Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Finding Hope: How to Turn Disappointments into Strengths

Disappointments can be deeply painful, crush our self-esteem, and shake our world.

Disappointment is defined as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the unfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.” So, naturally, disappointments leave us feeling sad, regretful, dismayed and sorrowful. And given the current news today, from the numerous worldwide natural disasters to the country’s political instability, many people are experiencing an array of emotions associated with disappointment.

When we are disappointed, we tend to focus on the outcome that caused our feelings of disappointment. We may feel paralyzed to do anything to make our circumstances or ourselves feel better, and we focus only on the feelings of loss surrounding our un-actualized dream or goal.

With this information in mind, one can spot the similarities between feeling disappointment and mourning. This is because mourning is part of disappointment.

By going through the mourning process, the hope required to improve our situation and to help us feel better when facing disappointing situations and times is found.

When disappointments, as with other losses such as a loved one dying or a relationship ending, are not properly and fully mourned, we end up feeling “stuck” — reflecting our emotional mourning process hitting a wall. And emotional pain that is not expressed in healthy ways or is shut down by repression, can be transmitted in destructive and unhelpful ways, for example by having more conflicting relationships than usual, being more easily angered or frustrated, feeling more depressed, feeling more anxious and/or drinking more alcohol or consuming other substances to self-medicate.

After fully mourning our disappointments, feelings of hope represent our newly gained emotional and cognitive growth by seeing new possibilities, perspectives and options available to us to ponder and act upon. In this way, feeling disappointed can be seen as an opportunity to grow and learn. And in my experience of working with individuals in my practice, digesting and incorporating emotional pain related to disappointment strengthens people and their relationships.

It’s important to be mindful of not falling into the trap of generalizing a specific disappointment and thereby creating a downward cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts such as, “I’m not good enough” or  “This always happens to me.” 

People struggling with depression and/or anxiety when facing disappointment may be more likely to generalize a specific disappointment, and disappointments may trigger a cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts or make their depression and/or anxiety worse, especially if many disappointments happened over a short time span.

Remember that allowing yourself to experience the pain of disappointment and to express your feelings about it will lead to emotional and cognitive growth and greater degrees of resiliency and grit.

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind to help with finding the hope in life’s inevitable disappointments:

Acknowledge you are actually disappointed. This may sound obvious, but for many, simply stating they are disappointed can be painful since for them disappointment is associated with feelings of failure. It’s important to keep in mind disappointments are a normal part of life and a part of being human.

Tune into your feelings. As stated above, feelings of sadness, regret and loss are associated with disappointment. Acknowledging your feelings means you’re taking yourself and your circumstances seriously. It also indicates you’re on your way and open to learning from your disappointing experience.

Do not minimize or avoid your emotions.  It’s normal to want to avoid feeling painful emotions by means of distraction or self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. But, ultimately shutting down a mourning process by these means will not help us in the long run, and our emotional growth and ability to cultivate the hope needed for change and learning will be stunted.

Be patient with yourself. Give yourself the time to process feelings of loss triggered by a disappointment. As with any physical trauma or injury, our injured emotions stemming from disappointment will take time to heal, time to regroup and transform into hope.

Take the time to figure out what went wrong. Once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve your feelings of loss brought about by a disappointment, take the time to figure out what may have gone wrong and work on determining what part was in your control versus what wasn’t. Examine your expectations and your goals and apply what you’ve learned to what you can do differently in the future.  

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