Celebrating the holidays without expectations can be challenging even for those of us who live an authentic life. How many of us dread the holidays because we have difficulty saying no, declining an invitation, or setting firm boundaries with our family members? Whether it be family traditions we feel obligated to continue, or relatives we feel we must visit, our minds are filled with endless to-do lists, expectations and obligations at this particular time of year. Instead of it being a time of beauty, quiet reflection, and a celebration of our hearts, it becomes stressful and anxiety-ridden trying to live up to the expectations of ourselves and others.
As the holidays approach, we often have difficulty finding time in our busy schedules to be quiet and listen inwardly. Yet, this automatically sets us up to follow the dictates of our head instead of our heart. These mental dictates such as “I must” or “I should” can get us into situations in which we would rather not be involved, such as going to a family holiday gathering we would prefer not to attend. Such an expectation or obligation can also be triggered when a person suddenly calls and asks if you are free without telling you the plans they have in mind. You then may feel obligated to answer “yes,” leaving you vulnerable to committing to an event in which you may have no interest in or may compromise you in an unhealthy way.
In such situations, it is essential that you practice healthy detachment. Patterns such as approval seeking, people pleasing, or insecurity surface especially during the holidays because they are so fraught with expectations. Red flags such as blame, attack or defensiveness signal that a pattern has emerged. Practice pausing when you react, stepping back from the situation and asking yourself: Why am reacting to this person or situation? What is going on with me that I need to shift? Instead of taking another person’s reaction personally, stay detached by not trying to fix their problem, work out their issues, and remind them that you love them and are hear for them. Next, instead of reacting in anger, frustration or irritation, respond from a more positive perspective—for instance, asking if you can call the person back. Finally, affirm to yourself that you always have the power of choice and inform the person of your preference.
For example, I have hosted Thanksgiving at my home for almost thirty years. I look forward to creating a sacred celebration completely different from the chaotic, tumultuous, and conditional holidays I experienced as a child. This year, however, my daughter being separated from her boyfriend while attending medical school decided to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with him. At the same time, my son and daughter-in-law having just moved into their new home invited my husband and me to spend it with them. Instead of laying a guilt trip on my children for not coming home for the holiday, I had to let go of any expectation that Thanksgiving was at my house and with my entire family. Not having an expectation, I wasn’t setting myself or anybody else up for disappointment. I wanted my children to share the holiday with me not out of obligation but from their true intent of what was best for them. So I graciously accepted my son’s invitation.
Then I fielded the next curve ball when my husband decided that he wanted to stay home. First, I had let go of my children coming home now I was being challenged to let go of my husband and I being together-we had never been apart for the holidays. At first, I offered every accommodation I could come up with such as driving instead of flying, bringing our dog Cammi with us, staying at a hotel, and getting an early start home. His preference, however, was to have relaxing down time. As much as I wanted to share this time with him, I knew I must release any expectation and let it all be. I am now flying to Washington DC by myself for Thanksgiving.
Having expectations of ourselves, others, or situations can create energy blocks that interrupt the flow of positive energy because, in becoming attached to particular outcomes, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Not honoring our hearts, leads to resentment and stifles the creation of new possibilities. Moreover, attachments to specific results often prohibit the possibility of even better outcomes by keeping us locked within certain perimeters of intention and perspective.
- Be receptive to new experiences, ideas, and people in your daily routine. Let go of any comfort zones, expected outcomes, and welcome the enhanced love, joy, and play that streams into your life.
- Practice letting things be. Focus your energies on your own life, and stop micromanaging others. Encourage yourself to live without judging present situations or resenting past ones.
- Make more discerning choices by listening to your heart instead of your head. If anyone or anything does not feel aligned with your authentic self, trust your intuition, and change the situation as soon as possible.
- Give yourself permission to break with tradition: Give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Be open to creating new experiences and breaking the predictable patterns of what you’ve always done around the holidays. Take a short get-away, visit friends, and spend more relaxed time with yourself.
- Practice giving yourself permission by doing one or both of the following activities: (a) Telling yourself, “I give myself permission to __________.” (b) Expressing your authentic self in some way.