November 17, 2023

When the holidays aren’t what we hoped or expected

Lifestyle & Pop Culture

I am thinking about all of you who are coming up on big days.

The holidays and all of the gatherings, events, and feelings they bring can be a lot.

Maybe your family or your relationships don’t look like you hoped or dreamed.

Maybe something’s hard. Something’s strained. Something never was. Something’s not what you hoped for or wished for. And thus the holidays come with a big shopping cart full of anxiety and even dread.

How do we manage these very real feelings of disappointment and even loss?

I have a few ideas… none of these are magic, all they can do is sort of grab us by our little hands and walk us through the hard parts.

1. Write down what you feel like is missing.

I learned to do this in therapy and thus did this a lot. Whatever it is that you feel like you’re missing or that you never had, write it down.

Maybe it goes something like this:

  • “These are words that I would have loved to hear.”
  • “This is what I wish I had.”
  • “This is what I wish was different.”
  • “I wish this relationship was like this.
  • “I wish I didn’t have to walk on eggshells in this.”

Something about putting pen to paper takes away some of the power of these thoughts, so they are not swimming around in our minds anymore.

2. Write down what you do have.

If you can access this idea, consider what you DO have. While this particular day or this experience isn’t what you may have wanted, write down what you do have.

Think about what is worthy of noticing… it can be the tiniest positive thing. Whatever it is, say what you’re grateful for.

  • “I’m thankful for this.”
  • “I’m glad for this.”
  • “I can experience joy inside this.”
  • “I have this person.”
  • “It is worth noticing this.”

3. Manage your expectations 

Take people at their word of who they are and how they have been. Therefore, it can be helpful to expect what you’re probably going to have and what you’ve already experienced.

Don’t anticipate that something will magically be different this year. Those expectations are a source of a lot of our pain.

4. Employ boundaries.

When needed, employ boundaries. Maybe you need to make a decision that you’re not going somewhere — or that something is going to be different this year. Or maybe you just go for two hours. You get to decide how much to let in and how much to leave out.

This is healthy. And you can do it lovingly with a lot of respect and kindness. It doesn’t have to be contentious. It can just be clear.

I know personally what it is like when relationships are challenging around this time of year — or when relationships may have changed.

Sending you love and wishing for this season to be as lovely as possible for you.

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