Have you ever felt the frustration of unmet expectations quickly turn into intense negative emotions? When we get bound in bitterness, it is sometimes hard to see a way out. I recently had frustrations quickly escalate into negative emotions that sent me spiraling.
I’ve always looked forward to the “empty nesting” phase of our life. The time to pursue new hobbies, interests, and travel has always held a special appeal.
My expectations took the sting out of each of our kids leaving home. I felt reassured they would be back; we would be together again as a family and the separation would be temporary. I’m sure it was my mind’s way of coping with the loss and handling the stress a mamma feels when her kids leave her for a life of their own. These unrealistic expectations are where it began.
In a couple of months, we have a small window of opportunity where we will all be together for the first time in a year and a half. It likely will be another two years before we are all together again. Naturally, I wanted to make this into a big production, travel together, have fun, make memories. But because of circumstances, jobs, and health concerns, it appears a big shebang isn’t likely.
I had my little pity party, realizing life is not and will not be the same again. My disappointment sent me searching for comfort from my husband, sister and close friend. I was searching for justification to feel the way I was feeling – instead I got some help in realizing my expectations about the future were not realistic. They encouraged to look for the positives of the situation.
It is not so much what we do or where we do it as long as we’re together.
Once my mind gets going in a particular direction, it’s hard to reign them in and keep my emotions from spiraling out of control. In the book The Science of Positivity, author Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning says setting realistic expectations is a matter of understanding we are in control of meeting our needs rather than the world meeting them for us. 
Think about that. The frustration of my recent meltdown was because everyone wasn’t changing their plans to meet my expectations. Healthy expectations are ones set on what we do rather than what we expect others to do for us. This mindset puts us in control of our happiness and takes blame out of the equation.
It’s true there are times when our unmet expectations have the potential to make us bitter. Our thought process feeds those negative emotions. I’ve found three ways of working through my negative thoughts, so I’m not bound in bitterness.
1. Recognize, Name, and Identify
How often do you tell yourself to just get over it? We don’t take the time to understand what we feel before trying to move past it. The problem with this tactic is it doesn’t resolve the root of the problem. Resistance only intensifies our emotions.
Allow yourself to experience the negative emotion and then give it a name. Is it worry, shame, or maybe disappointment. Naming your negative emotions allows you to identify how it feels and make a choice. We always have a choice. We can let go, or we can hold on.
2. Feed Your Brain
If you choose to let go of the negative emotion, you need to replace it with a positive one. Our brain needs to focus on something. If we don’t consciously feed it with the feelings we want to have more of; it will default to the ones we are dwelling on.
Feed your brain three times a day with thoughts of something good. These are not thoughts of rainbows and unicorns, but brainwork pertinent to your current situation. Spend a minute contemplating what is good, what you do have control over, and why it’s okay.
Rather than thinking my kids don’t care about my feelings, I focus on how great it is to be together. Instead of dwelling on how we won’t be going somewhere fun, I contemplate what we will be able to do. I use my problem-solving abilities to find an alternative way of thinking about my situation. Actively constructing positives instead of passively waiting for something good reprograms your brain. To make this habit stick practice looking for positives three times a day for six weeks. [Breuning]
Actively construct positives instead of passively waiting for something good reprograms your brain.
3. Recognize what is Reasonable
We tend to feel like something is wrong when our expectations are unreasonable. For me, a good rule of thumb is to watch for the victim mentality. If I feel like the world is against me, there is a good chance my thoughts are not real or reasonable.
Life is meant to have opposition. Our happiness should not be dependent on everything always going our way; rather, we should be happy because we choose to be happy no matter what. I’ve always loved this quote by Jenkins Lloyd Jones. I feel like it perfectly describes how to recognize what is reasonable.
Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” – Jenkins Lloyd Jones
A positive outlook translates to a happier life and frees you from being bound in bitterness.
What habits have you found to help keep your expectations realistic?
 Breuning, Loretta Graziano, The Science of Positivity. Adams Media: Avon, MA. 2016.
 Ibid, p. 143.
 Jones, Jenkins Lloyd. Deseret News, June 12, 1973.