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The Difference Between Expectation and Hope


“People who suffer a lot, often times do so, because they are cognitively wrong about what they think they have a right to expect.”

Abraham H. Maslow.


Are you someone who expects certain things from your partner, children, friends, family members, coworkers, or employer/employees? Do you notice that when what you expect doesn’t happen that you feel resentful, disappointed, hurt, frustrated, or angry? I often tell my clients that expectations are premeditated resentment.


Having expectations of others is a set-up for us. If what we are expecting does not occur, then we feel unease or uncomfortable to some degree. I am not suggesting that it is not okay to want and need certain things, or behaviors, from those in our personal and professional lives. I am saying, however, that there is a difference between expecting something versus hoping for it.

Whereas expectation is when you think something will happen but do not necessarily want it to happen. The expectation is rigid, clinging to unreal beliefs. The expectation is demanding precisely what we want to happen regardless of what is happening. The expectation is typically fixed and frozen. It is inflexible and rigid. It is unable to give or to bend or to change. Sadly, expectations are limited to our previous experiences. The worst part of expectations is what happens when we hold onto them. They infect and overwhelm us like a virus. They consume us like the plague. We are unable to give them up. We are unable to let go. Expectation influences our behavior and attitudes. It affects how we see the world. And then how we respond to it. An expectation does not leave any room for any other result. Either someone does something or says something that you expect or do not. This is about having an all-or-nothing perspective. So, is it no wonder that if we expect something from another and it does not happen that we feel resentful, disappointed, hurt, frustrated, or angry?


Hope, on the other hand, is much different. While the expectation is that something will happen, false or not, hope is the wish for something to happen. So basically, when you say I hope… it’s because you want that thing to happen, whether you think it’s possible or not. Hope is flexible. It is alive. It responds to all situations instead of battling against the ones that appear to be the opposite. Hope admits reality, always acknowledging what is but never resigning itself to what is. Hope allows others to grow. It desires suitable for another but gives them room to change over time. Hope is not limited by previous experience. We can hope for more than what we know. We can hope for something better. Our imaginations and dreams influence our hopes. Since hope admits uncertainty, it does not die when it goes unmet. A deferred hope does not kill the soul.


If we try to approach this differently by framing our thoughts as a request, a want, or a hope instead of an expectation, our emotional response is more likely to be less intense if what we ask for doesn’t happen. This means that we would instead think:

  • “I want this person to…” 
  • “I would like it if they would…” 
  • “It is important to me that…” 
  • “I hope this will happen…”

Utilizing this way of approaching a desire is less likely to have a tremendous emotional response and one that is more in proportion with what we are looking for from another person. Thus, making it less likely for us to have adverse reactions.


We may need to adjust our hopes, but we can always keep hoping. Hope helps us to keep moving forward. Hope fills us with life. If we hold to a false expectation, a belief that others will do and should be different than they are, it will poison our relationships. It will negatively influence how we see people and how we treat them. We will try to change them. When someone does not live up to our hopes, we can keep hoping for them because hope is flexible. We may adjust our hopes based on what we learned. We may even let go of our hopes realizing they were too unrealistic. But we can always have hope for them. There is no such thing as false hope.


Blessings, Jackie

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