Disappointment is merely an unmet expectation,
it's only when you imbue it with negative meanings that it becomes painful
World English Dictionary
- diseased, abnormal, or faulty: dysentery; dyslexia
- difficult or painful: dysuria, dysthymia
- unfavorable or bad: dylogistic
[via Latin from Greek dus- ]
How many people do you know that handle disappointment well?
First of all, what does that look like?
It is the ability to realize and accept that something you expected has not happened without your becoming angry at someone else, angry at yourself, complaining, whining or feeling sorry for yourself... and then being able to focus on making the best of it and aiming for the best possible outcome now that what you expected didn't happen.
If instead of handling it with poise and aplomb, you become upset and strike out at others or yourself, disappointment turns into dysappointment, where you experience pain and hurt over the disappointment.
If you think of disappointment as dis + appointment and by that an expectation of a certain outcome, i.e. an appointment with a result, that just didn't happen, you realize that a disappointment is neutral. It becomes painful only when you apply a different meaning to it, as in, "That shouldn't have happened," "That wasn't fair," "It's not right." When you apply such meanings, they appear to justify your reacting emotionally to it. However when you change those meanings, your need to react emotionally goes away.*
Prevent disappointment from turning into dysappointment
If you can recognize the extra meaning you are putting on it and that doing so only causes you pain, you have the possibility of taking that meaning off it and alleviating the pain and, more importantly, you can prevent needlessly striking out, striking back or hurting yourself.
So the next time something doesn't happen that you expected, instead of thinking, "That shouldn't have happened," think, "That's just one of the things that happen that I don't like or didn't expect and furthermore if I handle it well, it's a tremendous opportunity for poise." And if you're like most people, manifesting and demonstrating poise is one of the most respect- and esteem-worthy ways you can act in life.
Turn BATNA to BSCTFC
BATNA is a term coined by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 bestseller, Getting to YES. It stands for the "Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement," which means that when you are going into a negotiation, it is best to have a backup alternative so that you don't have all your eggs in one basket and are able to proceed even if the negotiation fails. Having that also makes you less brittle, less emotional and causes you less stress during the negotiation.
BSCTFC stands for "Best Second Choice To a First Choice." One of the most common examples of this is when high schoolers are applying to college. They and their parents are told to have a first choice, a couple second choice(s) and several "safety" choices. This process is also very revealing of students and parents who handle disappointment well and those who handle it poorly. Those who handle it well can end up in a "safety" and still have an excellent experience. Those who handle it poorly may not even apply beyond a first and a second choice, because the dysappointment if they don't get their way is intolerable.
The more poorly someone handles disappointment and not getting their way, the more they are likely to react negatively and angrily and push back when they are told to have a "back-up" plan.
Try a Little Perspective
About 25 years ago, an elderly woman came to see me who was bent over with severe arthritis and walked very slowly with the use of a cane and looked like the hag in the movie Snow White. Despite the pain she must have been having, she had a radiant smile. When I asked her what she seemed so happy about she replied, "I was just thinking how great this cane is going to look when I am in a wheelchair in five years."
If you look at your present through the eyes of your future and focus on what you still have that you might not in the future and then appreciate it, it's amazing how much dysappointment can go away.
Be Grateful then Multiply
Finally, if every day you can think of someone who was there for you and who stood up for you in public, stood by you in a crisis and stood up to you in private and prevented you from doing something foolish AND then reached out to them or their family to give them a "Power Thank You," you will will realize that you can't be grateful and dysappointed at the same time.
* This perception is adapted from the transformational ideas that are foundational to Landmark Education. If you haven't yet attended one of their Forum programs, I would urge you to check one of them out. It will change the way you look at and live in the world.
For more by Mark Goulston, M.D., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.