Disappointment is Inevitable
Disappointed people are all around us – in the last few weeks, two close friends received a terminal cancer diagnosis, two friends are resigning from churches as a result of congregational infighting and disputes over leadership style and direction, a young person I know was not chosen for a part in a program for which he had prepared for more than a year, a student is choosing whether to resign from her church or risk termination, and another student had to drop out of an upcoming mission trip in order to have a timely surgical procedure.
There is no denying that life is difficult and disappointments are inevitable. If we live long enough and engage with life fully, some dreams will not be realized, plans will have to be altered, positions we believe we deserve will not be ours, friends will disappoint, our worst flaws will be discovered, and relationships will shift. At the core of all disappointment is pain that must be absorbed, and rejection which must be reconciled. Following are some strategies that I have found helpful in dealing with the unavoidable pain and grief that come with disappointments.
Recognize Your Pain
All pain is not equal; however, all pain hurts. The pain of having terminal cancer is not comparable to the disappointment of not receiving an office in the Baylor Men’s Choir (our annual elections were held this week); however, to not recognize the inherent pain that disappointments bring can ultimately be destructive.
Finding ways in which pain can be absorbed over time is a positive approach whereas stuffing pain down and not dealing with it creates long-term negative consequences. Times of rejection and loss – an imagined yet unrealized future – requires walking through a period of grief. To fail to recognize pain in our lives and to find ways to deal with it proactively puts us at risk of unleashing unresolved anger to people unrelated to the original circumstance.
There is no substitute for time in dealing with painful situations – time is the greatest healer, and sometimes it is the only healer. Dealing with life-altering disappointments may require you to pull away from regular activities. Take more time for rest and Sabbath, and alter your expectations for “being alright” from hours and days to months and years.
Start by giving yourself more time to heal than you think you will need. Instead of expecting to be better next week expect to be better next month or next year. Giving yourself adequate time to recover will keep you from constant frustration when your pain persists longer than you expect.
Plan for Recovery
Deep healing seldom happens without intentionality. Your recovery will likely happen most effectively when you design a plan for it. Consider pulling away from non-required tasks and responsibilities, take days off, maximize vacation, plan for intentional times to have lunch and coffee with perspective-giving people, avoid people who drain you and pull you down, spend time enhancing your physical condition – weight and exercise, give attention to unacknowledged health concerns, and invest more deeply in future-oriented relationships.
A significant component of all disappointing and painful situations is loss of control. When decisions are made that affect our lives and we are unable to alter their outcome, we always find ourselves in a position of disappointment and grief.
In these times of seeming loss of control, claiming control over that which for you do have power is an important step to eventual recovery. For instance, many of the suggestions in the previous section involve making decisions about that which is within your control. Consider canceling appointments and commitments that are not important to you personally or professionally and for which there will not be negative consequences, choose a quiet and reflective vacation rather than one that is active and frenetic, avoid committing to new projects about which you have little interest.
Talk With Those You Trust
Working through disappointments is enhanced by the ability to talk with those around us who can be trusted and who can hold confidential information. Discussing your disappointments with people who will not judge you for your anger and frustration can be a significant step in the healing process.
Seek Outside Assistance
Given adequate time, if you’re not making the sort of progress that you believe is normal for the disappointment that you’ve experienced, seek the assistance of a professional counselor or a spiritual director. Even though we believe we are being honest with our friends and advisors, we sometimes find that we need an outside perspective in order to help us move forward. Someone whose confidentiality is assured, who is not connected to your siltation, and with whom you can expose the rawness of your emotions is often needed. Avoid the arrogance of believing you can do everything on your own.
Postpone Life Lessons
While many around you will want to tie up your pain easily with a life lesson, avoid this all-to-frequent coping strategy. Although there will be a time when you will look back and discern something positive in the pattern of your loss, now is not the time for the sort of analysis that only distance and discernment can offer. While not denying that you want to be eventually in this “what I learned from my pain” stage, pushing yourself there (or allowing others to push you) too soon may easily result in denial and other unhealthy practices.
Pain, rejection, disappointment, and grief are unavoidable; however, our response to these situations is ultimately ours to determine. While the hurt we are experiencing is often beyond our control, our response is ultimately “ours,” and we can choose to walk through our pain in a healthy manner.
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