Perhaps you will be asked if you will be traveling somewhere this Christmas. Perhaps you will be asked what food item you will contribute to an annual potluck. Perhaps others are expecting you to plan an event because you always plan said event. Perhaps you will be asked if you will be coming to a specific event or follow through with a particular tradition.

Will you sing, will you bring, will you dine, will you give, will you offer, will you come, will you call, will you travel, will you buy, will you read, will you respond, will you write, will you attend, will you remember? Will you… do?

This time of year is filled with expectations of any of the above.

We have expectations of ourselves, and others have expectations of us. Trying to navigate through all of those expectations can certainly turn into a headache, a truckload of stress. If certain expectations cannot be met, we may feel guilty for not pulling through—either for ourselves or for others.

Is it possible to dump that truckload of stress in the ditch?

I do not think it will be necessarily easy, but I do think it is possible.

We can most definitely have a voice in adjusting our own expectations. We can change expectations for ourselves. Are you imagining all that you must do and what others may be expecting from you? It is possible to adjust that picture.

The key, though, involves us and our own attitudes and reactions. We will need to adjust our own expectations. We alone possess the ability to determine what is healthy and best for us; others will not make those choices for us. It does not mean others will be happier with us, but it does mean we are making a healthier choice for ourselves.

Are you required to host several family functions for a week or organize work events? You may think you have an obligation and no one else can fulfill the task. The truth is, however, that if you were to say no, there may be some grumbling, but alternative solutions and adjustments would probably surface. Sometimes, we aren’t able to think beyond the way we’ve always done something to see what could be possible. And, it would give another person the opportunity to respond and use their gifts and talents, too.

I know there can be a bit of guilt in saying “no”, and there is that sinking feeling of disappointing people–not in an unhealthy way–but you know that if you can’t travel, for example, others will be disappointed not to see you. If you have to miss an event, some will be disappointed. That is going to be a reality.

The guilt in saying “no” also exists in the people-pleasing parts of our personalities. That sort of disappointment is dealt with on a personal level and realizing that others will indeed be disappointed–and coming to the conclusion that it’s ok, that we cannot possibly please everyone, and we aren’t meant to please everyone. Trying to please everyone is an exhausting way to live, and it surely isn’t living abundantly, wholly, and authentically.

We can’t change their disappointment, but we can decide how we react to it, and how we think about it.  

It is unhealthy, however, if you are shamed for your decisions with accusing talk and abusive language. That is NOT your fault, but it is the reality out there. Some people will be disappointed if you don’t do exactly what you want them to do and what fits in their plans. Everyone has plans, and we’re all trying out best to make it work, aren’t we? We cannot control how others will choose to respond to our decisions, our boundaries, our choices.

A healthy response would be, “I’m really sorry you can’t make it, but I do understand. We will really miss you.” Or, “I’m really sorry you can’t do ______ this year. Your talents will certainly be missed! We’ve been so fortunate to have you helping in __________ for _______ time.”

There is no guilt, no shame in those statements. In fact, there is a blessing there: there is the gift of freedom to your friend or to your family member. There is an expression of joy in appreciating them and not riddling them with guilt. There is the feeling that you, as a receiver of that statement, were heard, that you will truly be missed—and no guilt-tripping as to why you are not coming, or doing, and no interrogations, no shaming. Just a simple sorry and I understand you will be missed. Who wouldn’t want to hear that? How often is this sort of communication occurring?

No wonder we dread saying no and hearing no.

What a relief to hear something like the above, as opposed to, “You always leave me here to deal with____, while you are out doing your own thing. You never think of anyone but yourself. You are selfish. I can’t be there to do__ and I want you to come and do it. No one else can do it but you. Who else is going to fill in here?”

Never mind the fact you may have traveled multiple times (on holidays or otherwise) to fulfill ____; never mind the fact you have done ______ multiple times; never mind the fact of anything you may have done or not done. This type of shaming talk can’t acknowledge what you have done in the past or the present, it only sees what you cannot do at that moment.

It isn’t healthy (or right) to succumb to everyone else’s expectations and run ourselves ragged in the process. It isn’t healthy to think that if we don’t fulfill these obligations that we will somehow disappoint everyone else and that it will be a miserable Christmas and it is all our fault. I suppose if you are a Scrooge, that is true, but I suspect that you might know if you need to set healthy and reasonable expectations and boundaries. Those who need to learn how to say no and when to say yes are often aware that they need to learn that.

A Scrooge, however, isn’t necessarily aware of that fact about himself. Interesting, isn’t it? Remember, in the story, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge had to hear the news about himself in a more detached way, through the past, the present and the scary future. David, in the Bible, needed to hear Nathan tell a story about a precious sheep being stolen before he understood his own mistakes. Seeing the truth in ourselves is something we ALL should be praying for, Scrooges and otherwise. : )

Establishing healthy boundaries is an important step in making holidays (or any other time) less stressful and more manageable. It can make us happier and more peaceful because there is a margin of space around us. We don’t feel that nagging stress of the constant call of others pulling the strings of our time and life. We can rest in that space, in that margin.

When we give ourselves the permission and the freedom to say no, we can rest in the peace of that “no”. Even if life is still a bit busy (I don’t know many whose life isn’t), saying “no” does give a measure of peace and serenity, because we are empowered to take that decision into our own hands—and we made that choice for ourselves as opposed to letting others make that choice for us, under pressure or obligation or usual practice.

I am aware that there are times we do need to be pulled out of our comfort zones. I am not at all suggesting we live like hermits and as selfishly as we can. I am saying that for some of us, a healthier balance is needed. I am not a therapist, but I can only share from my own experience. I am still learning how to navigate these situations as well.

I am currently struggling with a measure of guilt because I have to say no to some things; I wish I could change it but I feel bad about it. It involves elderly parents and my inability to travel and because I live so far away. This entire situation is complex and it conjures a great variety of emotions and struggles for me, on various levels, which I cannot go into for this post. But, I have to learn how to manage my own expectations and deal with others’ disappointments and the fact that they may not understand what is happening on my end, or my choices, or my reasons.

Looking at our circumstances and adjusting our expectations is something within our control. We may realize that in our current situations, having a smooth holiday isn’t going to happen. Life is complicated, and there will be awkward conversations and disappointed people and difficult people and dysfunctional people.

But we can choose this: we can simply decide to have the Christmas that is “good enough” or one that is “just enough”.
It isn’t going to perfect and lovely (because life often isn’t); it is going to be real and it is going to be what it is with all of its dysfunction and disappointments. We d not know how much or if other people will change; that is, we have no control over their change or no change. We do, however, have control over ourselves and what we choose to change.
And one thing we can change? Our expectations.

So, will you sing, will you bring, will you dine, will you give, will you offer, will you come, will you call, will you travel, will you read, will you respond, will you write, will you attend, will you remember? Will you… do?

You have more choices in those answers than you realize.