What do you do when you are disappointed? How do you handle it? That’s what this column is about.
Recently, I experienced a surprising disappointment. I had contacted the Mayor’s office, asking for assistance with a City-related problem and did not receive the help I’d asked for. My phone calls and emails were not returned and I was not treated well (in my opinion). Trying to make things right, I wrote to the Mayor’s office, explaining my experience, asking for an apology for being treated poorly and an acknowledgment of mistakes made. What I got was a complete denial of any mistakes made at all.
Wow, was I disappointed. It wasn’t a matter of life and death (thank God), but I had asked for help and did not receive it. I was disappointed. There’s a line in an old Eurythmics song that goes: “I could give you a mirror to show you disappointment.” How true this is: don’t we wear disappointment in our faces? In our tense, tight smiles that hide how bad we really feel?
There is no avoiding disappointment: things don’t go the way you want. Someone doesn’t do what you think is right. You want something and you don’t get it. So what can we do about it? Here are some ways that we typically react. Some are more helpful than others, but let’s list them all:
Sadness – This is a natural response. I was sad when the gentleman from the Mayor’s office didn’t apologize. I was sad when two people in that office treated me poorly and wouldn’t own up to it. I wanted to be treated well and to receive an apology when I wasn’t. When it didn’t happen, I was sad. This is what some Buddhists call “pain”: life is painful, things happens that we don’t like. What do we do about it?
Revenge – “You hurt me; I’m going to hurt you”. While this sounds appealing, it really gets you nowhere. In fact, if you keep perpetuating (and escalating) the revenge, it often gets jacked up so high that it makes you miserable…and then, it’s really hard to stop it.
Confusion – “Why did this happen to me?” We try to understand, but, we can’t. We can’t know how other people feel and why they do the things they do. Sometimes, our mind just keeps spinning and spinning, trying to understand: have you ever found it hard to sleep because your mind was spinning like this? Your mind can’t figure it out, but it doesn’t want to admit it.
Self-blame – “What did I do to bring this about?” This is a useful question IF (that’s a big “if”) we use it constructively and not just to beat ourselves up. For example, it’s constructive to ask: “How did I contribute to this situation?” And, let’s be honest, we all contribute to a disappointing outcome, but we don’t like to admit it. I asked myself, “How could I have handled the situation (where I asked the Mayor’s Office for help) better?” “What would I do differently next time something like this happens?” This can be really useful: we CAN learn from our disappointments. (I know I’m trying to learn from mine).
Other-blame – This is typically an initial (and normal) response: we blame them. It’s ALL THEIR fault. We avoid taking any responsibility and play the victim. “I don’t deserve this…why are they treating me this way?” It’s okay to indulge in this for a little while, but, ultimately, playing the victim isn’t helpful and it feels bad.
Acceptance – This is the hardest response of all. Acceptance doesn’t mean condoning poor behavior; it does mean that there’s really nothing more that you can (constructively) do about it and that, by holding onto it, you’re likely to prolong your suffering. It serves us best to do what we can to take care of ourselves and then let go and release the situation. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
There’s no avoiding disappointment in life and we have a variety of ways to react. You may go through some of the above responses and wonder: “What do I do now?” I recommend that you allow yourself to feel ALL your emotions and not judge them. Eventually, strong emotions will fade and – hopefully – you’ll reach some form of acceptance (and peace). I know that’s what I’m striving for.