• Julia Forberg, MA, MFT

Overcoming Disappointment


“You may not be responsible for being knocked down, but you are certainly responsible for getting back up.”

-Jesse Jackson

Life can be filled with disappointment. Anyone who is breathing can relate feeling disappointed at some point in their lives.

What is disappointment?

The Oxford Dictionary defines disappointment as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one's hopes or expectations.”

Some disappointments are big, like losing an ideal job opportunity or being broken up with. Some are small, like your favorite yoga class being cancelled or getting a parking ticket. Others are within your control, like making and breaking a New Year’s resolution, and some disappointments are outside your control, like the constant devastation in the news.

We often hear about how “everything happens for a reason,” but this seems like an overly simplified way to explain life’s hardships. I don’t always know why things happen, but I do know that I will feel terrible if I choose to stay in disappointment for too long.

How to move beyond disappointment

As a therapist, I believe in creating ample space to feel feelings. This means it’s important to feel the disappointment when you notice it. We can even notice what disappointment feels like in our bodies. My body feels heavy and lethargic when I feel disappointed. This is a vital step in overcoming hardship and disappointment, because once you notice what you’re feeling, the power is back in your hands. You are no longer a victim of circumstance. You likely won’t be able to reverse the actions that caused the disappointment in the first place, but you will be able to change how you relate to your disappointment.

One way to do this is to turn disappointment into opportunity. In his article on The Chopra Center website, 4 Steps to Turn Disappointment Into Opportunity, Deepak Chopra discusses that feeling disappointment is a chance to develop coping skills. Chopra says:

“Because life is nothing but change, the part of yourself that wants everything to remain the same isn’t realistic. Beneath the surface there is fear of change, so coping skills have two aspects. 1) Minimizing your sense of fear, anxiety, panic, or depression. 2) Maximizing your ability to turn disappointment into opportunity. These two goals are linked, because they come down to the same thing: consciousness. Your mind delivers good news and bad news. When change suddenly happens, you need to sort out these messages, paying attention to what’s helpful, supportive, and affirmative while downplaying what’s unhelpful, negative, and harmful to the self.”

Are you familiar with that feeling when you have cleaned your house and gotten rid of things you no longer need? Suddenly your life feels spacious, full of possibilities, and you are ready to call in something new and fresh. We can do this with our thoughts and feelings as well. With practice and support, you can release and let go of unhelpful messages that keep you caught in the disappointment loop, thus creating space for opportunity and positive change.

How does disappointment show up for you?

In your own life, think about a time in the past where you have felt disappointed. Perhaps it was related to a lost school or job opportunity, a romantic prospect, or a personal goal or habit you struggle with. Take note if it was within your control or out of your control.

This is not the time to judge, berate, criticize, or blame yourself or others. As best as you can, have compassion for yourself and others involved in the situation.

Now think about how you are in relation to that disappointment. What did you learn about yourself? How did you overcome your feelings of disappointment? Did the situation end up working out better than you expected?

The challenges you experience as you work through your disappointment are an opportunity for self-reflection, to develop and use coping skills, and to build resilience. When you have overcome disappointment and survived a hardship, you can be less afraid of the future, the unknown, and the disappointments that are guaranteed to be present down the road.

Psychologist, author, and Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach says that “Stress plus presence equals evolving.” When you are present with your feelings of disappointment, you open up space for creativity. Creativity is needed to solve difficult situations, to find workable solutions to challenges. Creativity is connected to our vitality. This is how you can change disappointment into opportunity.

Now think of a current situation you’re feeling disappointed about. How can you use what you discovered in the questions above to move through your current disappointment? In what ways can you creatively overcome your feelings of disappointment?

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