So last year I recorded two podcasts with a focus on the holidays called So You’ll Know…during The Holidays and So You’ll Know…The Gift Of Presence. . These titled “So You’ll Know” were bonus episodes that were intended to help people know how to help someone who has lost a loved one. I talked about what to say, or not to say; what to do, or not do. And basically the idea was to just give some tips on how to navigate through the difficult and sometimes awkward situations that we find ourselves in with regards to loss. With these two specifically, I talk about how the holidays impact people who have lost a spouse, or people who are just lonely.
I pray you never have to experience this kind of loss. But one thing I've come to realize is that you don't "know" until you "know". So, with these bonus episodes, I'd like to help you "know" – what it feels like, what you’d need, what brings hope and healing - without having to go through the pain and grief that it brings. So, if you’d like to know, go listen to those two episodes. They’re just after episode #6 and #10.
Today, though, I want to talk to anyone and everyone who is anticipating these holidays being hard, for whatever reason. And that could range from knowing that you’re going to have to deal with difficult people or relatives, or face the absence of a spouse or other loved one. Someone recently divorced trying to divide the family equitably, or give up being with certain family members on a day that’s always been so special to you. Maybe even someone forced into early retirement or a radical life-change that’s feeling more restricted financially or physically, to dealing with parents with failing health, or who are in nursing homes or at end of life circumstances. Any of these would make the holidays hard for so many reasons.
And, before we get deeper into today’s episode, if you need more support leading up to your Christmas holiday gatherings, let me remind you, you could jump into one-on-one coaching right now, this week, and get the tools you’ll need to have the happiest holidays yet.
So, if you add any of these hardships - the loss and grief, the life-change, the to the expectations that we have surrounding the holidays - even when things aren’t hard - like expectations of traditions, or beautifully decorated homes, or making memories, everyone being happy and nice and loving, and you have a recipe for misery.
The problem with expectations is layered. If it’s expectations of how things should go, or look, if we’re trying so hard to make everything look like a Hallmark movie, or even trying to make things like they used to be “before,” then we’re going to be sorely disappointed and we’re going to create more hardship for ourselves. Because most of that’s not reality or remotely attainable, and also because things change in life. That’s a given. Things will change. And we’re not always in control of that change.
The Serenity Prayer, which most of you probably know, written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
That’s it. There are many, many things we cannot change. And to have the grace to accept them as part of life does bring a certain peace and serenity into our lives.
Having expectations of people is problematic, too, when it’s based on past experience. For example, we have evidence of bad behavior with difficult people, so we anticipate the stress ahead of time. We think of all the ways things could go wrong. And then we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out, “Ok, if she says this then I’m going to say this. Then she’ll probably respond this way, and I’ll say xyz.” And if we’re really a glutton for punishment, we begin thinking ahead of time how we can keep people from saying or doing something in the first place; how we can manipulate the circumstances so that we don’t even have to experience the negative thing. We spend a huge amount of time of mental energy that ends up zapping our physical energy. Because the mind and the body are directly connected, right? The body cannot help but feel the stress and fatigue.
We may even stress our way out of attending the holiday party or gathering or whatever. We’ve spent so much energy on the anticipation of it that we quit or run away, all based on the presumption that we know how things are going to go. Our brains know it’s going to be hard, and it wants to avoid hard all together, so it’s going to check out, convince you that it’s not worth it, not worth the risk of possibility that we’d have to deal with the bad behavior of difficult people. All based on presumption.
But another problem of having expectations is that when we expect people to behave a certain way, saying things like “Everyone should be happy and get along” we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. And although this thought sounds so nice and honorable, it’s so damaging. And that’s because we can’t make people behave a certain way. And the need to control the people around us will ruin our lives. I talked extensively about this in episode 60. So, if you find yourself wanting to manipulate and control others, go take a listen to that one before you head off into your Christmas celebrations and gatherings. I do believe it will help you have a merrier Christmas.
So, anytime we say or think someone should or shouldn’t do something, say something, or believe something; when we go around saying, even if it’s in our mind, she “should” text me back quickly… He “should” quit being so lazy and get a job.. She should write me a ‘thank you’ note…He shouldn’t say those kinds of things in such a sarcastic way. When you put shoulds and shouldn’ts on people, you can be sure you have a “manual” for them. And when they come around, you pull out that big, fat manual that is pages upon pages thick; and is complicated, and intricate, and detailed. You’ll pull out that manual to make sure they’re behaving the way you want them to behave.
Yep, a manual is an instruction guide we have for someone in our lives about how we would like them to behave so we can feel good and be happy. Typically, the other person doesn’t know what’s in our manual. And most of the time, we don’t even realize we have manuals for people. I’ve had some people ask, “Isn’t it appropriate and healthy to have expectations of people?” While it may seem justified to have expectations of other people, it can be very damaging when your emotional happiness is directly tied to their behaving a certain way. You are literally handing over your power of how you will feel to someone else; someone who is just as fickle about their moods as you are. Now, the only exception is when you have children you are rearing and employees. Then, expectations should be clearly defined.
I posted a quote on social media from one of my coaching clients about what she has noticed about having manuals for the people in her life, and how she sees having these manuals has sucked the love and joy right out of her relationships. One person commented that she believes that having expectations for others is “premeditated resentment.” That’s brilliant. Because if we know we can’t control people, and we understand that it is more than likely that they are not going to act the way we want them to, or do the things we want them to do, or even believe the way we want them to believe, we’re just preparing ourselves ahead of time to resent them. I would add ‘contempt’ to that. We are preparing ourselves to have contempt for another. And contempt drives us back to passive-aggressive manipulation and control. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, what do we do? How do we handle the myriad of things that make the holidays hard? How do we handle the distant relatives that have more questions than we want to answer; the dynamics of differing opinions; the different personalities all piled in one cozy room; the people with different religious views or political views? How do we handle conflict and high emotion? How can we make sure our holidays are happier, not harder?
First, let me say, we are living in a very divided time right now, as you well know. And I believe the enemy is having a field day with us. His tactic is to kill, steal, and destroy you, your family, and your relationships - anything that builds unity, togetherness, and community for Christ. And at the most basic level, we can decide that we will not divide.
So, what if we decided to do something completely different this Christmas? What if we decided to let people be people; to lay the manuals down, lay the expectations aside, and allow everyone to be authentically themselves and have the kind of experience that they choose to have during the holidays? And that includes you, my friend. What if you allowed yourself to be authentically you, and then you get to choose what kind of experience you want to have during these holidays?
And I mention you, too, because if we are judging others, typically we’ve got judgment for ourselves. If we have manuals for others, typically we have manuals for ourselves. “I should decorate the house beautifully, have all the right games to play; I should plan for the Christmas story to be read, make sure everyone is happy. I shouldn’t get emotional or feel sad. I should be strong and put on a happy face. Fake it ‘til you make it. I should get it together.” And check that. If we have a manual for ourselves, then we typically have a manual for God. But we can talk more about that another time.
Let me give you some tools that might help you navigate through these times that are hard.
First, there are three little phrases I teach my coaching clients that help shift the brain out of negative patterns of thinking. One is, “Of course…” You can use it like, “Of course mom and sister are yelling at each other again this year. This is the experience they choose in this moment.” And then you get to decide how you want to show up in that moment. You may choose to enforce one of your boundaries, right? But you’re not at the effect of mom and sister’s fighting. You have your power to decide how you’ll feel or what you’ll do; not allowing another’s behavior to dictate your emotions or actions.
Another little phrase is, “This is the part where…” When you apply this phrase to a situation, it gets you out of the middle of the emotional chaos and sets you outside of the event, more like a spectator or observer. It helps you to be much more objective in the circumstance, without self-condemnation or self-judgment, and without being manipulated emotionally. I go into detail about this particular phrase in Episode 49 if you’re interested in hearing more.
The last one is, “What if it’s possible that….” This can be used any time, of course, but I find it most helpful when I’m anticipating something that’s coming to be hard to deal with, and frankly I just don’t want to; when I’ve already decided that it’s going to be awful in some way and I’m absolutely dreading it. “What if it’s possible that this could actually be the best Christmas I’ve ever had, even if my mind can’t comprehend it?” “What if being in the presence of my family, no matter how dysfunctional, allows me an opportunity to practice grace and extend the love of Christ that just may be what someone is crying out for.” “What if it’s possible that I could surprise myself with courage to change what Wisdom has shown me I can?” “What if it’s possible that I could just choose to have a happier holiday regardless of how anyone else shows up?”
Friend, sometimes just by deciding ahead of time how we’re going to show up - with confidence, with courage, with humility, with compassion and love, with patience, with authenticity, without expectations of myself or others, we set ourselves up for success. Remember, your thoughts are what are creating your experience of life. If this is how you’ve decided to show up, this is the experience you will certainly have. And in this way, during these holidays, no matter what someone might say to you, or how they might treat you, you will be able to create the life you love, the Christmas experience you want, just by controlling your thoughts around it. That’s the part of the Serenity Prayer that Wisdom says you have control over. And I pray you have the courage this Christmas to make a change.
Friend, if you’re already dreading the upcoming holidays, worried about what’s going to happen or how you’re going to feel or the people you’re going to have to interact with, I’d like to help you be prepared and give you some tools you can use to make sure your holidays are happier, not harder. I would love to be your Life Coach and show you how!
I’ve put a link in the show notes to my calendar to book at quick 30-minute chat to see if we’re a good fit to work together. Or, you can visit my website tricizody.com and send me an email there.
If you’re new to Life Coaching and would like to jump into my 8-week Group Coaching program starting January 11th2022, go to triciazody.com/betagroup to get more information about that. The link will be in the show notes as well.
Have a wonderful week, friends! See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life podcast.