Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Pitfalls of Expectations

Although "getting one's feelings hurt" is only a part of high sensitivity, HSPs do tend to get their feelings hurt rather more often than most people.

This is perhaps not the news you want to hear, but sometimes it really seems like we “set ourselves up” for suffering by having all sorts of expectations about others, or events, or activities… which then fail to live up to what we'd hoped for. And if you tend to be idealistic by nature, then these disappointments can hit quite hard.

In an HSP web group I belong to, someone was recently lamenting how people “never write back” in response to emails, or fail to write a long detailed letter in response to a long original letter. Of course, “never” is a rather strong term… but many of us are probably familiar with the situation where we spend a couple of hours pouring ourselves into some long exploration of a topic close to our hearts, click the "send" button, it goes to a friend… and two days later, we get back a “two-liner,” nine words in total:

"Wow. Cool idea. Pretty deep. See you next Thursday."

And our feelings are hurt, because we didn't get a response “in kind.” Nine words, not a two thousand word essay.

I know many who'd think "I poured myself into sharing EVERYthing with you, and you HURT me by not sharing everything with ME!".

But where is the problem, REALLY? I'll be the first to admit that “one-way communication” is no fun… but at the same time, sending a three page letter with the expectation of getting the same thing back? That's a recipe for disaster, disappointment and hurt feelings.

Some might not like to hear this, but when you expect someone to respond a certain way when you do something, you're essentially “giving to get.” When we send the long letter we wrote and invest ourselves in getting a long reply, we're no longer “just sharing,” we are making a subtle “demand” that someone reciprocate in kind. In my experience, such “solicited reciprocity” just never seems to work. It has the same “insincere” feeling as the dreaded “demanded apology.” You know, that situation where someone declares ”I DEMAND that you apologize to me!” and the result is a snide and insincere ”I'm soooorry.

Reciprocity is a beautiful thing, and perhaps something we all would like to experience in our interactions-- but (like Love) reciprocity "works" when it is freely given, but not when it becomes a demand, or expectation.

Letting go of expectations is not an easy thing. It has taken me many years to learn to “simply do,” and let things be. Sometimes I have to "pause and check," and ask myself WHY I am doing something-- and not just when I am emailing. I ask myself "Am I doing this because it is the RIGHT thing to do, or because I am trying to GET something?" If the latter is present, I step back and examine my motivations... and consider what I can do for myself, rather than putting the onus on someone else to fill what seems like a "space" inside me, in need of filling.

Of course, not all situations are the same. Sometimes we're simply exuberant about something, and the person we share with simply isn't interested. Or they are busy. Or in crisis. Or depressed. And what we experience (as hurt feelings, ultimately) is the distress of "disconnect," and it didn't have much to do with "giving to get;" merely with a lack of common ground.


TALK BACK: Do you find yourself getting hurt feelings, because people don't “give back” as you expected? Are you guilty of doing things in order to "get something" back? Do you become deeply "invested" in how someone else responds-- to a letter, to something you do? Can you “back away” and recognize that it's sometimes YOUR expectations, rather than THEIR lack of response that might be the issue? Leave a comment!


  1. ::wonders how many characters I'm allowed here::

    this is more ME than I really care to accept. Well, no, that's not true. I accept it. I've always been told I'm too sensitive and yes, I've poured my heart out to people that simply don't respond and it hurts. There are some people that I've poured out to that hurt more, because you DO expect more from them. At 53 years old, I still expect people (in general) to be as open and involved as I get. Or used to, anyway. I think this last couple/three years has taken it's toll from me and I've discovered that I've begun to hide. It just seems better to not share at all than be ignored when you do. I had just never seen a reason to NOT share with people and never did understand those who don't or won't.

    Gee.... here I do it again. LOL Old habits die hard, don't they? This is the first time I've heard of HSP. Ever.

    A big part of me wants to delete this comment. But I'm not going to.

  2. i'm on the other end...i often find myself sensing that I am being expected to react or behave a certain way, pidgeonholed into an expectation, and if I don't comply, I am misunderstoodas being "bad" somehow. and that sucks. but, i'm learning that , that is THEIR shit.


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