The reflective periods that come with the end of a year and the beginning of a new one can be a wonderful time to sow dreams for the future, identify patterns of behavior, and set goals for our personal and professional life.
While changing seasons and new years’ celebrations can bring much hope, they can also bring feelings of disappointment. Maybe you didn’t meet the goals you had set for yourself. Perhaps circumstantial change brought unexpected setbacks. Relationship changes, loss, the general uncertainty brought about by the pandemic, and unrealized hopes for yourself, your family or recovery journey can lead to deep sense that things “should” be working out differently than they currently are. Disappointment sets in when our expectations don’t correspond with reality, and we’re left to grieve the present.
Although certainly not a pleasant sensation, disappointment is a reality of life. While it is always easier to focus our attention and conversation on positive emotions, we must also do the hard work of addressing those adverse emotions that inevitably come so that we can meet the challenge of their presence in a way that honors our healthy self and recovery process. Learning how to handle disappointment when it comes can transform the feelings of hurt, anger, and grief that come with it into a positive force for long-term recovery.
So how can we manage disappointment when it does arrive?
- Sit with it
Adverse emotions can become even more destructive when we push them down, ignore them, or use unhelpful coping mechanisms to numb ourselves from them. One large part of the recovery process is increasing distress tolerance, or learning how to “sit with” difficult feelings, increasing our ability to do so with time and practice. Now of course, this doesn’t sound very appealing. In the beginning, sitting with our negative feelings can be extremely uncomfortable – that is a fact. However, with practice, our distress tolerance can increase and we can build that “muscle.” This is what many refer to as the “hard work” of recovery, because it can be de-motivating at first. But practicing feeling disappointment, honoring its presence and expressing it through healthy means – journaling, taking a walk, creating something, talking it through with a therapist or trusted friend – is a way to sit with this difficult feeling in a way that makes it easier to process the next time it comes.
- Accept It
Once we have “sat” or are “sitting with” the feelings of disappointment, we can then decide how to respond. But before taking action, we must accept it, rather than let the feeling snowball. Often, disappointment with ourselves, with others, with our circumstances, can then lead to shame and guilt, self-criticism for even feeling disappointment, and feed accompanying feelings of anger or grief. The way to stop this snowballing is to actively choose to accept (and sometimes even verbally remind ourselves) that we are feeling disappointed, and that is a normal part of life. To “answer” the voice of self-criticism with self-validation. Rather than judging the emotion, we can accept its presence as a signal, and replace self-judgment with self-compassion.
- Take Action
Only once we have accepted that we are in fact disappointed can we take steps forward to help alleviate it. The time frame in which this becomes possible is different for everyone, but once it does, action is the next step. If the disappointment is related to ourselves or our own recovery journey or speed, action must be motivated by self-compassion and a recommitment to our values. We can ask ourselves, in an effort to be kind to myself, what is the next best step I can take? How can I show myself more grace and less judgment? If the disappointment is related to a family or friends, we can seek out other more trusted members to include in our “Tribe,” or learn to set some healthy boundaries. If the disappointment is related to general circumstances, the current state of our culture or society, we can ask ourselves where we can be a part of the change we wish to see, how we can use our voice to help others, or where we can bring love and light to dark places.
Disappointment is a fact of life, but it must be met with gracious understanding, acceptance, and then can fuel actions that lead to long-term growth and healing. It isn’t about “if,” but “when,” adverse emotions arrive… how will we meet them? Through presence, acceptance and action, we can be confident that even difficult emotions can serve us in recovery, and connect us more deeply to our humanity and to others’.
**Watch Kirsten & Timberline Knolls Alumnae Coordinator Tee Kaa, talk more about conquering disappointment on our Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOvVQffpjE4&t=164s