Before the Holidays: Check Your Expectations

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. — Michael J. Fox

In the past couple of weeks, I have begun to hear the November litany.  You know the one. Maybe you even chant it yourself.  “Oh, no. The holidays are coming. I hate the holidays.”  I’ve written about this in the past, as well (you can find “Self-Care 101: If you Hate the Holidays” right here).  I think that the retail “holiday selling season” that begins on November 1st and now includes Black Friday sales starting at 8 pm Thanksgiving day has only increased the sense of holiday siege.

This year, I want to focus on something that I addressed a bit in last year’s post–expectations. You know–the idea that your Thanksgiving feast will look like a Food Network special, or that your family will magically give up their dysfunctional patterns.  The idea that the next two months should be filled with togetherness and joy.  The relentless barrage of “think happy, buy happy.”  The idea that New Year’s Eve will look like a scene from a romantic comedy.  That you will be able to do the same kinds of holiday activities as you could before your diagnosis. No time of year are we as surrounded by expectations as the holiday stretch.

One of the activities that I use in session is to invite clients to take a look at what their expectations are for an upcoming event.  So today, I’m inviting you to do the same thing.  Here are some of the questions I normally ask.  If you have a few minutes, I’d encourage you to jot down your answers–writing things is incredibly helpful in processing them.

  • When you think about the next six weeks, how do you feel?  It’s okay if this list includes feelings that seem to contradict one another.
  • As you look at your feelings about the holidays, are any of them connected with expectations? (Hint: You can recognize an expectation if it includes messages about what you could or should experience, feel, or think during the holidays.)
  • If you look at your expectations, how many of them are about things that are under your control? (Hint: If the expectation includes the behavior of anyone else, it’s not under your control.)
  • As you look at the list of things that are under your control, do any of them require you to drastically change your feelings (ignore grief, accept a major life change, etc)?  If so, is there a way to soften those expectations, to include more self-compassion?
  • Setting the expectations aside, is there something about the holiday season that you think you will enjoy?  How can you build in more of that?
  • What tools do you have in place to keep your self-care a priority, even if the rest of the season is stressful or disappointing?

Did you get a good look at the quotation at the top of the post? If not, scroll back up there.  That’s a whole lot of wisdom in one little sentence.  So, as you approach the holiday season, maybe you can experiment with increasing your acceptance and de-emphasizing your expectations.  I’d love to hear how that experiment goes.

And by the way, if you try the suggestions from last year’s post, and you do an expectations check, and you are still having a rough go of it–maybe it’s time for you to get a little extra support.  You can always check in with me by email or phone to learn more about therapy.


Image Credit: Breaking Glass by Tom Hilton via Flickr

12 thoughts on “Before the Holidays: Check Your Expectations

  1. I think it’s a big mistake to expect oneself or anyone else to feel a certain way, anytime. This is especially true when someone is facing a new problematic/stressful life challenge. Those expectations are just an added burden. Besides, if we stay open to our own experience, whatever it is and to whatever comes up for others, we approach the opportunity for personal knowledge and interpersonal intimacy.
    Let’s try to stop pressuring ourselves and each other!

    1. Paula,

      Welcome! It is always great to hear new voices here. “Let’s try to stop pressuring ourselves and one another.” That’s a thought I can get fully behind. We can offer so much kindness to one another. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Hi Ann,
    This is a great exercise. I like the way you sort out what we have control of and what we don’t. I that I need to do this kind of assessment for myself a few times during the holiday season. Right now I’m clear that I won’t get into the need to “buy more to show I care” trap or the “bake more to show I care” trap, but past experience tells me that I’ll get seduced.
    I remember an old friend telling me he’d know when to retire by asking himself, “Am I having fun?” It’s a good question for the holiday season as well.
    Wishing you a fine holiday season.

  3. Those are some great questions to ask, Ann! I especially like, “Hint: If the expectation includes the behavior of anyone else, it’s not under your control.” There are so many “special moments” that could happen during the holiday season, it’s impossible to capture them all, even if you could be in holiday mode 24-7 for the next month. Setting more realistic expectations is a good place to start.

Leave a Reply