Handling disappointment

My father had a number of wonderful sayings.  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 unbearable – 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.

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 that 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 the comfort zone of “There must be something wrong with ME!” when, in truth, there could be lots of reasons why they aren’t getting what they want.

A certain kind of emotional and spiritual understanding is required to be able to truly accept that some days that 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 could have done something more, or done it better, and that’s why we haven’t gotten the desired result, the more we can be compassionate with ourselves and set an intention to do more next time, then self-forgiveness will be sure to follow. This can help a difficult situation feel 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 and 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 nasty bear is eating you.


-          Shame yourself with negative self-talk

-          Expect that life should always run smoothly

-          Feel embarrassed about having to deal with difficult situations

-          Lose your sense of humour

-          Convince yourself that things will never get better


-          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?”

-          Begin to accept what you can’t change

-          Re-focus yourself by doing something you enjoy as soon as possible


Just like 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 get you through the fog and damp of disappointment. You might even learn to enjoy jumping in the puddles.

Making peace with disappointment is a wonderful practice. So is making friends with the bear - it's easier on both of you - and nobody gets eaten.

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