Riding the Wave of Disappointment: Beware of the Bear!
My wise father had a number of wonderful sayings in his repertoire. One of my all-time favorites was this one:
“Some days you eat the bear; some days the bear eats you.”
With apologies to vegans and all animal lovers, I’ve always thought that’s a great analogy for life because sometimes it can feel like we’re getting everything we want, while at other times, just the opposite is true and nothing seems to go right. And there are times when that feeling of nothing going right seems to go on for quite a while.
When my clients are experiencing longer than usual durations of feeling like they’re being eaten by the bear, what I hear more than anything else is a profound sense of disappointment – it is often the underlying thread of many of their issues. It is indeed so common that I can’t imagine anyone – including me – who hasn’t felt the sting of it.
Disappointment – So Hard to Handle
Granted, there are some types of disappointment that seem particularly agonizing -like grief over the death of a loved one; the loss of a beloved pet; feeling betrayed in a close relationship; being diagnosed with a severe illness – or watching your belongings go up in flames as a result of a house fire. All of those are tragic and will take a while to get over. At those times, we need to be very gentle with ourselves as we allow ourselves the time it takes.
But there are also the more minor, everyday types of disappointments, where we are just not getting our own way – and we feel like we either want to have a self-pity-party and invite everyone we know to share in our misery, or throw a full-blown hissy fit and blame someone else for our misfortune!
Could it be that we weren’t taught how to handle those disappointments well when we were children? Did anyone sit us down and explain to us that disappointment is part of life, just like the inevitable ‘death and taxes’? Did our parents, teachers, and other caregivers hold us in their arms and comfort us when we were hurting, saying things like “Yes, I know that was a tough experience for you. No wonder you feel disappointed”?
Or did they instead tell us they could give us something to really cry about, or that other people in the world had it much worse than we did, or that we were sissies for sobbing helplessly when we felt our hurt and sadness? Did we maybe use temper tantrums in the hopes of getting the kind of gentler attention which, for so many of us, rarely showed up?
It’s Part of Life
There’s no question about it – disappointment is a part of being alive. But it seems to me that people who have trouble dealing with the inevitable disappointments in life also experience the most disappointment with themselves. When a setback occurs, they immediately retreat into that unhealthy comfort zone of “There must be something wrong with ME!” And when they go into that ‘victim energy’ place, self-medicating those feelings with some sort of addictive behavior could seem like a good choice. But it doesn’t take long for people to realize that addiction never has the desired effect – unfortunately, that decision just adds to the difficult situation the person was trying to get away from in the first place.
A certain kind of emotional and spiritual understanding is required to be able to truly accept that, some days, the bear is going to eat us. It’s just how it is. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with us or that we are somehow defective. On the contrary, it means we are just like everyone else who experiences this from time to time.
And when we can look at any situation we find ourselves in and be curious about the lessons we can learn from it, we can begin to find some mastery over that unruly bear. When we feel that we should have done something more, or should have done it better – when we feel like we just aren’t good enough somehow and that’s why we haven’t gotten the desired result – that’s when we can choose to be compassionate with ourselves instead. We can set an intention to feel more self-forgiveness, rather than tormenting ourselves even further. This can help a difficult or disappointing situation feel much easier for us.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
When you find yourself feeling disappointed with yourself, another person, or a particular situation in your life, there are things you can do that will continue to aggravate those feelings, as well as other things you can do to help yourself feel better faster.
The following is a list of suggested do’s and don’ts to help ease those times when that hungry bear gets a little too close for comfort:
- Shame yourself with negative self-talk,
- Expect that life will always run smoothly,
- Feel embarrassed about having to deal with difficult situations,
- Lose your sense of humor,
- Convince yourself that things will never get better,
- Forget that these times often hold important lessons for us.
- Be extra gentle with yourself,
- Remind yourself that everyone deals with disappointment now and then,
- Talk with someone you trust – share your feelings instead of holding them inside,
- Ask yourself “What can I learn from this experience?”
- Allow yourself to accept what you simply can’t change,
- Re-focus yourself as soon as possible by doing something you enjoy.
Create Your Own Attitude of Allowing
Just like uncontrollable changes in the weather, disappointment is a part of life. Bringing an attitude of allowing – just as we here on the ‘wet coast’ of Canada have to do to cope with the frequent rain – will help get you through the fog and damp of disappointment. You might even learn to enjoy jumping in the puddles!
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