Expectations and boundaries are not interchangeable terms. There is a slight difference in their meanings and a definite difference in their focus. Webster defines expectations as the state of looking forward to or waiting for something. That definition reminds me of the excitement that builds in children on Christmas Eve or any event that you look forward to with joyful anticipation. This state of giddiness can elicit a range of emotions from excitement, anticipation and depending on what is inside those pretty packages, disappointment.

Unmet Expectations

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The trouble with unmet expectations is the negative emotions that follow. I have let my expectations run wild and missed the excitement and joy that could have come with an event, because it fell short of my expectations. Imagine as a parent, surprising your child with a car. You are excited to reveal the big surprise only to receive a lukewarm reception because it is not the car that your child wanted. We won’t deal with gratitude and how we might respond in this particular scenario, but will instead, keep our focus on each person’s unmet expectations. In this case. neither received what was expected so what would typically be a joyous occasion is ruined.

There is one word that will illuminate your expectations for you, “should”. Wherever there is an anticipation of how something should be, lies an expectation. It is in our best interest to realize that in any situation, the only thing we can control is us. I cannot control how you are going to respond or whether or not you will meet my expectations. I can only control my response and what I contribute to the situation.

Why is that important? Understanding what I can control, helps me to temper my expectations so that I can actually experience “what is” instead of looking for the fantasy that I created in my head to play out. The realness of what is happening “now” is where the richness of any experience lies. However, if my focus is elsewhere, I cannot enjoy the fullness of that experience. Expectations are deceitful and really only live within our imaginations. When you find yourself armed with what should be, take a breath, look for what is and experience that reality for what it is.

Expectations cannot only cause us to miss something good but can also tie us to something that is not good for us. If you are in a relationship that is not meeting your needs or is not healthy, but you dream of how it could be, if you are not careful, you will stay in it for far too long due to the fantasy and ignored reality. We are better served if we check our expectations and focus on instead creating boundaries that support our well-being.


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Unlike expectations that are typically focused on others, boundaries are for us. It is common to think when creating boundaries that we are setting up rules for others, but I believe that the opposite is true. We are actually setting up rules for ourselves and how we will govern our lives. The reason that I say that is because we cannot control the actions of others. Once we articulate our boundaries, it is up to them whether or not they will respect them. The magic in the boundary is that it gives you the framework to evaluate each relationship and situation and determine whether or not it serves you well.

When your boundary is ignored, the ball is in your court. Will you honor yourself and the decisions that you have made about what is best for you? If you won’t, you can just about guarantee that no one else will either. When your boundary is ignored:

  • acknowledge the breach
  • communicate with your offender
  • restate your boundary
  • evaluate their response
  • determine how or if you will continue the relationship

Do you see how in the boundary all of the actions and decisions lie with you? Boundaries are not for others; they are for us. Our boundaries are our personal management systems and are only as meaningful as our implementation of them. Let’s get very clear about what our boundaries are and use that blueprint to determine who has access to us. Boundaries are our ways to honor ourselves and only allow those who honor us as well into our inner circle.

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8 Comments on Expectations and Boundaries

  1. Thank you for the reminder. Definitely continuing to practice what I can and cannot control. Also, when put into perspective with everything else going on in the world, someone, somewhere would gladly trade places with me.

  2. Great read! Practical and empowering. I particularly enjoyed the boundary portion. And the last paragraph on expectations is something I should’ve read, embraced, and practicedin my 20’s!

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