Dealing with Disappointment

 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  Proverbs 13:12

We have all experienced it – looking forward to something that either didn’t ever occur or was less than we had expected.  I don’t know about you, but I have a history of not dealing with disappointment very well.  If I let it, disappointment can plunge me into deep despair – or anger.

Anger always occurs when you perceive that something (or someone) is blocking you from getting what you need.  Notice, I didn’t say “what you want” – we get slightly disappointed when we don’t get what we want.  However, sometimes we talk ourselves into believing that we NEED something that, in reality, we only WANT, and that’s where we go into a tailspin.

In my case, I had a habit of inventing patterns for my disappointment.  “It happened last time, so it will probably happen this time, and therefore every time in the future.”  Now, this is not a logical conclusion; it simply FEELS logical.  

In actuality, there really is no causal link between what happened last time and next time, except that now I’m looking for the potential disappointment to occur.  The result is that I CREATE the mindset to be disappointed again.  I fabricate a self-fulling prophecy of being disappointed, and funny enough, that prophecy never disappoints me.

There are three ways that disappointment have crippled me in the past:

  1. I have a perceived need that I think must be met, and I have determined HOW that need should be met.   If things don’t go as I had planned, disappointment sets in.
  2. Once I experience disappointment by not having a perceived need met in the way I determined, I tend to protect myself by imagining future disappointments.  Somehow, I think that I will experience less hurt from that disappointment if I mentally prepare for it – which is not true.
  3. Unfortunately, if I continually imagine future disappointments, fear and anxiety take hold of me.  I start fearing the disappointing future I expect (but probably won’t  happen) and subconsciously find a way to sabotage the present situation in order to fulfill my negative prophecy.  It’s a vicious cycle.

This was one of the biggest things that almost destroyed my marriage.  The longer Ronnie and I would be apart due to work or projects or differing interests, the more pressure I put on our alone time to fill my “needs” to feel a connection with him, emotionally and physically.  The more importance I placed on the alone time, the more pressured my husband felt to meet my perceived needs.  My husband hates feeling pressured, and my husband avoids what he hates.   I don’t like rejection, and his avoidance caused me to withdraw into isolation because it felt like rejection.  This was our cycle of interaction.  Not good.

Now, I remind myself that just because I want something (even if I want it strongly) doesn’t mean that I need it.  If I do not perceive it as a need, I don’t get so upset when things don’t go my way.  Don’t get me wrong – some things can still knock me for a loop and threaten to ruin the entire evening – but I’m learning to get over them much more quickly.  More importantly, I don’t expect it to happen again next time, and therefore skip the anxiety of possible future disappointments.

The key here is acknowledging that God will take care of all of my NEEDS, just not necessarily all of my wants when and where I expect them.  I must also clearly remind myself that very rarely is what I am desiring a need; it’s usually simply a want.  Satan, however, loves to convince us that everyone else has it, or that we’ll just wither away and die without it – which is, of course, a big fat lie.  We will survive just fine if we don’t pine and whine after something we can’t have at the moment.

So, here’s my suggested game plan for you to help you deal with disappointment: 

  1. Start by differentiating between your wants and needs. 
  2. Next, it helps to treat yourself as if you were a two year old having a temper tantrum because she wants something she can’t have right now. “Now, Penny, you are not going to die if you don’t get _______ .  I know you want it, but you can’t have it right now. ” 
  3. Then distract yourself with something else – a book, a movie, a call to a friend, a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich (only 140 calories!).  Move on, GET OVER IT, let it go. 
  4. If you don’t dwell on what you didn’t get, you can find something else to enjoy and still be content.  You are the only person who can ruin your evening. 

So what disappointment(s) are you dealing with?  How do you deal with disappointments?  Do you just let them go and move on?  Do  you get angry because you thought you needed it? Was it really a need? Do you fall into the trap of fearing this will happen again, and you will be trapped in a cycle of disappointment?  Share with the rest of us so we can identify with and learn from each other. 

Penny Haynes