Grieving the Loss of Unmet Expectations, Hopes, & Dreams

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Have you ever reflected on your life and thought, “I never imagined my life would look like this.” For some, this thought can bring feelings of excitement, joy, and gratitude. But for many others, this same thought brings about feelings of sadness, disappointment, and even anger.

Like with the loss of a loved one, grief can show up for us when we experience the loss of unmet expectations, hopes, and dreams. Perhaps you always dreamed of moving out of state, but instead you’re living in your hometown. Or maybe you always hoped for a nurturing relationship with your mom, yet all these years later, that longing still hasn’t been met. When ungrieved, these losses can hang over us and may even lead to resentment, shame, depression, or anxiety.

So what do we do? As with any loss, we can move towards healing through the process of grieving.

How to Grieve the Loss of Unmet Expectations, Hopes, and Dreams

Name the loss.

  • Many of us try to avoid or ignore our losses. They can be painful. They can be scary. They can be full of unknowns. How long will I experience the pain of this loss? What else will it expose in me? Naming the loss may even feel like a betrayal to ourselves or others. But without first identifying the loss, we won’t know what part of our story may need healing.

Examples of Unmet Expectations, Hopes, and Dreams

  • Relationships – with parents, adult children, spouse, friends, neighbors
  • Career – what you do for work, where you work, how many hours you work, how much money you make, how satisfied you are with your work
  • Family life – married, separated, divorced, single, kids, no kids, timeline of family life
  • Living situation – where you live, who you live with, type of housing you have
  • Health – physical capabilities, mental capacity, aging

Feel the loss.

  • After you’ve named the loss, you can begin to feel the emotions from it. Perhaps you’ve been numb to the loss. Perhaps you’ve been overwhelmed by the loss. After naming the loss, you can begin to fully experience the range of emotions that come with it – from sadness to disappointment to apathy to anger and anything in between.

Accept the loss.

  • Oftentimes once we name the loss and begin to feel the emotions that come with it, we are more ready and able to move towards accepting the loss. As we move into acceptance, we are more able to be present with what we do have instead of wishing and wanting what we don’t have. Acceptance can feel like a release.

Be kind to yourself through the loss.

  • As much as we desire a clear path to moving through our grief, there are still often many unknowns. Even as you move towards healing, there still may be waves of difficult emotions like sadness or disappointment. Offer yourself kindness and understanding, as you would a friend or family member, as you move towards naming, feeling, and accepting the hurts of your losses.

As you consider beginning the process of grieving the loss of your unmet expectations, hopes, and dreams, what do you want or need to make space for this process? Making space for grieving your losses may look like a conversation with a friend, reflecting through journaling, or working on it in counseling. If you feel overwhelmed with where to begin, try setting a timer for ten minutes and write anything that comes to mind in one of the categories listed above. Whatever your process looks like, may it begin to bring you healing.

BreAnna Fiala, LLC


Carol S
I find most people do not recognize they are experiencing grief when they are going through a period of unmet expectations, hopes and dreams. This is particularly true of children and adolescents, who have no knowledge of how to respond emotionally to such feelings. More information needs to be made available on this subject in order to help them. Many adults/parents and their circumstances prevent them from getting the help they need. Thank you for acknowledging there are other reasons for grief, other than the passing of a loved one.
November 5, 2023
Nick Burner, MDiv, MA, LLC
Thank you for this accessible framework for navigating grief well, BreAnna! I think that so many of us need this reminder in our particular seasons of grief (whether they are ongoing or isolated to distinct months or years). Thank you for creating space to process whatever unique loss(es) our grief may represent.
February 13, 2023