Disappointment & Gratitude

Disappointment has a unique ability to kick our asses. Maybe it’s because we feel we’ve already had too much of it in our lives. Maybe it’s because we have such unhealthy expectations. Despite the fact that so many of us are pessimistic, we still manage not to get what we hope for and we tend not to handle it well. We are most likely to cover disappointment with anger and we’re most likely to turn that anger on ourselves because all we ever wanted was just a little more than we’ve ever had.

We are the children who grew up on empty promises. We learned the hard way that someday never comes, “maybe” means no, and that people don’t do what they say they will. We learned that if we don’t get instant gratification we will receive none at all. Looking forward to things is scary to us and we won’t believe it until we see it.

Yet for as much as we expect to be disappointed, we can’t stand disappointing others. We see letting others down as intolerable. We come through for our children, our friends, our family and our bosses and we make it a point to come through in spades. We’re making up for the past, trying to earn points for the future and we’re exhausted in every today. We’ll exceed your expectations and delight you – just don’t try to appreciate us too much because as hard as we work for it we’re uncomfortable receiving it.

In a healthy world, disappointments occur because either a stated expectation wasn’t met or because something hoped for didn’t happen. We are more likely to be disappointed because we’ve written a script of how people will behave, how they will love us, appreciate us for what we sacrifice, or wake up and realize how much they’ve already hurt us.

We set ourselves up all the time. Let me pine for what I cannot have. Let me seek approval from those who have only ever rejected me. Let me set the stage because if I build it they will come. We set our sights on the unattainable because we fear working toward what we can have. We remain pessimistic and keep our sites low because we are afraid of what we can become.

We seek to do things that are mutually exclusive. We want to be the greatest at what we do (our worth is found in what we do not in who we are). We want you to believe that you can’t run this shop without us but we’ll get angry when you come to expect too much from us (despite the fact that we taught you too). We who do not understand ourselves are bitterly disappointed when you don’t get us. Can’t you see? We need you to adore us and value us in exactly the manner in which we won’t tell you!

To be disappointed is healthy. To stay there too long is to fail to appreciate what we do have. Recently I worked at a psychiatric facility for severely mentally ill individuals. I was incredibly disappointed to find myself working there. I am accustomed to being a bit spoiled – in my weekend job I am paid to be on call and available for a crisis. I find it horribly disappointing when people actually need me in the middle of the night but that is what I am paid for – to be available when things go wrong. As I drove to the facility I took a long wallow in my misfortune that this just had to happen on my shift. I was set for bitterness and resentment. I reasoned that I have had a lot of disappointment recently and damn it I have a right to make myself just as miserable as I want to be.

I found it hard to stay miserable. I knew that I was tired because I work too much. I was disappointed because my job wasn’t as good as it generally is.

I was aware that this extra job is something I choose to do, no one forces me to. I settled in for a long night of too much caffeine and a lot of cigarettes. I found myself warmly received by the psych patients. It’s hard to wallow in self pity when a person who is clearly schizophrenic suggests that you cheer up. It’s hard to feel sorry for myself as I listened to grossly underpaid staff talk about how they were being forced to work overtime despite being exhausted and frequently assaulted. I took a long look at myself and I remembered that I have so much to be grateful for. I do not live with schizophrenia. I am not grossly underpaid and if I am overworked it is by my own choices. This to me is the key – there is almost nothing in my life that I have to do. Nearly everything in my life is what I choose to do. Still I manage to be disappointed.

Gratitude has everything to do with attitude. The longer I cling to my disappointments the more I get in my own way. I can easily feel the disappointment of my childhood, of failed friendships, or times in which I was hurt or betrayed or treated so very unfairly. I have found no solace, no peace, and no serenity in these memories. I have processed them with loved ones and in therapy because it hurt too much to hold on to them. Today I want to be fully grounded in the here and now. I want to have healthy expectations of myself and others. I want to have hopes and dreams and I love being optimistic. I find it costs me nothing but a bit of healthy fear to have these things and the rewards are great.

The thing is, it’s often going to rain on my parade and sometimes there are too many ants for a picnic. That’s just life. I honestly believe that we have a God given right to misery and happiness. I just choose happiness and I encourage others to do the same. I know what it costs and I know what its worth and I hope you let go of past disappointments so that you can have more hope and faith in today.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.