The Pressure to Not Be Yourself (Conforming to Others Holiday Expectations)

Feeling the pressure to fit in with what one’s friends or family are doing this holiday season can be stressful! After all, it seems easier to “give in” [and conform] than to “rock the boat” and go against others’ expectations.

What may have started out as tradition may begin to feel like an overwhelming obligation. It might begin to feel as though others have control of your schedule and choices. I “have” to visit this person, then I “have” to visit that person. I “have” to make this, then I “have” to make that. I have to buy…I have to go…I have to do… !!
It can become a never-ending, overwhelming list of have-to and should- dos. Combined with the pressures of conformity, it can start to feel like too much.

Giving into social and family pressure may feel easier rather than having to deal with the guilt of saying no. Perhaps there is fear– the fear to speak up, the fear of disappointment. Speaking up and setting boundaries can be difficult, especially if one struggles with self-esteem, communication, and/ or asserting needs.

A big part of conformity that can make it difficult is the dynamic within the group, such as greater perceived influence (e.g. grandparents, parents), close-knit relationships, and cultural expectations. It can be even more difficult for young adults to go against the norm when it comes to holiday expectations for this reason.

To go against the norm, challenge assumptions, and perhaps create a new tradition may seem like a daunting task. While this may create discomfort and possibly evoke a strong emotional reaction from friends/ family, would you be willing to take the risk if the end result would be feeling like one’s authentic self, living in alignment with one’s personal values, and feeling the freedom to be yourself?

Here are some Guidelines that Can Make it Feel Easier to Be Yourself (and Not Conform to the Pressure of Others):

Know Yourself

Know what is important to you. What are your values? How do you want to live your life? What really matters? Take some time to reflect on this.

Be Realistic When it Comes to Expectations

It is not possible to make everyone happy all the time, nor is it realistic to be in multiple places at the same time. Embracing imperfection can be helpful in coping with a less than ideal situation. This may involve changing your standards. Flexibility, open-mindedness, and a positive mindset can help set up an environment for a good time, even with the change in circumstances.

Communicate Early and Effectively

Take a proactive approach when it comes to communicating to friends/ family about plans, expectations, and/ or a change in the ways things may have been traditionally done. This creates space for others to process whatever emotional responses may come and also gives time to re-adjust expectations.

There are some great communication strategies, including specific skills based dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) that can be especially helpful for those who may struggle with effective communication within interpersonal relationships. These skills can also be helpful in creating emotional boundaries and are a common area that clients may want to work on in therapy.

Don’t Take On Responsibility for Others’ Emotions

Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s happiness. It is natural to feel anger, disappointment, etc. when expectations are not met. It is OK to let go of the guilt that you are letting someone down. Focusing on managing one’s own behaviors and emotional responses than taking this on for others is a great area to focus on.

Offer Alternatives

Try reframing conforming to expectations as an opportunity to create a meaningful alternative that allows the expression of yourself. I always wondered about the rationale behind cramming so many visits and activities within several days. Proposing alternatives such as planned meaningful activities throughout the year can be a great compromise in meeting others’ needs (e.g. for connection) while also being true to yourself.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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