Dealing with Disappointment

IMG_3847The theme of disappointment emerged last week in my sessions with clients. Some were disappointed by the reality that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Others became aware of how scared they felt about the prospect of disappointing their partner. Others felt disappointed that their child was different in some way from their fantasy child. They covered the range and types of disappointment: the type disappointment that occurs present-day as a result of what’s happening right now – ie. My partner is half an hour late or Oh, shoot, I just dropped my ice cream cone – and the disappointment that results when our expectation of how things “should” be doesn’t match up to reality.

How you deal with disappointment is directly correlated to how your disappointment was handled when you were a child. If you learned that disappointment was a normal part of the human spectrum emotions and your parents or caregivers didn’t try to immediately distract you from or talk you out of your disappointment, you probably have a healthy relationship to this feeling. But if, like most kids, your parents’ discomfort with their and, thus, your big feelings – and disappointment can emerge in a huge way with kids – caused them to shut you down, you would have learned to sequester disappointment into the same corner of your psyche where all other uncomfortable feelings live. Kids are confronted with disappointment on a weekly basis (if not more), and I certainly understand the impulse to distract them out of it by directing their attention to some other shiny new object. But if we want our kids to develop a compassionate relationship to their big feelings, we have to make room for this one as well.

Making room for disappointment also means developing a capacity to tolerate others’ disappointment. Just as people will disappoint you, so you will inevitably disappoint others countless times throughout the course of your lifelong relationships. If you believe that you can’t tolerate others’ disappointment, you’ll sacrifice yourself, giving yourself away in order to appease them. So if your partner asks you to accompany him to his parents’ house this weekend and you say yes even though you really need to be alone because you’re scared of disappointing him or don’t believe that he can handle feeling disappointed, you’re laying the foundation for resentment to breed. The same is true with parents, kids, friends, and co-workers. In the most extreme case, if you aren’t willing to tolerate others’ disappointment you may end up lying or omitting information (which is, of course, lying). So in order for healthy and conscious relationships to grow, dealing with disappointment is an essential element.

When it comes to intimate relationships, the theme of disappointment takes on a heightened charge because, just like we don’t learn that it’s okay to feel annoyed with your partner, not to love everything about him or her, hate him at times, not miss her every second of the day, and experience ambivalence around feeling in love and attracted, so we don’t learn that it’s normal to disappoint each other.  You may carry a story that says, “If we disappoint each other our relationship is flawed and doomed.” It’s a false story and needs to be uprooted and allowed to wither just like every other myth that you carry about relationships.

The truth is that life is full of disappointment. It’s partially a result of the unrealistic expectations we absorb from the get-go because of our fantasy-laden culture, but it’s also just a normal part of life even in the healthiest cultures. In any case, when we move toward this uncomfortable feeling and develop tolerance for others’ disappointment, we lay one more element of the foundation that will allow a healthy life to take root and flourish.

23 comments to Dealing with Disappointment

  • Dear Sheryl,

    Like so often with your writing, this article is a breath of fresh air. Disappointment does not (have to) spell disaster, it’s just part of life. I always look forward to your articles, which perhaps above all say, it’s ok to be fully human, and that’s lovable – and that’s the whole adventure of life too. A needed reminder, for me, and so many.

    Thank you, always.

    Best wishes from the Swiss Alps,
    Alison

  • Just two weeks ago, I was working on this same lesson. I re-realized that I often will step in and try to caretake the emotions of others because I have a belief that it’s not ok if they’re disappointed. When I looked further, I realized it was less about “helping” and “cheering up” the other person and more about controlling them because I’m uncomfortable if they feel “negative.” I definitely learned yet another layer of this important lesson! 🙂

    • Amy

      Niloofar,

      I can really relate to your post. I hate conflict and always have tried to avoid it for as long as I can remember!

      Just like my mom, I am a people pleaser, but as you said, it more has to do with controlling the situation or the person because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable in their presence.

      Thanks for your insight!

  • Amy

    Sheryl,

    This article like all others always seems to come at just the right time.

    I have been participating in your E Course for a few weeks now and it is really helpful! I strongly urge anyone considering to take the plunge and do the work.

    I have been engaged since December and we are not getting married until next May. We have been dating for about 5 years (2 on and off and 3 solid) and have been living together for a little less then 3 years.

    We have just signed a contract on a house which I think led to my first major panic attack. My brother is also getting married and my entire family dynamic is changing and shifting. I am no longer safe in a little bubble.

    Prior to this happening…I had doubts here and there but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that led me to panic to that extent.

    He is the kind of man that I want to keep fighting for…as he fought to get me in the beginning. He is also (as you say most woman say) kind, loving, a great listener, deals with my ups and downs, makes me laugh…I could go on and on.

    I felt disapointment this weekend though, but it was all in my head.

    My fiance used to live on an island where all there was to do was work, eat and drink. He had developed not a drinking problem, but when he would drink with his friends, he would often get too drunk…but he wasn’t the type that had to have a drink every day. I would say he would just get carried away when out with friends.

    Anyway, I had expressed my concern to him about this very early in, and with alot of work and persistence, he now is in a much better place. (It also had to do with him moving off the island).

    However, now when we go out and have a few drinks with friends, I feel this constant feeling of disappointment towards him, even though he has come so far and never takes it too far anymore. However, I can’t help but think of the way I used to feel when I would see him take it a little to far and I want that to change because everyone around me notices how far he has come and how hard he tries and I don’t want to project that disappointing feeling on him anymore.

    The E course, blogs, and the Conscious Brides book are totally helping me through this. It has been about a month since my first panic attack and everyone including my fiance has already noticed a difference. I am able to handle the negative thoughts with more ease. I am also diving deep to figure out where my worries come from. I have had anxiety my whole life and would say I am an OCD thinker. I constantly am over thinking EVERY aspect of my life. (What if they are mad at me? Did I say the right thing? What if they dont like me? and on and on!)

    So I know that it has nothing to do with him and it is my inner issues that need attention.

    This is just 1 area that I have been struggling with more then anything lately.

    Any advice or wisdom would be appreciated!!

    Thank you!

    Amy

    • It sounds like you’re doing wonderful work on yourself, Amy, and I would just encourage you to keep going and harness and fair amount of patience. It takes time to reverse unhelpful habits – like repetitive thinking -and since you’ve only been at it for about a month you’re really just at the starting gates. Keep going!

    • Amy

      Thanks Sheryl! Your site is truly amazing and I am so thankful I stumbled across it!

  • Kim

    I’m curious to know how much of handling disappoint is letting go, and how much is accepting the present. My counselor has taken the route of telling me “regretting breakups are normal” and not really continuing to discuses the relationship with me, when I came to counseling BEFORE the breakup wanting to get ride of my negative ideas on him. It’s been almost two month since we have been apart, and I’m really frustrated because I want to try to understand the relationship better. I really want to be in place where we can be together, although I’m still not sure if that possible. Is this Valid? Or do you think the counselor is right about moving away from the topic? I just feel like they never even considered the idea that there is still hope.

    • It’s very important to understand a relationship post-breakup, both in terms of the grieving process and in terms of what you can learn about yourself.

  • Marilen

    Hi Sheryl

    I stumbled upon your website at the time when I truly needed reminding. Your blogs/articles has helped me greatly in dealing with disappointments associated with my separation and subsequent divorce from a marriage of 29 years. I can’t say I am over it now but articles like this is a timely reminder that must continue to work on my emotions and thought processes.

    Thank you from The Land Down Under

  • Jess

    Hi Sheryl,

    As always, thank you for your work! Would you be able to clarify the difference between doing something (ie. going with your partner to his family’s place for the weekend) to not disappoint your partner versus it being a loving action (love being effort-full and knowing that it would make him happy). Does it depend on through which lens and intention, negative or positive, you are viewing and approaching the situation? Any further insight would be greatly appreciated!

  • Mike

    Hey Sheryl,

    I have a couple of questions concerning disappointment in the viewpoint of feelings towards one’s own feelings (meta-feelings).

    In essence, I have a wonderful, loving partner whom is at once loyal yet independent, caring yet not a push-over, and the opposite side of joy that helps keep me in the “present.” As you say, we do not need to feel love for a person every second, and there are times I definitely don’t feel it and times I do.

    My problem, then, is not that its an “every second” kind of thing… but when that lack of love, non-lack of disappointment, doubt, and fear (about all manners of “enoughs” or “shoulds”) stretches out from a time period of a day and into a stretch of weeks.

    Four weeks ago, I had a brilliant week for an entire week – I was quite in love. However, in the three weeks since, the black dog has been at my door constantly and doubts have been flying. Mind you, every little thing is the same in other areas of my life and I feel I am stoking my personal fires. The only differences is the doubt and fear present on those long swings down.

    And I honestly think quite a bit of that is due to that disappointment. Day 1 I don’t feel something and that’s okay. Day 2 I still don’t feel anything, and I start to worry. By day 4, I’m utterly disappointed because I can’t feel anything for the relationship. That then cascades with other parts of me – I become much more observant of physical flaws of my partner which I definitely do not want to stay fixed on and things of that nature.

    Thus, my question is two-fold: are these long stretches of nothing normal? I’ve been a huge follower of your course, but, of course, with doubting I have yet to find people “exactly” like me. For me, my situation tends towards one week”on” and then an entire month “off”. In those times, there is no flip. It’s constant for quite a long time period.

    Secondly, how do I deal with this self-disappointment that my body/mind is not reacting to my love that I give my girlfriend – and even when I can’t feel enough, I am loving. We very much love each other on the adult, actions side, but on the adolescent, feelings side, I just have fear and disappointment, especially if I love enough or about exes, that beat out everything else.

    What do we do with this intolerance of our own feelings and wishing we could just feel for them like they feel for us?

  • Levi

    Thank you so much for these words. They came at the right time. This is such a painful lesson, and although I’ve deeply, deeply disappointed my girlfriend I find hope in reading this post. This provides healing, and I thank you for the words that you’ve spoken.

  • Levi

    I’ve grown up fearing disappointing others, but until this week I’ve never FULLY realized the way that this was manifested. I thought that it was displayed by my inability to say no, but this post has helped me identify that my fear of disappointing others manifested itself in my ability to lie, and my ability to omit truths (“which, of course, is lying.”).

    Oh, how my heart breaks to stand in the mirror and see my flaws.

    Oh, how my soul longs to be cleansed and made pure.

    The healing journey is paved with mistakes and learning from them, and although I have fear with my humanness and my brokenness, I’m also encouraged to know that it takes time to reverse unhelpful habits, as you commented above, Sheryl. I will let your words saturate my thoughts and drive my growth as I begin this journey. THANK YOU!

    • Welcome to the greatest journey of your life, Levi. Your willingness to turn and look yourself square in the soul is evident, and I commend you for your courage and send you blessings for the ride.

  • Hello Sheryl beautiful post 🙂
    I was just wondering is the feeling of being calm, at ease and not feeling out of place around your partner even if you two are silent consider a connection ?

      • Thank you 🙂
        But this just came to mind and was wondering if you could help , how do you deal with relation anxiety in a long distance relation ship , because when he’s here I still feel anxious alittle but I get through it because he makes me feel at ease and calm and makes me laugh but when he leaves I feel disconnected and sometimes bored during are phone calls like we have nothing to talk about ( I do not have a job I just stay at home bored too)

  • Sorry forgot to had. Even if you are feeling anxiety sometimes

  • Michaela

    Thank you for these beautiful words of truth, Sheryl 🙂

  • Katie

    Dear Sheryl,
    I’ve had to deal with great disappointment throughout my life. I was always terrified and convinced I would disappoint someone/anyone/everyone, and that was the root of my anxiety for so many years. Now I’m older, and I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint myself. I have terrible intrusive thoughts that I want to see other people, which are baseless but obsessive, and the idea that I could let them take over or that they might be true makes me feel like such a disappointment because I feel like I’ve failed myself and my partner by wanting the things that I promised I never would.

  • Nora

    Thank you for this post, Sheryl. Your blog and its many followers are a huge help for me. Knowing that the issues I am experiencing with my partner do not necessarily spell the doom of our relationship is a relief, especially since I wonder all the time whether he is ‘the one’ when it feels so damn hard to be happy and accepting of him. Disappointment is something that I’ve struggled with alot. I’ve always been a perfectionist in every domain of my life; I want more, I strive for more, I demand more. This has appeared to be no different in my relationship. Consequently, I am constantly disappointed and irritated at my poor partner, wondering why he’s not more intuitive, more self-motivated, more in shape – just more of everything I want him to be. Of course I recognise that the problem is with me, but I suppose there’s still that niggling voice in my head saying that maybe this just isn’t right. It’s going to be something that requires some solid work on my part :/