The Relationship Between Expectations and Emotions


I do not think it to be too controversial a statement to say that there is a proper place for emotions in a life well-lived. The dilemma lies not in getting rid of emotions, surely no one wants to do such a thing, but it is being able to have control over your emotions. A person must be able to (1) pinpoint their feelings, (2) know why they are feeling it, and (3) take measures in order to either keep that feeling alive or attempt to dispel it.

If you are able to determine both (1) and (2), then (3) will come easier. You have to know what the problem is in order to fix it.

Pinpointing a feeling involves looking at the situation of which the feeling was aroused. The context of which the feeling exists will allow for the feeling to be properly examined. If you feel tense in a classroom you may be nervous about a test if there is one that day. If there is not, you may have to look at other relevant facts. Perhaps you didn't do the reading for the day, perhaps there is something going on later in the day that you are excited about. Of course, a case this simple does not need a psychologist; it is relatively easy to see what the emotion is.

What about harder cases though? There are some times when there is an underlying emotion digging away throughout the day and it is hard to determine exactly what it is and what is causing it. In cases like this it is important to examine your thoughts throughout the day. Our thoughts have a profound effect upon our daily activities and mood. There are some times when our thoughts go on without our noticing, when we don't take time to examine what it is we are actually thinking about.

Through the examination of your thoughts you can begin to see the pattern in your thinking. Perhaps you find that you are worried about a loved one or you may feel as though you are not living up to your own expectations. These recurring thoughts may make you feel irritable. You are more likely to lash out about things that before you had laughed about.

It is imperative to be able to gain the self-awareness necessary to understand your emotions. Emotions in themselves are not necessarily bad, but they always have something to teach us about ourselves.

Going Deeper

What is it that emotions can teach us? If we are feeling an emotion, we must examine the situation relevant to the emotion or we must examine our own thoughts. There is an underlying theme that arises from this examination. By asking the all-important question of "why?" we are able to see what we are valuing in this particular situation. If we are nervous about taking a test, we can see that we highly value doing well on this test. If we are irritable because of thoughts about a loved one's health, we can see that we value this person's health.

From these values arise expectations. If we value a thing enough we attach an "ought" to the value. If we value doing well on tests, then we believe we "ought" to do well on these tests. We "expect" ourselves to do well.

It is the key idea of expectations that is the subject of this article. By examining a situation involved with an emotion enough, we are able to see our expectations in relation to that situation, and with any luck, we will be able to see expectations that we apply universally, or in all situations.

Thus, emotions and expectations are essentially linked. By realizing your expectations you gain an advantage over your emotions, you can cut them from the base.


The Degree of Difference

An emotion is a difference between the expectation involved in a certain situation and what actually occurs in the situation. The larger this difference, the stronger the emotion. When things go exactly as expected, no emotion occurs. For example, say you are sitting in a classroom awaiting the return of a test. You studied for the test but still knew you could have done better and you expect to get a solid B. The teacher hands the test back and you notice the grade. Your face goes pale, you become serious. Someone is talking to you but you don't really listen.

How on earth could I have gotten a low D?

You are stunned. The lowest you expected was a middle C. Someone begins laughing next to you so you look at him. He proudly exclaims that he got a low D on the test. You wonder how he can be proud of such a poor grade. He, while smiling, tells you that he thought he would get less than a 50%. The grade, for him, is a victory while for you it is a failure.

This example shows how our expectations shape how we react to the world. If the world keeps to our expectations, we have no strong reaction.

There is a problem with this view though. Our expectations in life are not so clear cut as they are on a simple test. You cannot describe your emotions in exact language, only hope to pinpoint them as much as possible; find the range in which they fit. This is because the world never really conforms to every single stipulation we place on it. Even things we have done habitually get screwed up once in a while. Sometimes finding your shoes in the morning becomes the most frustrating thing you've ever encountered.

The shoes have become such a deep ingrained part of your life, when something goes out of place, your expectation is not met.

In summary, then, even our subtle emotions are affected by our expectations as these expectations are never a single point or single thought. The greater the difference though, between expectation and occurrence, the stronger the emotion.

How to Use this Information

I have attempted to show how it is possible to know both (1) and (2), but now what about (3)? If you know the expectation causing you to feel a certain emotion, you can begin to see whether or not this expectation is really founded on solid ground. Should you really believe that you will never lose a shoe once in a while? Shit happens as they say, so you really shouldn't hold on to expectations which cannot be met.

As humans, though, we always have expectations about the way things will go. The key is to know what these are and to realize that our expectations are not always fulfilled. Sometimes things can go wrong, sometimes we lose, but through it all, we can always learn something about ourself.


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