When I was working to stop actions that hurt my partner, my counselor helped me see patterns that indicated possible causes. I noticed I felt disappointment, frustration, rejection, loss, or failure before those incidents. The insight I gained was that I needed to learn how to deal with disappointment better.
Disappointment can come in many forms. I was frustrated when my wife didn’t agree with me. I felt rejected or a sense of loss when she chose to spend time apart. I believed I was a failure when my shortcomings were pointed out. All of these are a version of disappointment.
The problem is trying to avoid painful emotions
I didn’t like these feelings—no one does. By digging deeper, I determined I was trying to stop myself from feeling those negative emotions. I was trying to protect myself from feeling hurt.
The trouble was, protecting myself meant I would try to control what others, especially my partner, did or said. I would tell her what to do or argue with something she said. If that didn’t change her actions, get her to agree, or elicit an apology; I’d escalate my efforts by using intimidation or even violence.
How we respond to these powerful emotions is a critical question for those of us who have hurt our partners and are working to change. Expecting others to soothe our feelings, and escalating into verbal or physical attacks when they don’t, shows poor emotional control. By the way, a lack of emotional control is very common for those of us who have battered or abused our partners.
A lack of emotional control is very common for those of us who have abused our partners.
Obviously, what I was doing was not how to deal with disappointment in a constructive way. My response damaged my relationship with my wife and got me into trouble with the law. My actions not only hurt her, but they were hurting me.
How to deal with disappointment more effectively
Bad stuff happens. All of us will find ourselves forced to handle a variety setbacks and letdowns. That’s just a fact of life. What do others who have good emotional control do when the inevitable misfortunes come along, I wondered? Here’s what I learned.
We have two choices when circumstances are not what we want them to be—try to change them, or accept them. The first alternative means we have to make a rational decision about what we can and can’t change. When we lack emotional control, our feelings overwhelm us and we simply act to stop the pain rather than accepting them.
When we lack emotional control, our feelings overwhelm us and we simply act to stop the pain.
Changing our circumstances is a good strategy when it is within our power to do so. If I’m cold, I can put on a jacket; if I’m unemployed, I can apply for a job. These things are within my power to change, or at least influence, because they only involve me.
Where we really get into trouble is when we try to control our circumstances by controlling others. It’s fine to ask for their cooperation. We can request that they turn up the thermostat, offer us a job, or act in whatever way we would prefer. It is, however, still up to them as to whether they choose to go along with what we ask.
Trying to preside over another’s thoughts, opinions, or actions against their will is something none of us have a right to do. This is especially true if we use anger, intimidation, put-downs, threats, punishment, or making them feel “crazy”. To use a sports analogy, those are fouls so grievous that they will get us removed from the game.
Acceptance as a strategy
If it is not possible for us to change our situation, the other choice is to accept the disappointment. When we’ve done all we can do within our own power to manage our circumstances, then we’re done. Sometimes, things still won’t be the way we wanted them to be.
That’s when acceptance becomes a very useful tool. I wrote more about using acceptance therapy strategies for how to deal with disappointment in this blog. Bottom line, acceptance is not struggling with frustrations so much that we make them worse, and getting on with our lives at the same time.
There are ways to ease the pain of disappointment, frustration, rejection, loss, or failure that does not involve changing our circumstances or other people. Learning alternatives of how to deal with disappointment gets us closer to enjoying a good life, even if it is not perfect.
Learning alternatives of how to deal with disappointment gets us closer to enjoying a good life, even if it is not perfect.
What’s a situation that you have faced that was disappointing? Were you able change the situation, or did you find a way to accept it? How did you strategy work? We’d love to hear your story in the comments section.