Up until recently, I was perfectly content having one child. But apparently, “baby fever” is an actual thing. Suddenly, every pregnant woman, newborn, or toddler I saw or heard left me with this deep pit of longing in my gut.
Add to this, my daughter wants a sibling. Badly. She reminds me constantly, “we should ‘get’ another child in this family”. She tells me all the ways she’d help take care of a baby. I know she would be a fantastic big sister. I can’t imagine life without my sister, and I want that for my little one, too.
But, the fact is, I have a brain-injury. It makes sleep-deprivation unbearable, hormonal changes difficult, and my ability-levels on a day-to-day basis somewhat unpredictable. As much as I may want a baby right now; it’s not the right choice for me, my husband, my daughter, or this hypothetical baby. With that realization and understanding, came disappointment – grief over the loss of what could have been for my little family. I’ve been working through those feelings, and of course; continue to work towards recovery as well.
In my position at Healthoholics, I am lucky to work with a kind-hearted, insightful, and knowledgeable Mental Health Counsellor named Grace Howe. I reached out to her to see if she would contribute any tips that she has for processing life’s disappointments to this blog post. Her thoughts are below…
“Life is full of disappointments” was my Dad’s mantra for over 70 years. I heard this sage phrase often, usually when I came to him with heart in hand, after expressing my intense disappointment over an exciting event that did not happen, or when a promise had been broken.
As a child, I did not know what to do with the sentiment – walking away to nurse my wounds alone. As a teen and young adult, the repetitive saying would cause an eye roll and a shrug of shoulders. Now, as an adult with years of life experiences and disappointments in the wake of my life, the echo of that phrase continues to provide me with points to ponder.
As I reflect on the past, I realize that the empty words spouted by my Dad did nothing to soothe my hurts as a child. In fact, I would say it caused more harm. Where was the validation of my loss and hurt? Even a simple hug would have gone a long way to easing my pain. As a teen, having gotten used to the empty phrase; an eye roll and shrugs were my way of coping with the lack of sympathy – something my Dad could not provide. Fast forward to present day, maturity combined with strong self-awareness and psychoeducation provides an avenue for me to take those moments of the past, acknowledge the wounds, and strive to make sense of disappointment – or at least bring closure to them.
In its simplest form, disappointment is a form of grief. Hope brings expectation and when even the smallest dream fades to black, we are left with feelings of loss. The higher the expectations, and brighter the hope – the more powerful the feelings of loss and grief when those hopes are dashed.
When I look back over my life I acknowledge the big and small ways life, people, and situations have disappointed me. I can be honest and say that life has not turned out the way I had hoped. Even as I pen these thoughts, I resist staying in this place with the shadow of disappointments shrouding me, but I want to push ahead – lifting my emotional face to the sun of optimism and gratitude. But I also resist the temptation to rush ahead to find my joy.
You see, a wise woman once advised me to honour the timing of everything – including grief. There is a time for joy and celebration and these times give life and hope. Yet, there is a time for acknowledging the presence of grief and loss as well.
I do not like to stay in the grief and loss space. I can tolerate being in that space with someone else but it is not a place I like to dwell personally. That said, when I do encourage myself to “sit with my loss” for a span of time I am better for the experience. It is there that I can reflect on ways I am changing and growing through this experience.
My Dad was right. Life is full of disappointments. That is a fact. Life in all its complexity contains joy and sorrow, highs and lows, sunshine and rainbows, light and shadows. It is inevitable that one day each of us will experience varying degrees of disappointments. So, what does one do with this universally human experience? How does one cope?
Following are 5 key steps to coping with disappointment. Similar to the grief process, these steps are not necessarily linear. Spend as much time in each step as you need. I recommend a journal to record your progress. Writing often helps bring clarity from the “noise” of the mind.
- Acknowledge the loss. Resist the urge to “pretend everything is okay.” Name it/them out loud. Write it down. You can use a paper journal or even a secure online blog.
- Identify and list the feelings associated with the loss. Are you angry? Hurt? Confused? Sad? (The use of a “feelings wheel” found online can be a helpful tool in identifying your feelings).
- Respond to the emotions brought on by the feelings. Do you need to cry, scream, be still and quiet? Is there an art form or activity that can help you express your emotions? Be sure to respond to your emotions in a healthy way. Have the support of friends, family and/or a professional therapist or counsellor.
- Identify the participants in the loss. Who was involved? Do you need to talk with them about your disappointment? Do you need to extend forgiveness to others or yourself?
- Create closure. How can you go about letting it go?
Create a ritual with which you will “let it go.” For example, candle burning: Burn a candle as you give voice to each loss. When your list is complete, allow the candle to burn out. Depending on the size of your candle, this may take time. Practice calm breathing as you wait. Many find comfort even in the search for a candle. Pay attention to the size, colour, texture. What shape will it be? How many wicks? One of my clients chose a 3-wick candle that represented him and his deceased parents.
Another idea for creating closure could be to write the grief points on paper. Bury them, burn them or allow them to float away along a body of water. The idea is to visually “let it go.”
Disappointments happen. Not taking the time to process and reflect can lead to a build-up of negative emotions. As you create closure for each moment of loss; the now empty space left by the closure makes room for change to come, for joy to have a place to grow and hope to rise.