We all live our lives with a myriad of expectations that prepare us for what is going to happen in the coming moments, hours, days, or weeks. We expect and then anticipate what we are confident will occur, making whatever preparations are needed to meet those expectations.
Sometimes our expectations are based on what we have experienced in the past and how much we trust what others share with us. If someone tells us a local store has a certain toy one of our children wants for Christmas, we expect to find that toy there when we head over – we trust our friend and expect what they tell us will be true. If every year we are invited to our grandparents’ home for Christmas dinner and everyone expects us to bring our famous home-made coleslaw, we are pleased when the call comes in and the expected request for coleslaw is made. We do not have to expend any energy on emotions of surprise or disappointment.
Expectations are based on past history and trusting that history will repeat itself. Expectations can provide a sense of peace. We don’t have to spend time noticing what is going on and generating a bunch of plans to allow us to meet those expectations.
Why is this helpful information especially at this time of year?
Our human energy is finite. During the holidays, there are so many more demands on us and so many more expectations to perform in certain ways. We are also expected to take responsibility for managing the many details related to the holidays, in addition to managing all the expectations for everyday life. We often are expending large amounts of energy to meet the expectations we are experiencing. Perhaps we are expected to fulfill dreams, make our homes look extra festive, write letters and personal notes to a myriad of our family and friends, and stay organized (just don’t look under the bed or in some of the closets where we have stuffed things we will deal with later).
For some of us, we find ourselves less than joyful and instead overwhelmed, frustrated, and even angry because of all that is being demanded of us that we did not sign up for. Expectations can be imposed by others without our permission and we may not know we have the right to set limits on those expectations. Sometimes a spouse expects their partner should take on all the responsibilities connected with the holidays while they just sit back and watch old movies or sports on television. Deep down it just doesn’t seem fair but we may not have taken the time to realize that expectations have been imposed on us and are zapping our energy.
Sometimes we are imposing expectations on ourselves because were trying to keep up with our neighbors or are trying to impress family and friends or have images based on what we’ve seen on social media, in movies, or in our friends’ homes. I have a friend who seems to almost magically transform the outside of his house with precisely hung lights and is able to decorate the inside of his house in a matter of a few hours. He has everything all organized in boxes from the previous year and just puts it all together with great efficiency. I think he just expects that he can do it and indeed he does. Meanwhile, I didn’t take the time to put everything away carefully the year before and have to go through the eight bins of decorations to decide what I should put out and then untangle all the lights I threw in a bin that will take me hours to untangle. It is unfair if I expect that I will suddenly become highly organized and efficient and yet it is so easy to feel I am failing because I expect that I could be just as efficient as my friend.
Discovering it’s okay to pause and consider the many expectations we are attempting to meet and claiming our power to choose to say no even to ourselves when there are expectations of perfection imposed on us. Traditions are lovely but not when they create so much stress on us because of spoken or unspoken expectations. We can decide it’s okay to disappoint someone who has imposed expectations on us. We can even put words to that. “I’m pretty sure you expect me to purchase and wrap all the presents for our family and friends. I can feel myself resenting the pressure that puts on me now that our family has expanded so much. I’d like to discuss with you how we can divide up the tasks so that we each have fair expectations to meet.”
Pausing to notice and then evaluate expectations to determine how fair and reasonable they are is an important form of self-care, especially at this time of year. Deciding who you are trying to please, how fair your expectations are, or the expectations imposed on you by others provides opportunities for you to reduce stress and pressure in what is supposed to be a joyful time of year. I hope you will take a deep breath and reflect on what is expected of you so you can make decisions that bring balance and fairness into your life. As a result, I expect you will have a more relaxed and therefore more joyful holiday season.
Invitation for Reflection
- What is expected of you during the holidays? Which of these expectations did you consciously choose and which were imposed on you?
- With each of these expectations, how fair and reasonable are they? Which ones need to be adjusted and how can you do that?
- To what extent is it okay to disappoint others who have imposed expectations on you?