Perhaps you have heard the saying: “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

This slogan, which apparently originated in 12-step programs, contains some useful, practical information for all of us about the psychology of expectations. 

First, merely expecting something to happen will not make it happen. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget noted that young children have difficulty distinguishing between the subjective worlds in their heads and the outer, objective world. According to Piaget, children therefore sometimes believe that their thoughts can directly cause things to happen — for example, thinking angry thoughts about your little brother can cause him to fall down the stairs. Piaget referred to this as “magical thinking”, and suggested that we all outgrow it by around age 7. That is where Piaget went wrong. It turns out that many normal adults continue to engage in various forms of magical thinking. Prayer can even be a form of magical thinking. Witness the huge popularity of “The Law of Attraction”, which says that our thoughts attract events into our lives. For many of us, it is difficult to let go of the idea that expecting something to happen will make it happen.

Second, human beings have a natural tendency to pin their hopes for happiness on “fulfilled expectations”. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, as long as we have good reasons to believe that fulfilling an expectation will make us happy, and we take the necessary steps toward fulfilling those expectations. “Good reasons” might include us knowing from past experience that certain things make us happy. For example, I know from experience that my morning cup of coffee will almost inevitably give me a little bit of happiness. I therefore expect this experience each morning to give me a degree of happiness.

The problem of expectation occurs when we expect something to happen without good reasons for that expectation. If I believe that my expectations alone will bring me what I want, I am using magical thinking and setting myself up for disappointment. This is really obvious when we are talking about coffee. I can’t make a cup of coffee just by thinking it into existence; I have to take the necessary steps to make it happen. I have to grind the beans, put the coffee and water in my coffee maker, and push the button. Just expecting my cup of coffee to appear is delusional.

This is less obvious is when our expectations involve other people. Most of us are sane enough to realize that expecting a cup of coffee to materialize from our thoughts is unrealistic. Yet many of us at some point have mistakenly believed that expecting other people to behave the way we want will actually make them behave that way. One member of a couple might expect the other to make coffee. This is fine and good if the other person is happy to do so. But what happens if the other person has no interest in living up to that expectation? We feel shocked, morally indignant, and resentful.

Expectations are premeditated resentments.

It should be easy to think of examples in your own life where you have felt resentful toward people who did not live up to your expectations. It is certainly easy enough to find examples.

Negative expectations are pre-meditated resentments and pre-judgements that we place on ourselves, other people, God, circumstance, etc. Unrealistic expectations will set ourselves and others up for pre-determined failure.

Check your expectations of yourself and others and you will likely find that you have pre-formed judgments in your heart.  

Jesus said, “don’t judge, as the judgement will come back on you EXACTLY as you meter it out.”

Source: J.Johnson/Adapted

One thought on “Expectations

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  1. I think the missing word is “non-communicated” – its usually when expectations are not communicated through people that there are disappointments and resentments – specifically with couples. Its when expectations are not communicated ahead of time that make people upset, frustrated and disappointed – this has happened so many times in our marriage, and when we bring it back most arguments to the root cause, it’s because the one or both made assumptions… our spouses are not mind readers 🙂 and neither are we!

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