DISAPPOINTMENT doesn’t end without a salve, whether you are spelling or experiencing it. Without some kind of treatment, we tend to keep scratching at let-downs like a bad rash. There may be some momentary relief, but in the long run it only makes things worse. And people can generally see the mark that’s left.
I have a long list of balloon busts, from getting dropped from a youth soccer team because I wasn’t good enough to getting passed over for my dream job. Some left even deeper wounds.
Having had quite of bit of practice, I’ve learned that there are three crucial steps for dealing with those times when the bottom drops out of your world and you just want to stay in bed and pull up the covers.
Let it in. You can’t fix what you won’t face. Pretending something didn’t matter is a poor defense mechanism. Remember, you don’t have a duck’s back. Just because you refuse to acknowledge feelings doesn’t mean they aren’t there. We’ve all asked someone what’s wrong, only to have them say “Nothing”—while anger leaks from their every pore. It took me a long time to realize in such instances that my sulky silence could speak awfully loudly.
I know admitting disappointment is hard. It means exposure: revealing a tender nerve, a desire or a failed dream. Facing that maybe we weren’t enough in some way. It is an essential first step toward healing, however. Lazarus’s sister Mary shows us how.
Let it out. It’s one thing to acknowledge you are sad or hurt that things didn’t go a certain way, but it’s another to openly admit it. If allowing yourself to experience the sadness is the first step, then expressing it is the second. Verbalizing the what and the why and the how of the disappointment can take different forms—a conversation with a trusted friend, an angry letter you write but never send, or a solo walk-vent in the woods.
Whatever manner you choose, putting words to disappointment works a bit like a laxative. Especially if you’re someone who is used to bottling up their feelings. The results may not be pretty, but it sure brings relief. Flushing that toxic build-up makes room for some goodness.
Let it go. When some people bury things, they do so like a dog with its bone—they keep going back and digging it up again to check on it. Cue the lyrics from the hit Frozen song:
Let it go, let it go/Can’t hold it back anymore/Let it go, let it go/Turn away and slam the door.
Steps one and two make take a while to complete, of course. Forgiveness—for that’s surely an element of dealing with disappointment—can be an ongoing process not a one-off event. But at some point, we need to face the facts and say our piece and then move on.
Perhaps that is incrementally. Allow yourself five minutes a day to wallow, then cut it off and move on. Reduce the time and frequency gradually. There was a season when I was dealing with a major disappointment that I felt had me tethered to a dangerous place. Each morning I’d mime cutting the rope with a penknife that sat on my desk, until I no longer needed to.
Let down? Let it in, let it out, let it go. Then, let it be.