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Losing Harapan: Managing Expectations in #MalaysiaBaru


Surging number of posts on social media are keeping a close eye on the promises of the new government in Malaysia. There are even numerous tools and apps created just to do this. On the positive side, this is an encouraging sign of the pro-activeness of people at large who are invested in holding our government responsible for its words and actions.

However, there are also people who are dissatisfied with the current progress. As the 100 days get closer, there seem to be more and more people with feelings of disappointment. Some are disappointed when the changes they want to see are not effective immediately. For some, the change that is happening is not the change they hoped for.

What do we do when our expectations are not met?

There are a few common strategies many have used to manage their expectations. Some people reduce their levels of expectation. Some try to expect nothing at all and go with the flow. Some rationalise to themselves: “It has only been 77 days. I’ll give them the 5 years they have to carry out their duties and try to fulfill as many as they possibly can.”

Most of these strategies are attempts to reduce personal expectations. Conversely, this tends to lead to the next familiar question: “Does it mean we should never expect at all?” For some, it may be easier to manage expectations toward something more distant, such as the government, which does not seem to have a direct impact on their lives. But how do we maintain our expectations especially when we are relating with our friends, family or loved ones?

When do we expect?

When we are choosing never to expect anymore (keyword: never), we are putting ourselves in a rigid and challenging position. More often than not, we are aware that when we choose to “never” expect anymore, we are likely to choose to “completely” disengage and disconnect from the situation/person. Do we really want that? Can we? How do we stay connected and engaged with the people we care about most?

Step 1) Acknowledge our expectations

The first step is to be aware that we tend to have some — if not many — expectations, despite our best effort to reduce them. When we acknowledge our beliefs about the future, we are first and foremost taking care of ourselves by believing in ourselves. Secondly, we are also giving ourselves an opportunity to evaluate our to-do list or our wish list. This leads us to Step 2.

Step 2) Tweak our expectations

Instead of not expecting at all, and instead of reducing our expectations, we create smaller, achievable goals. Most of us can recognize that some of our goals are unachievable with the given current resources. It is definitely not wrong to have a higher ambition or expectation. But the purpose of goals is to keep moving towards the same direction, with smaller bitesize and achievable steps. This will not only create a pool of positive resources but it will also keep us grounded.

Step 3) Practice Self-Affirmation

When we find ourselves expecting, especially in an intimate relationship, we are in fact in a vulnerable position. To be in a position to expect is to be in a position to desire, and sometimes, to need. And to be in a position to need puts us at the mercy of another person to fulfill our needs. When we have feelings of disappointment, anger, sadness or resentment from unmet expectations, we tend to feel we are unworthy of that person.

Therefore, it is crucial, and utmost important, to remember that there is no pre-requisite to our worth. We are 100% worthy — with or without our expectations met by others. We can, of course, feel disappointment but that does not reflect our worth. When we are able to recognize our own worth, we are able to continuously be able to engage and expect from our friends, family, loved ones, and our government without having to resort to totally no expectations.

Step 4) Be a part of, and apart

Many people find that we have to choose between being independent versus being dependent. Being dependent makes us focus on our vulnerabilities or our weaknesses. Sometimes this causes us to keep our expectations private, move away, or become disengaged. We want to stay close and connected to people who are important to us, but instead we find ourselves unable to, because we could no longer count on or depend on them.

The paradox, however, is that the more dependent we are the more likely we can be independent. The more we are a part of our family, our friends, and our loved ones, the more adventurous and independent we can become. When we are willing to risk ourselves to become more vulnerable we are also taking a courageous step forward in the presence of fear.

Therefore, part of managing our expectations is to become more aware towards our areas of vulnerability. We become independent when we are able to take care of ourselves — by knowing how to take risks in expressing our expectations and requests. When we make a request or expectation, we are both independent and dependent. We are both apart, and a part of the relationship with others.

What do we do as a minority in managing our expectations?

However, an underlying assumption of having “expectations” within a relationship is that the partners have similar levels of social, economic, and/or political power. When there is a difference in power in a relationship, it is no longer a simple matter of just managing expectations.

For example, the LGBT community is a minority group. The community is oppressed, marginalized, and even criminalized for their sexuality and gender identity and expression. With the present government’s conservative standpoint towards LGBT, it further creates a disparity in power distribution.

When there is no positive support and societal structures and platform to support this community, it is no longer just about managing expectations. Instead, it is about creating and managing access to fundamental human rights and increasing personal resources to take care of ourselves.

Step 1) Identify Personal Needs

The first step is to learn to be aware of our own needs. Create a list of our strengths and abilities. What are our limitations? What are the things that people will say or do that will break us or motivate us? How do we cope during adversity? Do we have the necessary information and contact numbers when we are in danger? What are our safety limits? What will help us meet our goals in a relationship, family, or financial safety?

Step 2) Identify Our Resources

The next step is to find out who and where can we get the help to address our needs. Essentially, if you are reading this, is created precisely to address some of the needs to which we can refer. Which pro-LGBT NGOs are supportive and have the necessary information? Which lawyers are pro-LGBT? Who are pro-LGBT financial advisors, lawyers, doctors, and counsellors? Where do we find the right support groups? Who are they? Where are they?

Step 3) Build Personal Capacities

Invest time in ourselves by improving both our self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is our belief in our own ability to achieve goals. Many may have heard the words “As long as you have a will”. However, continuous deprivation of access to safety and belonging can have a significant impact on a person’s positivity and ability to continue to thrive. Creating a better sense of self-efficacy will lead to better self-esteem. But as members of a minority group facing many obstacles towards healthy self-esteem, it also helps to build each other up communally. When we have a stronger belief in our own ability to achieve our goals, we are also able to have a better view of our own worth. And a better view of our own worth helps us to fight for what we deserve.

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Karen Wong is a licensed and registered counselor at New Health Counselling focusing on relationships. When she’s not a therapist, she teaches psychology and programs software and apps.

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