Disappointment — How to get over it?

disappointment
Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps was the most decorated Olympian swimmer of all time. To most people for someone with his ability anything less than several gold medals would have been a disappointment. But  do they not need to learn a lesson about life?

“If I bring back only one gold, people are going to say it’s a disappointment. But not too many of them own an Olympic gold medal, so if I get one I’m going to be happy.”
(Michael Phelps)

Yet many people suffer the tears of disappointment. A lot of things can go wrong for you: a setback in your career: loss of money in a business venture: feeling let down by a friend or professional colleague: the heartbreak of being disappointed in love: even the disappointment of a favourite football team losing an important match.

When you least feel like it, you desperately need the, not-so-simple, act of picking yourself up, pulling yourself together, and going constructively forward. But where do you find this resilience? How can you move on from the tears of disappointment?

A Taoist story about disappointment

According to one spiritual perspective, disappointing events, despite appearances to the contrary, aren’t always as bad as you first assume. There is an ancient Taoist parable that tells of an old man and his son who lived alone in poor conditions. Their only possession of value was a horse. One day, the horse ran away. The neighbours came by to offer sympathy, telling the old man how unlucky he was.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

The following day the horse returned, bringing with it several wild horses, which the old man and his son locked inside their gate. This time the neighbours hurried over to congratulate the old man on his good fortune.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

The next thing that happened was that his son tried to ride one of the wild horses but fell off and broke his leg. The neighbours were quick to tell the old man that this was a disastrous turn of events.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

Soon after, the army came through, press-ganging young men into service to fight a battle far away. All the local young men were taken – except the old man’s son, because his leg was broken!

In other words appearance can be deceptive. Maybe there is a hidden benefit or at least a  lesson in something going wrong if only you could see it.

Disappointment due to an unreasonable attitude

One possible hidden lesson can be to do with what is unreasonable in your attitude towards others. Disappointed in your adult child’s choice of career or your best friend’s choice of sexual partner? You might ask yourself whether this possibly indicates you are expecting someone to be the way you want them to be and not being what they want to be? If so why not try letting events to simply take their course accepting people as they are? Why not allow them freedom to do what they feel is right for them, without trying to control them, without trying to impose your own ideas and beliefs, without trying to fight against them? You might then feel less disappointed in what they do.

Exaggerating the importance of something

Perhaps you need to ask whether a feeling of disappointment might be due to your exaggerating the significance of something? If so, you could try thinking of all the bad things that could have happened but didn’t. Would it really be the end of the world if you lose your social standing, your job, or even your spouse?

It may be too late to recover the situation. But is it too late to apply what you have learned to what happens next? That is if you have learned anything of value about where you might have been going wrong. New opportunities arise in a changed situation. ‘When one door closes, another opens’. You could let go of the old circumstance and grasp the new one. Don’t give up on your dream — you never know what is waiting for you behind a certain door.

Not all that happens is connected with you

If you are upset about failing in something you might ask whether there is a lesson here to do with your attitude towards yourself. Perhaps you have the attitude that life owes you a triumph which you deserve? Or perhaps you see yourself as worthless and undeserving of any accomplishment and what happened just proves this.

But surely failure doesn’t necessarily mean there is always something good or bad about you? Okay, some of what happened could have been prevented. But other things were facets of every day life that you have to contend with and over which you have little or no control. Some days the sun comes out and shines persistently, on other days it rains with a ferocity that is hard to comprehend.

Not all is at it appears

No one can clearly see what will happen in the next hour, never mind in future months and years. But if you sense in any way, an all-knowing divine force within the workings of the universe, then you might wonder whether there is a higher benevolence, concerned for your inner happiness: and that despite your outward disappointments there might be unforeseen eventualities helpful to you.

One such potential benefit of disappointment is the chance it offers for us to learn a  lesson of life conducive to personal development.

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”(Unknown author)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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