“As we go through life, most of us have memories of holidays and families that are not always the best,” said Dwight Hurst, a psychotherapist with Davis Behavioral Health. “The bad stuff in the family comes out. Yet there’s the expectation of what the holidays are supposed to be.
“Most of our frustrations and disappointments come from our internal expectations of what they (holidays) should be.”
“There is an old thought in psychology: the more you enhance the mentality should and must, the less flexible you are, the less happy you’ll be,” he said. “If my impression of Christmas is a Norman Rockwell painting, but the reality is less flexible, the less likely I am to allow myself to relax and enjoy myself.”
“Even for those with flexible, happy situations, expectations still rule over us,” Hurst said. “Especially with the economy, expectations of what we can provide may not match with reality.”
“Then when those expectations come into play, we’re supposed to have a beautiful Christmas experience together,” he said. “Sometimes putting those things aside for the short term can be healthy.”
“If I have a little tiff with my brother and am able to stuff it for a couple of hours, and sit around the table, and everybody feels better, that’s probably not too much to ask,” Hurst said. “But if there is a history of abuse (in the family), then maybe it’s not even appropriate to go to my family for my own well-being.”
It may be very useful for someone to bounce expectations and situations off of a close friend or spouse, he said.
“I think people tend to feel isolated when they’re in these situations,” Hurst said. “We don’t broadcast those situations very often. There particularly can be times we don’t discuss family concerns. That’s not the image we want to go for. People tend to feel very alone in this.”
“Evaluate your expectations,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve seen people who are able to separate themselves from expectations and actually increase their happiness. I knew of a family who was unable to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner together. They let go of the idea that not having dinner together would ruin it.”
Now, they eat a breakfast together and seem to get along well.
“Finding a different or a compromising of family traditions or rituals can sometimes be very freeing, that you’re not sinning against society or family. A lot boils down to emotional flexibility, to accepting realities even if it’s not the ideal,” he said.
Parents, particularly mothers, often feel a need to provide for the family as they’d like, in this case at Christmas. “It can trigger an identity crisis, more of a nesting drive to create a good home,” Hurst said.
“Often the parents’ expectations are much higher than for the kids, especially for youngsters,” he said. “A lot of times it’s good to remind ourselves that children don’t need something even if they want it. It doesn’t mean we’re failing them because we can’t provide it for them.
“Sometimes if we over-spend, over-commit, that actually passes up a learning opportunity for our kids – that the hard times do require a different level of sacrifice.”