Resilience Tip - Holiday Expectations


Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.

Holiday Expectations

Expectations - the difference between a good holiday with family and the “get me out of here as quick as possible” experience. The gap between what we expect to happen and what actually happens is what creates disappointment. And disappointment can hugely affect our mood and overall experience of the holiday.

“But you do not know my family”, I can already hear you saying. “Mine is the family from hell.” In fact I have heard many stories about the family from hell. And my opinion stays firm. The problem at the holiday gathering is not the hellish family members, rather that we expect our family from hell to magically turn into the gift from heaven. Clearly we know that our families are not going to change a great deal just because the calendar notifies us that this is a holiday. Phenomena from minor annoyances and irritating habits, to highly difficult and intrusive conduct, tend to be a part of consistent behavior patterns that do not change without strong intention and concerted effort.

Our choice on how to react to these patterns depends on what we want out of our holiday. If you would like to spend your Seder getting angry at your cousin’s know-it-all attitude, and want to steam at the way your sibling disciplines your nephews and nieces, that is a potential choice. If you would like a calmer and more pleasant Seder, here is another choice to consider.

Suppose a two-year old walking down the street veers toward you and screams “You ugly!” How do you react? Some might be rather surprised, some a little offended, some would even chuckle. Most of us would let it go pretty quickly, not putting a great deal of value in the esthetic assessments of a two-year old. When your older relative comes and says “My that suit must be from years ago!”, the steam engine inside us begins to puff. I am not implying that this relative is acting like a two-year old (well …). And, why react to this relative, on this particular night, anymore than you would react to the toddler’s ugly comment? Each one is acting as the person they are at the time. We are unlikely to change them in this one night. We cannot control them. The only thing we can control is our reaction to them. We can be frustrated, annoyed, and huffy about the inappropriateness or injustice of their behavior. And we can shrug it off as highly consistent and expected behavior similar to the toddler on the street.

I am not suggesting to never give feedback, even difficult feedback, to family members. Just to check the purposes, expectations, and timing of the communication. Is it to inform? If yes, what will make this attempt, on this holiday, different from other attempts? Is it to confront? If yes, to what purpose on the holiday? Is it behavior we are unwilling to tolerate? If yes, the most realistic expectation may be that we succeed in expressing ourselves clearly and concisely. And then politely excuse yourself and separate from the behavior by walking away or turning to someone else at the table.

If you want to increase your chance for a pleasant holiday evening, and to enjoy the inevitable good qualities just about everyone has at least some of, choose this holiday to treat each of your family members just as they are, to expect them to behave just exactly as they usually do.


Carolyn S. Tal, PhD

Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners


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