The Criminal's Unrealistic Expectations

Ignoring a criminal's expectations can have disastrous consequences.

Posted Jan 09, 2020

“Me, I expect nothing at all,” said Joe Easter, a major character in Sinclair Lewis’s 1926 novel Mantrap. He advised his companions, “Don’t expect [a person] to be something she isn’t. Got to take everybody in this world the way they are.”

Joe Easter’s way of thinking is completely antithetical to the way in which criminals function. The criminal believes that others should fulfill his requirements and treat him as he deems they should. “I made myself into a little god,” reflected one felon while referring to how he thought that people must measure up to his expectations. He expected others to hold him in high regard, not because of any particular achievement, but because he was who he was.

Taking others as they are requires a person to suspend his beliefs about how things should be for a more realistic appraisal of how life really is. The consequences of holding unrealistic expectations are costly and can be lethal. Kyle demanded that his wife Emma sign a document so they could take out a $100,000 loan. When she hesitated and asked questions, he became incensed. Kyle did not expect to be questioned. In his mind, he already had obtained the loan and was planning how he would put the money to work starting a new business. Emma’s questioning him resulted in Kyle screaming at her, then assaulting her.

Criminals frequently refer to “my woman.” This is not just an expression but it indicates that the criminal considers that person to be his servant, someone who will do his bidding without reservation. “His woman” is expected to do what she is told and to anticipate his future needs. If she fails to satisfy him, she may become the recipient of emotional or physical abuse.

The criminal looks at people only through the lens of what he wants now and in the future. He does not put himself in the place of others, because he does not care about their needs. Ernie expected each evening that when he arrived home from work, his wife Jean would greet him enthusiastically, have dinner ready, and that he could later retreat to his favorite chair and watch television without interruption from any of their three young children. Jean strived to make life as pleasant as possible for her husband. No matter how hard she tried, he’d complain, and she would feel badly for disappointing him. Ernie’s evenings never were as perfect as he expected. It didn’t matter to him that Emma might be tired after cleaning the house, running errands, cooking, and spending most of the day looking after their children. Rarely did Ernie offer to help with cooking, cleaning, or child care. Many evenings were ruined by his berating Jean or a child for something they did or failed to do.

Because he is indifferent to others’ needs, hopes, and desires, the criminal rarely accepts people as they are. Other people are important to the extent that they meet his requirements. Although in contact with reality, the criminal is not realistic in the way he sizes up situations and appraises people. I recall one criminal’s description of a woman whom he had started dating. He rated her as though he had been shopping for a new car, focusing on her hair, eyes, physique, voice, and how much money he thought she had. There was no mention of this woman’s personality, interests, or anything else about her. Everything was about whether she suited his bill of particulars and would fulfill his expectations.  

The criminal is unrealistic even in his expectations of himself. He frequently makes outlandish statements maintaining that he could accomplish something for which he has no education or training. He puts on a show of being informed even when he lacks basic information. He expects others to affirm the image of himself that he holds. If they do not, they may bear the brunt of his anger.

Basic to change is having a criminal become aware of his unrealistic expectations and learning to do what Joe Easter advised: to view others as they are.