Why do we find ourselves having an unhealthy relationship with disappointment? We do everything we can to avoid feeling it. We work hard to protect our children from it, and we don’t want others feeling it about us, or anything we are part of. Why is it that we avoid this experience? What I’ve learned through my inner work and the inner work of my clients, is that when we were young, many of us were taught to be ‘grateful for what we have’ – especially when we were expressing our dislike about what was in front of us.
This still happens around the dinner table in homes around the world when a child doesn’t want to eat what is on their plate. As parents, we look for any motivation we can find to get them to eat, even shaming them by comparing them to others that don’t have enough. Unfortunately, this encourages the child to bypass their feelings of disappointment. Instead of allowing our children to be disappointed with what’s in front of them and encouraging them to feel their feelings without our judgment, we tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way – they should feel grateful instead. This is a very disruptive and confusing concept to a young person. It teaches them not to trust, honor or express what is happening to them on the inside. It also teaches them that disappointment is not an option. ‘You are not to be disappointed, and if you are, then you are disappointing your caretakers/family/us’. You are compared to others and if they have less, you should not be disappointed with what you have. We are merged into what others want or have and it twists up our ideas of who is responsible for what. We have covered, hidden, and tucked disappointment away as if it doesn’t have a right to be here.
Disappointment is a critical messaging system that we need back online. When disappointment arises, we are recognizing a gap between our expectations and what we are experiencing. If we don’t explore how we created that gap, we can’t change the pattern for ourselves and we end up staying stuck.
If we were taught not to feel/experience/express disappointment, then it may come out through some dysfunctional behaviors. One way it can show up is in feeling frustrated all of the time about those you are depending on. One of my clients was hugely frustrated with the leadership in her organization but was unable to acknowledge it directly. Instead, she complained about those leaders to anyone who would listen while feeling like her disappointment didn’t matter since she never expected it to change. This led to her performance decline and eventual departure from the company.
Another man I worked with had been taught that disappointment must be avoided at all costs. As a result, he said yes to work that he and his team didn’t have the resources to handle. He also worked hard to fix everyone else’s problems so they wouldn’t have to be disappointed which led to more stress on his team. Once he was able to recognize and express his disappointment in direct and neutral ways, his need to fix everyone else’s problems disappeared. He now allows disappointment to give him its message that he is not getting something he wanted or expected. NOW he can uncover any hidden expectations he may have had and bring them out into the open, adjust them, or renegotiate them so they work for him. Instead of avoiding disappointment, he lets it alert him to when he is not getting something he wants or he’s getting something he doesn’t want.
How will you stop avoiding disappointment today?