Adjust Your Expectations

Many of us set ourselves up for disappointment during the holidays by either idealizing or catastrophizing.

Idealizing: In your mind, making a situation better than it is in reality.

These are some examples:

  • since Mom just got out of the hospital--she won't drink as much
  • with all the kids around brother Joe will surely clean-up his language after our last talk
  • after the big blow-out last Christmas, Dad won't let Mom be so controlling and ruin everything
  • this year is going to be different, we're going to sit around the dinner table and have one of those Hallmark moments as a family!

Sound familiar? Maybe you're a person who doesn't entertain such idealism, but what about the other end of the spectrum? Instead of idealizing, do you try to protect yourself from hurt by catastrophizing? Here are some examples:

Catastrophizing: Taking a situation to the negative extreme.

  • Dad will probably get drunk, fall into the swimming pool and drown!
  • Sister-in-law Sue will verbally attack me in front of everyone and I will have to leave in shame.
  • I'll probably get stuck sitting next to my perverted uncle again and have no place to go.
  • Mom will play her "poor me" and I'll get sucked into planning and preparing everything again this holiday!

There needs to be a balance between being realistic about what to expect and at the same time not anticipating the worst possible scenario. Either of these two extremes set the stage for self-sabotage. What does that mean?

Let's think about that together. If you are a person who tends to idealize, by making a situation better in your mind than it is in reality, you set yourself up for continual disappointment and frustration. You're looking for change to occur in others who may or may not be interested in changing. If you tend to catastrophize by taking a situation to the negative extreme, you're really defending against the reality of the pain of an existing situation. In other words, you make it worse than it is, so that when you experience reality it is "less painful" than you imagined. You're really using catastrophizing as a way to avoid the pain, disappointment, or anxiety that you feel in a given situation, like a holiday spent with the family.

If you tend to use either of these, or both you may need to come to terms with reality. If there's a long-standing pattern in your family, it's not going to change easily, if at all. You may need to change your focus from idealizing or catastrophizing and grieve through the loss of what is. When we're able to grieve through the loss of what is, we are better prepared to take the next step, which I'll cover in my next post!

Do you have any ideas of what the final step might be?

How do you B-E-A-T the holiday blues?