Resizing Your Holiday Expectations While Grieving

Simply lit tree standing alone on a winter landscape

Are you facing a loss this holiday season? This might be a good time to think about resizing your holiday expectations while grieving.

Several years ago I met with a patient to discuss ways she could cope with the holiday season after losing a loved one. She confessed to feeling especially overwhelmed with the thought of Christmas. In past years it had been a tradition for her to decorate three large Christmas trees.

She was tearful as she described this family tradition. Despite feeling overwhelmed by grief and exhausted this holiday season, she felt her family’s expectations would be to once again see all three trees resplendent with lights and decorations.

Resizing expectations can bring relief

When we set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, we are essentially making up stories about how things are “supposed” to be.

The problem for my patient was that she simply did not feel up to decorating three trees. And for good reason! But she had set herself up to think that those trees were “supposed” to be decorated or else…what? Or else the holiday would be ruined?

Any time we use words like “supposed to,” “should” or “must”, we set ourselves up for “all or nothing” thinking. This is usually not an effective way to think. It leaves little room for the realities in life.

It is reasonable to be sad when we lose a loved one, especially during the holidays. What my patient needed most that year was to relieve herself of expectations. She needed permission to be sad, to acknowledge the feeling of loss, and to simply be with her family.

Turns out one tree was just enough that year.

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