“When Dorothy saw that the Wizard of Oz was a bungling — though well-meaning — old man, she felt deep disappointment, but that was the turning point on her journey of learning to trust herself… As Dorothy learned, there were no coattails to hang on to, no shortcuts to the summit, no godfather to do things for her. Disappointment was a necessary step on her path to adulthood — that is, to taking care of herself while still supporting and being supported by others.”
- David Richo, author and therapist on spiritual growth
First, let’s acknowledge that disappointment is rarely invisible. If we are feeling it, then there is a good chance that others are observing it, and maybe empathetically able to feel it, too. A complicated and layered private emotion, such as disappointment, might be confusing and distressing to express publicly - and we might not even know we are doing it.
Disappointment is a portal, a powerful threshold toward true perception and true understanding. It is the end of a lengthy process that many of us go through trying to find somebody or something to carry us, to do the work of personal evolution for us. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we’re constantly trying to be saved and give away our own power until one day we encounter the Wizard, find him to be weak and a fraud, and realize that we were the wizard all along.
I wanted this month's column to be a discussion of disappointment into something that still conveyed the message of positivity and hope.
Certainly, there is enough to talk about these days when it comes to disappointments with the world being in the fragile state of constant emergency. The perpetual unpredictability of life under pandemic lockdowns is difficult, and yes, it is also disappointing to deal with this unpredictability and the reality of constantly pivoting.
Disappointment as a Tool for Growth
“The more we shelter children from every disappointment, the more devastating future disappointments will be.”
- Fred G. Gosman
While this is true of children, it can be said of adults, too. When we attempt to shield ourselves from disappointing and difficult feelings associated with marital, social, familial or professional problems, we are creating an unrealistic bubble of denial that can start spilling into all areas of our existence. We might even find reasons to be disappointed daily or find others in the same state, because after a while when we are depressed, we need constant reinforcement that we do indeed have a valid reason to be totally miserable- and yes, misery does love company.
Instead of having a pity party when we face a major life disappointment like a break-up, a medical setback, a career shakeup or a financial problem, we can try to turn the story around into a revelatory moment that becomes a catalyst for our life toward change. When we acknowledge this, we taste the bitterness of failure, we desire something sweeter and this turns us in the correct attitudinal direction.
The greatest teacher or force of change in my life hasn’t been happiness but rather disappointment, whether it was personal or professional. In the past, I was unwilling to even acknowledge the things in my life that were toxic because I lacked the maturity to see that my own decisions had led to my situation.
Going with the Flow into Clear Water
Disenchantment is usually a signal something is in transition. If we ignore the disappointments, they have a way of showing up in situations that we don’t know how to deal with maturely since we didn’t prepare ourselves.
During so-called good times, it is human nature to put the disappointments of the past on the back burner and enjoy the moment. Keeping our failures or hurts somehow out of sight and out of mind is, however, only a temporary fix. Even though we might be in a better place emotionally, or socially or even financially to reflect and prepare for future tumbles, we rarely do during times of peace and stability. Sooner or later though, when some setback occurs or obstacle is encountered, we find ourselves confronted with the unresolved feelings we either had let simmer or remain buried - and they might have even grown in potency.
The Energy of Disappointment: Hope and Fear
“It is better to know and be disappointed, than to not know and always wonder.”
The energy of expected disappointment stemming from unresolved past disappointment can actually be powerful enough to prevent us from seeing things as they truly are. Our ego operated under the false premise that it is possible to control events to avoid disappointment. So, one way to define disappointment is that it’s the discomfort of refining or correcting the ego.
Disappointment is life’s way of inviting you to wake up to your own conditioned ideas about how things should be, and to the ways in which your own unprocessed disappointment could be causing you to manifest disappointment wherever you look. By shedding old ideas about what life is supposed to be you open up to what life actually is, and what it is asking of you. You then expand into your pure potential as a person.
Sitting Inside the Feeling of Disappointment
Another reason I kept encountering disappointment in the past was that I was carrying a lot of unprocessed and unacknowledged disappointment from my childhood. My childhood was deeply disappointing in many ways. I was disappointed by most of the adults in my life on a regular basis. When we have unresolved emotional trauma, we often manifest experiences mirroring that emotional state. In yoga we say that the dancer is the dance, that the experiencer is the experience. It doesn’t sound fair, but this is why we refine our consciousness: in order to have a brighter, freer world reflected back to us.
Another key to transcending your disappointment is fully feeling it. A wise woman once told me that part of being a mature adult is learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions. I can tell you from experience that disappointment is not an easy emotion to sit with. I find it more painful to experience than simple emotions like anger and sadness. Those are emotions you can sort of “do.” You can be angry: you can yell, groan, moan, growl and hiss. You can be sad by crying it out. But with disappointment, you just have to sit there feeling terrible in a heavy, overcast field of gray. There’s no way around it.
Stepping Into Your Power
With a hearty embrace of disappointment, we can finally stop looking outside for our power. There’s no place like home.
I invite you to look for the places where you are placing an expectation on a person or a situation and soften around it. Move into your heart space, look for where you could be stepping into your own power, and welcome whatever outcome arrives. Only then can you truly be free.
In the same way that fear is an indication that you’re headed in the right direction (once you’ve embraced this approach to the spiritual path), accelerating disappointment can be a useful signal, too, if you learn how to listen to it, how to feel it fully, and how to use it as a catalyst for your own version of a leap forward.