Your Expectation is Not My Problem

“I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.”

Fritz Perls (1893-1970)
Gestalt psychotherapist,
in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim


Jason and Beth have started dating. They really like each other. Yet Jason is put off by Beth’s needing so much time to study for her degree. Feeling bored one evening, Jason calls Beth, and asks whether she can join him for a drink. “I’d like to, but I can’t tonight. I have to study,” she replies. He curtly ends the call, and wonders whether she’s worth it.

Sue finds herself in a difficult financial situation. She asks her best friend, Holly, for a loan. Holly considers Sue’s request, and then decides to not loan money to Sue. Sue feels hurt that her best friend would not help her. After all, “That’s what best friends are for!”

Partners Rory and Nick have different spiritual paths, one Christian, the other Buddhist. Over and over again Rory tries to point out the error of Nick’s ways, and Nick insists that his beliefs are his privilege. Finally in frustration, Rory warns Nick he’s uncertain whether they can remain partners.

It’s human to have expectations of others. It happens everyday. An expectation of another person is a belief that another person should act, think, or feel in a certain way. Yet the expectations which you have of others is your problem, not theirs. So too, the expectations which others have of you are not your problem.

In the above, Jason believes that a person who cares for him should make him a priority, overlooking that Beth has her own life and priorities to tend. Sue claims that best friends should lend money to each other, ignoring the boundary that the money belongs to Holly. Rory forgets that a person’s religious beliefs are a matter of his/her personal relation to the Mystery.

When insisted upon, expectations of you become demands which violate your personal boundaries. Boundaries delineate the living expression of your individuality. They include boundaries around your body, feelings, thoughts, preferences, values, beliefs, time, money, resources, actions, etc. Quite simply how you feel, think, value, spend your time and money, and act is the privilege of your individuality. Of course, you are responsible for such.

How other persons feel about your exercising your freedom is their privilege and their business, not yours. Sometimes they may agree. At other times they may disagree or not approve of you. Should another person insist upon the validity of his expectation of you, perhaps you might remind him that his expectation is his problem not yours, and he could benefit from seeing a counselor.

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