Hello and welcome back to the Therapy Spot! On this month’s episode, I want to talk about two things that go hand in hand: disappointment and acceptance. Disappointment can hit us hard and make us spin out — but for some reason, we tend to avoid talking about this difficult emotion. So today, I’d like to guide you towards a different perspective on disappointment. With this new perspective, you will have more choices, and a better understanding of yourself.
Seeing (and Feeling) Disappointment For What it Is
All of us, at some point in our lives, will feel the sting of disappointment. Disappointment is a normal reaction to all sorts of events, large and small.
- You didn’t get the promotion.
- Your partner forgot an important anniversary.
- Despite hours of studying, you got a poor grade on an assignment.
- It rained all weekend when you had a camping trip planned.
This feeling can show up in a variety of ways, including anger, frustration, or even a lingering sadness. I encourage you to pay attention to these initial reactions, because they provide valuable information about yourself.
Noticing and staying with negative feelings was not always easy for me. Growing up, my family had a motto: “Disappointments as opportunities!” More often than not, we urged each other to push on through a problem before we could notice our own negative emotions.
When you sit with your reaction and explore this negative feeling, you might hear a part of you say: “I don’t like this. This isn’t what I wanted.”
That means it’s time to ask that part a very important question. What did you want?
What’s Really Behind Disappointment
Let’s look at the examples I listed above from another angle. Instead of what happened, think about what you may have wanted, or expected, in each situation.
- You really thought you were the best candidate for the promotion.
- You wanted to feel loved, seen, and appreciated by your partner.
- You wanted a good grade to reflect how hard you worked to understand the material.
- You planned your weekend activities when the forecast called for sun, not rain.
When you feel the upset of disappointment, ask yourself What did I want to happen? What did I expect to happen? This expectation could be the true root of your frustration, sadness, or anger.
The next step is to ask yourself if this expectation is based in reality. Is it something that can happen? To go back to one of the examples above, you can’t change the weather — but you can make a “Plan B” so you can still enjoy your weekend in the wilderness. Or, using another example, your partner’s memory lapse doesn’t mean they don’t love and appreciate you. They might just show it in a way you weren’t looking for!
When there’s a difference between what we want and what we get, the next step is acceptance.
Accepting Your Reality to Change Your Reality
When you accept the reality of your situation, that is when change can happen. Psychologists call this “the paradoxical theory of change.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that change happens when we accept things as they currently are. Understanding and acknowledging what’s happening right now: that sounds a lot like mindfulness, doesn’t it?
So, you moved towards your negative emotion, and got curious towards it. By doing this, you unblended from that feeling of sadness or anger, and brought some calm into the situation. With calm, you’ll be able to get more clarity about what to do next.
At this point, I want you to ask yourself two questions:
- Whose problem is this? While some problems will be mostly your own, if it involves your partner, you may want to invite them in and share your vulnerable emotions.
- What action can you take to solve this problem? I’ll be honest: I think this is the hardest part.
Let’s revisit the anniversary example one more time. You can acknowledge that you and your partner have different ideas of what it means to express your love for each other. You might decide that you can accept things as they are. On the other hand, you might choose to discuss it with your partner when you feel calmer, and see if you can meet in the middle.
In both cases, however, you let go of the expectation you held and the judgements you had around this difference between your expectation and reality. Only you can know how to live alongside this difference.
Final Thoughts on Disappointment and Acceptance
Acceptance is more that saying the words “I accept.” Acceptance is actively letting go of your expectations, even if that means free falling. That doesn’t have to be scary! When you approach this process with curiosity and compassion, you’ll land in a place that fits you better.
Deep acceptance for what is frees us from our reactions of disappointment, frustration, or sadness. Instead of reacting, you can respond. In this space of acceptance and deep understanding, you’ll see choices you didn’t see before, and results you might never have considered. It’s an important step in a journey to a more authentic place.
Thank you so much for joining me on the Therapy Spot today. I’ll be back with a new episode in November. Until next time!