By Danielle van de Kemenade
A blow to the chest, crushing you with grief. An unexpected and staggering defeat. An overwhelming sense of inner aridity – as if your emotions, your thoughts, your very being, have lost all capacity to grow, to nourish, to bear new fruit. A flame of hope you weren’t even aware had been steadily burning, suddenly extinguished, plunging you into darkness. A sense of the lines that had you moored to others – your peers, your community, your future self – having been cut, causing you to start drifting off course into uncertainty.
Disappointment. By its very nature, it comes out of the blue. It overwhelms us. It roughly wakes us up, forcing us to reckon with a reality we hoped we wouldn’t have to face. We struggle to figure out what went wrong, causing us to be here. It makes us feel as if, somewhere along the line, we missed a sign.
And underlying it all – a sense that, a serious mistake has been made.
What disappointment is.
At its essence, disappointment happens when expectations we had aren’t met. The cause of the above suffering, though, isn’t that – it’s the devastating loss of hope and trust we experience as a result.
We try to outrun disappointment, as much as we can. And yet, we are likely to face it, over and over again in our lives. As children, we’re first confronted with a world in which the world doesn’t conform to our every desire. As adults, we continue to live in this world, but with more agency, less external restrictions and more mind to use, our relationship with disappointment may be both easier and more complex. We rationalize the emotion away, pretending it isn’t there. Or we set up camp by it, telling the world and ourselves that this is the end of the line, there’s no going beyond our experience. Or we go on a reconnaissance mission back in the steps that lead us here – trying to allocate blame somewhere, whether an action we took or a person we listened to, so that we may transform our grief into anger and criticism, both emotions easier to grapple with.
And yet – what if, by virtue of being human, disappointment is a natural part of life?
What if, rather than trying to outrun it, we move through it, to see where new and previously uncharted space (for healing, for hope, for others, for ourselves) might emerge?
How to deal with disappointment, mindfully.
Experiencing an emotion isn’t difficult. Allowing ourselves to do so, however, is. This is because, often time, we fear its pain. And yet, what I know from my experience and my own coaching work, is that the very opposite is the case. When we allow ourselves to experience an emotion and not push it away, we create space for transformative growth and healing. Just let it out. Don’t hold back. By going through an emotion, you’ll find yourself emerge anew on the other side.
Being present with it.
Being present with disappointment doesn’t mean fixing it or trying to analyze it. It simply means holding it. Seeing the emotion expressing itself within you: in the physical sensations of your body, the self-soothing you crave or seek out, the thoughts that arise in your mind, the actions (or lack thereof) you feel compelled to take as a result. Simply observe what happens, with a gentle curiosity. Is your breathing constricted and shallow? Are your shoulders and neck tense? Do you feel exhausted and heavy? Noticing all of it, with compassion, from a place of loving stillness within yourself, present on the edge of this moment.
Deepening through it.
What I mean by this is, after you’ve allowed yourself to experience and be present with the disappointment you feel, asking yourself some coaching questions to reflect on your thoughts and emotions. Not to fix, or try to seek blame, attempt to control or avoid this experience again, but simply, to observe what your answers are, to see what space might emerge. The questions are adapted from Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’. No need to overthink, just let your thoughts flow freely.
What thoughts about this situation are causing you suffering?
Is it true?
Are you absolutely certain it’s true?
Can you come up with an example of how the opposite might still happen, albeit in a new and unexpected way?
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