Integrative Health Blog

Surviving the Holidays Unscathed! Maintaining Inner Peace by Letting Go of Expectations

Posted by Dr. Charles Gant on Wed, Dec 11, 2019

xmas expectations

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

~Albert Einstein

Expectations can cause emotional disturbances, especially when, as Einstein suggests, nothing is done to change them.  The old saying, “Expect the worst and hope for the best” is also a famous bit of good advice, because it scales down expectations, perhaps a bit too pessimistically, to counter our demands that life must happen in a way that we expect it to.  In my recent released book, Awaken Your Godly Brain, I devote a whole chapter (Chapter 9) to dealing with expectations.  Everyone, that I have ever known, wants inner peace and no one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “I wonder how many nutty expectations I can impose on the world today so that I can suffer from emotional turmoil!”  However, that is precisely what we do to ourselves when we generate emotional disturbances.

Avoiding the “Hot Spots” of the Holidays

As Einstein suggests, we can do something different to avoid upsets.  If a certain person or situation is likely to push your buttons, move your body to a different location so that you have no contact with that person or that situation.  Insanity as he suggests is failing to avoid such situations or people and continuing to have emotional disturbances.  However, despite the fact that we control where our bodies go, we nevertheless choose to be around people and events which are likely to set off our emotional hot buttons, especially during the holidays.  For instance, I recently “felt compelled” to go to a wedding and be around people who I find somewhat reprehensible, but I chose to go into that experience with my eyes open, accepting that I was probably going to experience certain emotional discomfort, and that I was making a conscious choice to do so.

Demand Words- the Internal "Shoulds" and "Musts"

Einstein’s quote does not suggest a far more spiritual method of dealing with expectations, which has nothing to do with what we do, but instead deals with how we are.  In my book, I challenge the assertion that social pressures and events have anything whatsoever to do with our emotional disturbances, and in fact, I hold fast to the scientific fact that upsets are caused internally- by our expectations of how social circumstances and certain people are supposed to be.  If you are interested in spiritual detachment, first consider six demand words that we commonly use to create emotional pain:

  1. Have to
  2. Supposed to
  3. Ought to
  4. Must
  5. Got to
  6. Should

Once upon a time, these words slipped into our internal dialogue. You might even hear someone refer to “shoulding myself”. We all adopted some of these six demand words somewhere in our past, when we were too young or too distracted to question how social pressures were damaging our brains.  Some cognitive scientists go on to point out four important flavors of “shoulds” that are especially dangerous:

  1. I should be liked and approved of by every significant person in my life (people pleasing)
  2. I must get what I want (deferment of gratification)
  3. I and others should never make mistakes (perfectionism)
  4. The world should be fair to me and others (victimization)

These and a list of others that psychotherapists have observed to be problematic, are sometimes referred to as irrational expectations, as one can’t live a life and always be liked, get what we want, be perfect or be treated fairly.  These fit Einstein’s definition of insanity and they are commonly the root cause of most emotional disturbances and mental disorders.

The last point about irrational expectations that I discuss in my book (Chapter 9), is their tagline which you might hear yourself say to yourself, which is referred to as awfulizing and catastrophizing.  So, if someone rejects us or is disapproving, we might add the tagline, “and it’s awful.”  If the world treats us or someone else unfairly, we might follow up with “it’s terrible and I can’t stand it.”  If we don’t get what we had expected to get, “it’s an utter catastrophe.”  And if we or another person makes a blunder, we might judge them or ourselves as “utterly irredeemable and unforgiveable.”  Dr. Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT, or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy,  referred to such thoughts as Jehovah Thinking, since we might ask, “What entity in the Universe has the right to demand love and approval from everyone, always get what they want, act with absolute perfection and insist on fairness?”  Well, we all know the answer to that question, and it’s no human being I’ve ever met.

Let Go… of Expectations

So, this holiday, when expectations from within and/or from our social/family members are likely to ramp up to higher decibel levels, listen carefully to your inner dialogue and to the insane control tactics of others around you and recognize it all for what it is.  The very act of listening mindfully can greatly relieve some of the pressure and emotional hits you are sustaining.  If you can’t get some distance from such inner and outer craziness, simply don’t put yourself around such people and events.  Don’t be masochistic; walk away and stay away from it.  If you can’t seem to detach inwardly or environmentally from such pain, come see me for a half hour and I will happily walk you through the ropes.  Helping others quickly detach with love is one of the most gratifying experiences in my professional life.

Letting go of expectations is an effective survival tactic to keep you relatively unscathed and inwardly peaceful during the holidays.  Hey, these holidays all started out as having something to do with spirituality and inner peace, and there is nothing more spiritual, or peaceful, than detaching from our demand expectations.


Dr. Gant functional medicine doctor Wash DCCharles Gant MD, PhD, was a valued physician, author and teacher and practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He was a valued member of NIHA's team and cherished by his colleagues and patients. Dr. Charles Gant, JR. Obituary


Topics: emotional wellbeing