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Dealing with Disappointment
by Earle Donelson, Ph.D.
Samaritan Counseling Center

This past October, the Boston Red Sox finally won a World Series and put an end to 86 years of disappointment. (And, gratefully, a stop to our having to hear about “The Curse.”) But amidst the New England team’s joy and celebration, the St. Louis Cardinals extended their 20+ years of frustration for having missed yet another World Series victory. One person’s ecstasy often can be another’s anguish.

Disappointment. It’s just a part of life. It comes in all shapes, forms and degrees. It can range from our team’s losing the “big game” to our not getting the job/promotion we hoped for. It may signal the end of a marriage, relationship or friendship. It may be related to your child, your health, the church, politics, finances or someone’s behavior. It can involve your dreams, hopes and aspirations and invade every aspect of life.

In my work as a therapist, I often hear about disappointment. I also hear the emotions, feelings or thoughts that go along with it: sadness, anger, self-doubt, despair, depression, rejection, hopelessness, dismay, surrender. Disappointment typically involves some form of loss, rejection, betrayal and failed expectations, and sometimes self-blame. Depending on how one feels about it, thinks about it, or reacts to it, disappointment can have a significant effect on mood, behavior, self-concept, confidence, outlook, health, relationships… everything. So how do we deal with this debilitating state of mind?

That depends on the type of disappointment. We can rely on our family and friends to help us cope, or talk to our pastor or a therapist to work through our feelings. Numerous verbal and mental exercises can help address the issues associated with disappointment--thinking realistically, the use of coping dialogues, stress and relaxation techniques, meditation and distraction, among them. Dealing with disappointment may just take time. Also important are what lessons we learn from our disappointment.

And of course, our faith is there to sustain us. We can look to God for guidance, support, answers and relief from our pain. The Bible, a favorite verse and other spiritually related material can guide us, and prayer can deliver us. Many answers can be found in our faith. Through prayer, the study of scripture and careful discernment, we may find avenues for navigating through the disappointments that come our way.

However, it’s important to realize that our faith may be a source of our disappointment--that is, when we misuse faith. We often pray for things to happen, and when they don’t, our disappointment may deepen. We feel that God has abandoned us, that God is not listening, or, perhaps, that God is punishing us for something we’ve done. Similar to a child asking for gifts from Santa, when our prayers aren’t answered as we had hope, we begin to question our beliefs. Although God is not Santa, God does listen and does answer our prayers, regardless of how things might appear.

The use of “God as Santa” in prayer reminds me of the words of former President Jimmy Carter, a man of deep faith and strongly held moral convictions. When asked if he believed that God answers all our prayers, he smiled and said, “Of course God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is ‘Yes.’ Sometimes the answer is ‘No.’ And sometimes the answer is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’” We have to be willing to understand and accept that life can have many disappointments, but God and our faith should not be one. We can always rely on God for support, love, nurturance, blessings, abundance and guidance. God will help us deal with disappointment, if we’ll only ask.

In the end, how we face our disappointments, how we think about them, and more importantly how we utilize our faith enables us to more effectively deal with life’s shortcomings. Ironically, it is when we are able to learn from our disappointments that we are also able to live more fully.

Copyright ©2004 Earle Donelson


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