Coping with disappointment

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I probably speak for almost everybody when I say I don’t cope well with disappointment. It’s such a crushing, sickening feeling that makes me want to scream at somebody or rage at the injustice of life itself. Quite often there’s nowhere for it to go, thus compounding feelings of helplessness and hurt. But like all emotions, it has something to teach us.

Perhaps more than any other, disappointment is an emotion that brings forth the wounded inner child and reminds me that it is still alive and kicking within me. If I listen, really listen, to that child, I can hear her pain and know that it’s valid and understandable, even though my adult self is tempted to try to escape those feelings or criticise myself for ‘being silly’ or even bypass them with spiritual teachings.

Years ago, when I was married, my ex husband proudly told me that he was starting a new healthy eating regime and was making himself a salad to take to work for his lunch. That evening I asked whether he enjoyed his lunch. My ex told me that he’d mixed the dressing with the salad while preparing it so when he opened his new lunch box it had all gone limp and horrible and he’d had to throw it away. Not a pleasant, yet very unremarkable experience, but the pain in his voice revealed the hurt and disappointed little boy who was crushed by the loss of not just his lunch but the excitement and plans for a new diet. It brought tears to my eyes as I empathised with just how upsetting that experience had been.

The disappointed child within us needs to be listened to and validated. This child carries our deepest wounds and the difficult and often painful work lies in understanding what they are. Even if it seems utterly inconsequential on the surface – such as my ex husband’s lunch – it often points to a deeper loss and sadness that needs and deserves compassion. Ironically, while I was empathic on that particular occasion, it’s only many years on that I can see how wounded my ex was – we both were – and how often we ‘triggered’ each other’s pain. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls this the ‘pain body’ which I really like and resonate with.

Despite my years of intellectual spiritual study I am only recently learning how many of my childhood wounds still exist in me and how emotions such as disappointment serve to make these wounds known. As painful as the experience is, I am trying to take a small step back and notice what’s happening – remain in presence as Eckhart will say – and not resist, deny or lose myself in it. In letting every moment be my teacher, I can learn how to embrace the disappointed little girl and let her know she is seen and heard, as well as accepted and loved.

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