Home for the holidays: The conflict of expectations vs. reality : Kate Murphy Therapy
Kate Murphy, LCSW specializes in working with people suffering from anxiety and depression, and provides couples therapy including premarital counseling in the Atlanta metro area of Norcross, GA at the Pathway Center for Psychotherapy.
premarital counseling, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, anger, control issues, career issues, stress, lack of balance, individual therapy, couples therapy, counseling, psychotherapy, Atlanta GA, Gwinnett County, DeKalb County, Fulton County, Norcross GA.
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Home for the holidays: The conflict of expectations vs. reality


Home for the holidays: The conflict of expectations vs. reality

Home for the Holidays: The conflict of expectations vs. reality

Are you going or have you already been home for the holidays? Maybe the family is coming to you. Either way, holidays often elicit mixed feelings.

A retired psychologist happen to sit next to me on a recent plane ride home for the holiday. Towards the end of the flight, he asked me where I was going. I told him that I was “going home for the holidays.” He leaned in and said, “Back in my psychology days, the holidays were a time of conflict between expectation and reality despite the media messages.”

I revealed what I did for a living. He winked conspiratorily. We talked shop for a bit then the conversation turned to our own families. Eventually, he wistfully said, “My parents have been gone for a long time.” We sat quietly with that statement. He with his memories and me with some guilt.

Truth be told, my attitude had been sour since entering the airport many hours earlier. I was traveling towards my hometown and aging parent while leaving my spouse and boisterous in-laws behind. My heart was feeling stretched.

Honestly, I wanted to spend my holiday surrounded by grand nieces and nephews. The chaos of childhood vs. the chaos of dementia. I’ll take childhood chaos, please. My desire was in conflict with my expectation that I am supposed to be an altruistic “good daughter.” Ugh…guilt.

Working with clients this week via telehealth from a guest room, my thoughts have frequently turned to the words of my seatmate. Anxiety, anger, pain, and grief arise when our expectations of both ourselves and others clash with reality.

Actively working with these feelings – acknowledging and validating – is a beginning. Facing the historical truth about family gatherings at the holidays is the next step in adjusting expectations to more closely match reality.


The gift of realistic expectations

Looking at the reality of what you and members of your family are capable of from a time, emotional, physical, and financial standpoint is a form of self-compassion or self-loyalty. Lowering expectations from the lofty levels of a Hallmark movie shows kindness to yourself because it protects you from disappointment.

Wishing that everyone got along well, didn’t discuss politics, bought you gifts that you liked, had dinner ready on time, or appreciated the dinner you spent all day cooking is valid. Although, through an honest lens – most likely – the troubling things happen every year.

celebrationsThis year, for example, try accepting that dinner will be later than advertised and you may feel irritable. If you feel like schooling your father-in-law on factual journalism, have a plan ready like excusing yourself to the bathroom for some deep breaths and cat videos.

Maybe the holiday is not the same this year. Cherished family members have died, are ill, or have moved away. Kids are now adults. Heck, we are adults and sometimes long for the simplicity of childhood holidays with no responsibility.

Yearning for the way things used to be or the way you wished things were is inevitable at times. Grieve what was and what is desired but cannot be. It is possible to hold space for heartbreak and joy.

Ultimately, planning for imperfect holidays is self-compassionate. Depending on your situation, consider scaling back the “to do” list, talking about loved ones who are gone openly and honestly, and perhaps having some uncomfortable conversations about leaving an event early, even cancelling, or setting boundaries around what will and won’t be accepted as dinnertime conversations.

New YearWhatever the situation, here’s to reality and expectations aligning. If not, there is next year. After all, we are always a work in progress.

Happy New Year!





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