Photo Credit: Pixabay
Disappointment is a common experience for all of us. We can’t have expectations low enough to avoid it. Patterns, in dealing with disappointment, begin in early childhood. We have both experiences of either disappointing someone or being disappointed ourselves, and we lock in on a way to prevent or minimize it in the future.
With our children, I remember an occasion with each when disappointment stormed in hard. Our quiet oldest and only daughter had disappointments to overcome of too many hellos and goodbyes in our overseas life. However, the disappointment that comes to mind was a high school birthday party when I pretty much ruined it by including someone who could go all “mean girl” when she deemed it advantageous. She came to the party, and it happened. I was wrong to include her and our daughter suffered from my decision.
Our older son’s 8th grade disappointment was not getting on his school’s soccer team. At the time, he loved soccer and this was a unique opportunity that should have yielded success for him. It didn’t and he was devastated. Sitting by him, while he cried the most heart-broken tears in his pillow, I was so angry and sad…trying to figure out what to say…feeling like such a failure and having hate-filled thoughts for that coach who so flippantly capped his team, leaving just two students without a place on it. You hear the emotion still with me at my son’s disappointment so many years ago?!
Our youngest, who is adopted, has probably had the most adjustments through his life, of all three of the kids. He has weathered them well, for the most part, or as far as we can tell. There was a time when he was very small that he suffered some sort of disappointment. I can’t even remember what it was, but I will never forget his anguish. At one point, through his tears, he cried out, “I miss my mommy”.
Now, he had never known his birth mother. It’s possible he was missing his foster mother who cared for him until he was 14 months old. Even that seemed doubtful…that he would remember her at that point. The missing, I believe, came from a deep place of longing…an expectation that some mommy…some mommy he no longer had could have kept him from the pain he was having at that moment.
I missed that mommy, too. Metaphorically speaking.
Photo Credit: AF.mil
Disappointment happens when our desires get thwarted. These desires can be very temporal and superficial or they can be deep full-on longings. When we disappoint ourselves or others, we want to hide. That’s when sadness or anger roll in which takes our response to disappointment to a darker place.
Overcoming disappointment begins when we recognize how common a human experience it is. Those of us who struggle with disappointment do not have targets on our backs. Even those who seem never to show disappointment, it just speaks to their own deceptively well-developed pattern of communicating or not communicating it.
My mom was our sole provider in the early years of our childhood. She was my hero and I never wanted to add to her stress. The goal was to be good. Full-stop. My little-girl “being good” could not take away all the difficulty of Mom’s life. The sitting by her, as a little girl, when she was crying over some disappointment, very naturally carried over into my own mothering of our children.
If I could be good (enough) maybe I could fend off the disappointment of those I loved…it does not always work out that way.
Once we reckon with our knee-jerk responses to disappointment, when our desires or goals in life get blocked, then we can moderate those responses. Again, that doesn’t mean we drop our expectations or hopes as low as possible. Nor does it mean we try to control every possible outcome. Or create a hard shell to protect ourselves.
Overcoming disappointment is to “check our hearts” regarding the cause of the disappointment and “set our minds” to put it into perspective. In that, we determine ways to deal with the loss or failure such that we can diminish the amount of time we spend sad and hopeless. We can reason together with others in the equation (family, friends, coworkers), but this is ultimately a private process through which we will wrestle on our own. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others near us dealing with disappointment. It will not become our permanent address. Disappointment is best written with pencil to move forward.
I came to grips with the fact that my “being good” didn’t solve all my mom’s troubles, and that had to be ok. It was a worthy goal and cost me little really not to add to Mom’s load. When I got to that place, her disappointments were not because I wasn’t “good enough”, and her quick emotional recovery didn’t have to be an outcome of my coming close and showing care. It was simply a loving thing to do. We both grew together in responding to and overcoming disappointment.
As for my kiddos. Our daughter notes “mean girl” behavior but doesn’t let it define her or steal her joy; she is also aware that she could fall into the same patterns and has put accountability safeguards in her life to avoid that. Our older son played soccer for a county youth league and learned a lot about just having fun with other kids who didn’t make the school team. We have watched him mature so much, using his disappointments to fuel change and resilience. Our youngest has leaned into the “mommy” he has, and the life he has now. He, too, has learned to roll with his disappointments and to re-calibrate when things don’t go as he hoped.
Disappointment is a mean experience. However, if we can identify the deeper why (that longing or desire) that ignites disappointment, we can put out its fire. The fire that prompts us to loathe ourselves and our failings or moves us to punish or distance ourselves from those who disappoint. The fire is just best put out.
Life has so much more joy and meaning for us than our sinking down into the sackcloth and ashes of disappointment. It is possible to not even be aware of disappointment because some of us have put such controls into our lives so as NOT to feel it or ever be the cause of it for someone else. If this is you, consider what you are missing in the busyness of all the work of managing and deflecting disappointment. Join the rest of us, and let’s learn together how to overcome it and how to comfort others going through it.
[Below are helpful links – two are devotional; two are clinical; and the last is a list of to-do’s. Blessings.]