Establishing Healthy Expectations for Yourself, Other People and Circumstances

Mary’s Story
My mother’s house was always the place family went for holidays. She decorated, cooked meals from scratch, housed out of town family members, bought and wrapped gifts for all dinner guests and entertained during dinner parties. When she went into the nursing home I took on these responsibilities for the family without even thinking about it. I just did what I’d always seen her do. Plus, I now had to care for her. But I don’t have my mother’s energy or organizational skills. While things turned out ok, and by that I mean nothing burned down, I got very little sleep, ended up forgetting to pay the bills and felt disappointed in myself for not holding things together the way my mother always had. The next year I stressed about the holidays and dreaded them even before they got started.

Then I realized, I didn’t have to do things just because my mother had always done them. I could decide what my own limits were and choose which activities I wanted to participate in and which ones I did not feel comfortable with. It was a game changer. Now I limit the number of meals I am willing to cook to just one and because it was just too stressful and disruptive to have people stay at our house if people come from out of town they need to stay at a hotel or with other family members instead. Everyone is happier now.


All our lives we have worked hard to fit in and meet other people’s expectations. As a result, you may not even be aware of what your own limits are, let alone how to stay within those boundaries.

It is also easy to blame yourself or feel guilty for not living up to societal standards but being self-critical doesn’t help you function any better in the world. Nor does it acknowledge that you are a unique individual who needs to live life on your own terms in a way that works for you.

Denny’s Story

I don’t do well around crowds of people in general but during the holiday season I really have a hard time managing the traffic and people in stores. So my brain just shuts off. It’s like I walk around in a fog from November through the beginning of January and don’t even realize it until I’m completely worn out after the holidays.

One of the best things you can do for yourself as a healthy autistic adult is to decide what holiday traditions, responsibilities and activities are right for you and which ones aren’t.

It is important for you to realize, just because you are able to physically muster the energy, courage and strength to do a particular task or event does not mean that you should necessarily do it.

Why not? The effects of completing certain tasks may be too overwhelming or negative and result in burnout, shutdown melt down or other unhealthy consequences for you. It is ok to opt out of activities that have negative consequences in your life.


Recognizing Limits Worksheets

These exercises will help you recognize current expectations that you hold for yourself, other people and your circumstances so that you can begin to decide if these expectations are realistic or need to be adjusted. We’ve given you a few examples to get you started.

While completing these exercises, think about those rituals, duties and activities that you automatically perform leading up to and during the holidays. Also think about what other people do specifically during this time and how their actions affect you.

Sometimes specific situations or events occur as a result of the holidays which also have a profound effect. For example, colleagues may go on vacation and leave you with extra responsibilities, kids are home from school or travel is necessary. These changes in routine create added complications that we don’t always prepare for or know how to handle effectively. The third part of this exercise helps you take a look at these circumstances in your own life.

Recognizing Your Personal Limits

Current Expectations of Self

(This is for what you currently do, or think you should be doing).

Is this Expectation Realistic? Yes/No

If No, why not?

(This is to list the effects of what you do or expect yourself to do).

If “No” What is a More Realistic Expectation?

(This is to list what would be reasonable and healthy for you to do. This is your solution).

Mary’s Example: I can do everything my mother did during the holidays including, cooking meals for entire family, decorate, house out-of- town guests, buy and wrap gifts for all guests, hold dinner parties, manage mom’s nursing care.


I lose sleep, forget to pay bills, I feel too much anxiety and like I’m not good enough.

I can host one holiday meal for the family, manage mom’s nursing care, buy gifts for immediate family only. I can’t have more than one party or dinner. I am not able to comfortably house out of town guests.
























Recognizing Other People’s Limits

Current Expectations of Others

(What are your current assumptions about other people’s behaviors)?

Is this Expectation Realistic? Yes/No

If No, why not?

(List any reasons your expectations should be adjusted including how it makes you feel) including how it makes you feel when this this expectation is not met).

If “No” What is a More Realistic Expectation?

(This is where you list healthy boundaries in response to other people’s actions).

Brian’s Example: I expect my family to understand my autism. They ought to be willing to make adjustments so I can be comfortable. They should turn off the t.v. and flashing lights when I’m around.

No. I can’t control what other people think or do.

I’ve asked for many years if they would turn of the t.v. and lights and every year they say I should just deal with it. They do not understand. It makes me feel helpless and frustrated.

I can choose to limit my time spent in uncomfortable situations. Instead of staying all afternoon, I will come just for dinner and invite people to go for a walk outside before I leave.














Recognizing Situational Limits

Current Expectations

of Situation

(What are your current assumptions about a particular situation)?

Is this Expectation Realistic? Yes/No

If No, why not?

(List any reasons your expectations should be adjusted including how it makes you feel) including how it makes you feel when this this expectation is not met).

If “No” What is a More Realistic Expectation?

(This is where you come up with your healthy response to the situation based on new assumptions about the circumstance).

Denny’s Example: I expect that the holiday traffic and crowds should be like the rest of the year.


Every year it’s the same thing. Traffic and crowds increase the last week of November through the last week of December. I forget this until I’m stuck in a traffic jam or store in the middle of a crowd and then I feel overwhelmed)

I need to plan for things to be hectic between November 15 and January 2. I can do my shopping for gifts early and got to the grocery store when it opens at 7am to avoid the crowds. I will color code my calendar on the days that I especially want to avoid going out or avoid shopping.












##ActuallyAutistic#Asperger's#Asperger's Syndrome#Aspie#autism#autism spectrum#Autism Spectrum Condition#autistic#coping strategies#holidays#Living Well Holiday Guide

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