Making Friends with Disappointments Can Transform Us

Disappointments must be on the top of everyone’s list of uncomfortable emotions.

We abhor disappointments.  We set up entire industries (insurance = insure + assurance?) to reduce the gut-wrenching punch of disappointments.  It seems like humanity is in a war against disappointments.  From legal contracts to marriage vows, we seek to clearly express our expectations in the hopes of making them infallible and bullet-proof.  When a child starts crying because of a broken toy or a missed TV show, we give them sweets to numb and/or distract them from feeling the pang of a letdown.

But this culture of avoiding disappointments have dire consequences.

Because we don’t grow the emotional muscle around disappointments, we get easily overwhelmed by it.  We stuff it down when we are struck by it, even a modest amount, and inside it festers and grows.  Which leads to more disappointments as our health starts faltering from years and decades of stuck emotions.  We cover up our disappointments with anger and frustration, trying to do away with what we perceive as the root cause, as if a disappointment-free life is our birthright.

Some people correctly recognize that disappointments occur as the result of expectations.  So they attempt to temper and/or discard all expectations.  I’m sure you have heard someone say “don’t get your hopes up?”  We can’t tell the difference between entitlement and hope because early on we learn not to hold any positive image of the future in our minds after stumbling over some bitter disappointments.

Disappointments are just like any other emotions.  It feels overwhelming if our emotional muscle is weak, but when you practice feeling it it will lose its bite.  This is what the author Michal Brown calls integrating.  Just as your muscles can grow to lift the weights you found uncomfortable last week, so can your emotional body grow to withstand the shock and awe of a letdown.  The key is to embrace the feeling, pay attention to it, and fully experience the sensation.  If you are not practiced at it it will feel very uncomfortable at first, but the feelings will abate eventually.  Once fully integrated, you will no longer fear events that tend to trigger the previously uncomfortable emotions.  You live more freely and your mind will be less clattered and obstructed.

When you get over the fear of disappointments, you’ll be able to distinguish between hope and expectation.  It’s simple, the latter contains attachments to a specific process that you believe will produce the desired outcome.  That attachment forms the night-and-day difference between disappointment-prone expectations and unfailing hope.  We get attached because we are afraid.  We get specific and start manipulating things in order to avoid disappointments.

If you are not afraid of disappointments, you don’t care if the plan A, B or C work.  You don’t care if things take longer than you expected.  If there are setbacks, you’ll be quicker to learn from their lessons, as you’ll spend less time distracted by the feeling of letdown.  You’ll take more chances.  You’ll feel freer and securer.  You worry less and enjoy more.

All because you learned to make friends with your disappointments.

This possibility is available to anyone.  If you have had a long history of avoiding and minimizing disappointments, this new outlook on life will feel scary and uncomfortable.  You’ll also have to deal with a lot of past disappointments that you didn’t fully feel.  But it’s worth it.  The process is described in details in Michael Brown’s The Presence Process.  One pass at this process takes 10 weeks, and you may need to go through it more than once.  But as uncomfortable as it may feel, this is not difficult.  All the hardships you endured when you were trying to run away from all possible disappointments are much harder.  It’s not an overnight transformation but I can see my own progress, and I’m thrilled to notice the difference.

So now I wish for everyone to learn this truth.  Disappointments are not our enemy.  The running away from it is.

And you have the power to start to change that.  Now.