations and attachments are based on the illusion of a fixed and separate self, which is at the core of our suffering. He emphasized the practice of non-attachment and cultivating a mind that is free from clinging and craving. By letting go of expectations and attachments, one can find liberation from suffering and experience a deeper sense of peace and contentment.
I can get on board with the idea that suffering can be caused by expectations of specific outcomes or how we are perceived by the world around us, but I can’t quite wrap my brain around how having expectations of people or relationships is a source of suffering…that is, unless, your expectations aren’t voiced.
But…having expectations isn’t always negative. There are certain expectations that are necessary for functioning in the world and navigating complicated dynamics in relationships. So instead of trying to eliminate expectations, we should just focus on communicating them better.
The Liberation that Comes from Spoken Expectations
Spoken expectations have the power to liberate us from this cycle of suffering. When we communicate our expectations openly and honestly, we promote clear and effective communication. Spoken expectations foster understanding, trust, and healthy relationships. By expressing our desires and boundaries, we allow others to have a clearer picture of our needs, making it easier for them to meet us halfway.
When we articulate our expectations, we create an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration. Spoken expectations allow us to find common ground, negotiate compromises, and build strong connections based on mutual understanding. This open communication empowers us to take control of our experiences and shape them in alignment with our desires and values.
Understanding Your Boundaries Through Spoken Expectations
Spoken expectations can also help establish and maintain healthy boundaries. By expressing our expectations clearly, we gain a deeper understanding of our own limits, needs, and values. They help us recognize what is acceptable and what is not, allowing us to define our personal values.
Setting clear boundaries is crucial for self-care, self-respect, and personal growth. When we communicate our boundaries through spoken expectations, we empower ourselves and others to respect our limits and honor our individuality. It is through spoken expectations that we create an environment of respect where our needs can be acknowledged and honored.
In order to effectively communicate our boundaries, it is important to be self-aware when expressing ourselves. Start by identifying your values, needs, and limits. Then, practice articulating your expectations in a respectful and assertive manner. Remember that clear communication is a skill that can be developed over time, and it is worth investing in to cultivate healthier relationships and personal well-being.
Embracing Liberation and Reducing Suffering
There is a drastic difference between having an unspoken expectation that only you know about and having an expectation that is voiced clearly and articulated well.
One leads to suffering, and the other leads to liberation. There is a vital difference here.
There is also a fine line between our expectations and our values, and it is common for the line to get blurred.
Let me explain what I mean.
If I value kindness, I will naturally expect that my friends treat me and others with kindness. It is a value of mine, so it becomes an automatic expectation that anyone I allow into my circle also practices kindness toward others. There is nothing wrong with that expectation. Having that value system and expectation isn’t what creates suffering. In fact, it’s what makes me me. And it’s what guides my decision-making when choosing friends.
So if I see others gossiping or talking poorly about others, my expectation of kindness isn’t a form of suffering; it’s actually liberating because I know who I am, what I stand for, and what my expectations are, and I let those guide my behavior.
Expectations only cause suffering when we have expectations without voicing them, or we just ignore them altogether.
Your marriage vows are a spoken version of expectations and for good reason. You are entering a relationship, knowing what you expect from one another. So when one of those expectations is violated, it creates pain and suffering because there was a mutually agreed upon set of expectations for each partner. The expectation isn’t responsible for the suffering. Instead, the expectation gave you a parameter.
Now if you enter a relationship having an expectation of a monogamous relationship without discussing it, that unspoken expectation could lead to pain and suffering if your partner has a different expectation, like an
So I think that this quote shouldn’t say expectations are the source of suffering; it’s actually assumptions that create suffering. Because an assumption means the expectation is only happening in your head.
The Positive Role of Expectations
Expectations in relationships do not have to be a source of discord and disappointment. By challenging the assumption that all expectations are negative, we can embrace a more nuanced understanding of their role within relationships. Voicing expectations, when done with care and aligned with our values, contributes to building strong and harmonious connections. It is through open and honest communication that we can create a relationship where expectations serve as a guiding force rather than a cause for suffering.
Food for thought
Reflect on your own expectations and talk to your partner. Embrace the opportunity to build a relationship grounded in shared values, mutual understanding, and healthy expectations. By doing so, you can nurture a bond that flourishes with love, respect, and growth. Remember, it’s the mindful and conscious approach to expectations that makes all the difference.
And lastly, I’d love to hear your take on expectations. Let me know in the comments!