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Excluding instinctual and other innate behaviors, everything we do is preceded by an implicit or explicit fantasy concerning the effects of our action. Can you imagine doing anything without having a sense of what might happen as a consequence of your doing it? You flick a switch that normally turns the lights on; the image of the room's becoming illuminated precedes the action. Without an image to guide an undertaking, no directed action could occur, and generated gestures would be haphazard, as in the newborn infant.
Once an ego has developed, conscious or unconscious intention is built into almost all human action. We may not always be aware of what we intend and/or of what we are doing. But an underlying motivator can generally be discovered and identified for everything we do. Actions that derive from intentions are preceded by fantasies associated with expectations. For example, we intend to go to the market to shop. Acting upon that intent carries with it expectations of successfully walking to the car, unlocking the door, starting the engine, reaching the market, obtaining needed items, paying for them, and all the numerous detailed movements to carry out the task. Preceding each step in the series of actions are fantasies (dynamic images) that give rise to expectations that what is accomplished will be identical with those fantasies. That is, we generally look forward to being successful in actualizing the fantasies and in avoiding the occurrence of any imagined obstacles.
I propose that there are two distinct forms of expectation: "statistical expectation" and "need expectation". While both types of expectation imply an anticipation of a future occurrence, "statistical expectation" differs from "need expectation" in that the latter carries an emotionally loaded insistence on a particular outcome of an act, while pure "statistical expectation" - free from need - simply relies on past experience without exigency of any kind. (Please note that, for this discussion, frustration, a natural response to obstacles, is not considered an emotion.) We shall start off with some examples of "statistical expectation."
If we flick or press a light switch to turn on the lamps in a room, past experience leads us to expect that the previously darkened room will become illuminated. If we call a bank or the telephone company, we can anticipate that the call will be answered by a computer that directs us to push a particular series of buttons, hopefully so that the information we seek will ultimately be accessed. If we turn the key to our car's ignition, we expect the motor to turn over. In these examples, the form of expectation depends upon having had previous experiences that lead us to anticipate a particular outcome - most of the time. There may be rare occasions when flicking the switch does not turn the lights on, perhaps because the bulbs have burned out or the switch is defective. The computerized bank may change its telephone menu, or the computer may be down and a real person might answer the telephone (fat chance!). And in the car that doesn't start, the battery may have died or the starter may have worn out. The probability of an action leading to the expected outcome is determined by the relative number of times it has been successful in the past vs. the number of times it has been unsuccessful. Even if a particular action has never been unsuccessful in the past, other life experiences have undoubtedly taught us that any undertaking can fail at times. Expectation of the success of such events, therefore, has a statistical basis, even though we may not know the precise probabilities that apply to a particular action.
"Need expectation" differs from pure "statistical expectation" in that the former is emotionally loaded. When the inner image becomes an exigent requirement placed upon a future event, one has a feeling response to that image even before the event occurs. Such emotions as excitement and joy can be felt when anticipating a desired occurrence; guilt, fear, and dread are a few of the emotions that arise when foreseeing an unwanted happening, such as being fired from a job, hammering out a divorce agreement, or facing someone's anger or accusation. Once an anticipated event has occurred and the expectation has been resolved, we often experience a sense of relief. If a positive outcome was anticipated, pleasure, joy, or gratification may be combined with relief. Disappointment arises when a pleasurable expectation is not met. Disappointment can also result from having a negative expectation, such as in the following example: Responding to a boss's summons, a worker expects (and even hopes a little) to be laid off from a boring job, yet fears becoming financially challenged if s/he is without work. Finally, s/he ends up not losing the job after all. Probable result: a combination of relief and disappointment. Not all failed expectation leads to disappointment, but disappointment always follows from "need expectation."
Disappointment and relief do not occur when "need expectation" is absent, implying a freedom from emotional tension. Responses to a failed purely "statistical expectation" have an emotionless quality, such as in the reaction, "Oh, it looks as if I shall have to do something about it." This comment represents an attitude of detached acceptance of that which cannot be altered by our will, e.g., a malfunction or situational change. The unexpected simply IS. We can stoically decide to try to adapt to or repair the predicament, or we might decide to ignore it and take a different approach altogether. However, an accepting response does not exclude feelings of frustration. If we are trying to get to an appointment and the car won't start, that is very likely to arouse the feeling of frustration, which is a basic animal response to having a barrier placed between our intention and our goal. But as humans, we have the capacity to recognize frustration and to convert its energy into helping us find a way do deal with the situation.
We have all heard the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." To "try" implies intention and an expectation of accomplishing something. Persistence can be a virtue in that it stimulates creativity, promotes accomplishment, and puts off resignation to failure. For healthy (non-stressful) persistence, "statistical expectation," even when it relies heavily on intuition, is invaluable. In essence, one wagers on a particular outcome. If the expectation is met, that is rewarding; if not, the failure merely serves to stimulate further efforts. Think of Edison trying to create the light bulb and the Wright Brothers striving to create a flying machine. It is my understanding that although there were numerous repeated efforts in generating these inventions, there were no emotional tantrums, and each failure added to their challenge to succeed.
In another of my essays, "The Inner Drama," I discuss Carl Jung's idea of viewing the human personality as an ensemble of sub-personalities, which are image complexes representing the inherent archetypes, which I refer to organs of the psyche. The sub-personalities interact in us to create a kind of drama in response to what is going on in and around us. Perhaps the most prominent parts of the psyche are the inner Child, Mother, Father, and Hero.
When viewed from the point of view of the inner drama, "need expectation" usually involves the Child, that archetypal complex in us that insists, "I want! I want, and I want what I want right now!" Most, if not all, "I want" insistences appear to originate from the inner Child that feels disregarded and neglected. If an act fails, and if the inner Hero is not available to come to the rescue to initiate an effective action, the disappointed Child may respond in an extreme way: either with even more intense and persistent demands or with utter resignation generated from feelings of helplessness, betrayal, and defeat. Responses by the inner child can have the form, "How dare this occur!" and "I'll show them!" OR "How could this happen to me?" and "Now what do I do?" If, in addition, the down-putting, guilt-inducing Critic (the hurtful aspect of the Father archetype) enters the internal drama, the Child takes in and responds with guilt to criticisms such as, "You idiot; you should have seen that problem was coming!" or "What's wrong with you? Can't you figure that out?" or "You should know better; you just don't have what it takes." Attending to these attacks has the circular effect of keeping the personality bound to the Child in an unconscious prison of impotence, dependency and debilitating self-recriminations.
"Need expectation" appears to have its roots in our developmental history and stems from the way we are treated in childhood. For example, as children, we might learn that our parents expect us to demonstrate affection to them. Then, as adults and parents, we may have the same expectations of our own children, and be upset if they don't comply. Our needy expectations lead us into lives of anxiety and essentially keep us prisoner of unconscious demands that preclude inner peace. Letting go of the insistence on a particular outcome can help us achieve a connection with our center and the soul.
On occasions when "need expectation" enters into a "statistical expectation," guilt and/or other emotions dominate one's reactions. For example, if a light switch fails to work or the car won't start, the ego can be identified with the inner Child desperately needing them to operate successfully. Relief generally follows success, but with a lack of success, disappointment and anger are likely to result. The emotional response to the disappointment can be exacerbated if the inner Critic attacks the Child with deprecating judgments. When that happens, the victimized Child can feel frightened, responsible, and guilty even when a "statistical expectation" fails, i.e., when the unwanted outcome is an independent, random occurrence and not at all linked to the person's actions, capabilities, or responsibility.
Are there advantages or benefits from living with and without rigid expectations? The answer to this question is very complex. Probably all of us have been exposed to literature or dramas that portray a stereotypical parent or guardian who insists upon severely restrictive boundaries, discipline, and expectations for their children. If a child has a strong personality, this kind of severity can help the child learn to set high standards and goals and achieve them, or the child might rebel against authority and purposefully avoid self-imposed accomplishments. If the child is weak, severity can be the support that is needed to achieve goals, but it can also break the child's spirit and might even result in self destruction. The opposite stereotype also exists, where the parent may set boundaries and provide consistent discipline, but does not impose expectations on their children. This is possible when the parent's effort is to maintain a degree of order without setting achievement goals or other requirements for the children to reach. When the parent is available to offer guidance, the child in this situation can feel free to make personal decisions, and learn personal responsibility. However if the child inherently needs to know what is expected in order to act, s/he will feel lost without it.
Clearly, a complete answer to the above question is not simple, but in general, there can be advantages and disadvantages to both. To analyze them, it would be necessary to discuss each of the eight possible combinations, viz., the advantages and disadvantages of rigid "statistical expectation" with and without "need expectation," and the advantages and disadvantages of rigid "need expectation" with and without "statistical expectation." For the time being, I shall leave it to the reader to imagine the responses to this question based upon what has been discussed above regarding the nature of the two forms of expectation.