As part of a new series I’m starting on expectations, one of the most unexplored places for me is disappointment. Understanding it, exploring it, and “sitting in the emotion” of disappointment and really letting yourself FEEL it.
One of the reasons I see this as being so important, though it can be painful to experience, is that I believe we can learn a great deal about ourselves if we choose to listen to what we are feeling. This is not about wallowing (I’ve been a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of girl my whole life, so ain’t nobody got time for that) but about exploring. Exploring the desires, wants, hurts and needs that are all wrapped up into expectations.
I remember sitting on a couch, facing my counselor, a week after a big breakthrough for me. She was asking the typical follow-up questions, and I was feeling fairly content. The breakthrough powerful and good; I’d finally connected two dots that desperately needed to be connected in my life and I was rejoicing that I had now named something crucial in my life. Not only was a happy about it, but I also knew it would affect me for the rest of my life.
She continued to push and I finally asked her what she was getting at. She said to me, “I think you are moving on too quickly. Have you grieved?”
That term had been floating around my house that semester… one of my roommates was in the counseling program, so it made sense that I would hear it. But without context, I didn’t know what it really meant.
When an expectation or desire isn’t met, there is, at the very least, disappointment. At the most, there is severe and deep hurt. For years, when I was angry or frustrated and didn’t understand why, once I identified why, it was a huge victory. In short, I used to think that simply naming something was enough to help me move on.
With a disappointment, there is a loss. Clearly, that looks different depending on the situation. But a loss is still there. And here is where I come back to my “boot-straps” comment. To grieve something, other than the death of a loved one, always felt self-indulgent and selfish to me. But I know better now. It’s part of the feeling process.
But we don’t live in a culture that honors grieving the loss. We live in a culture that honors “moving on.” It’s so born and bred in us, that when I started Downton Abby this season, I chided Mary in my head once I found out how long it had been since Matthew died and she was STILL wearing black.
I don’t believe in wallowing, but I do believing in feeling deeply. And feeling hurts, especially during a loss. Since I’ve first learned what it means to grieve the loss, I’ve experienced plenty of disappointment. And I’m still learning how to, but I am trying to feel that disappointment fully. It teaches me about myself. What I desire, what I expect. It teaches me about the other person, and in some cases, it’s even helped me confront the one who disappointed me, which has led to deeper friendship and love between us.
Feeling the disappointment seems indulgent. You don’t have to do it – life certainly moves one if you don’t learn how to feel the disappointment. But life is fuller when you do. It’s fuller because you are fuller. Self-examination is hard, but an absolute life necessity as a Christ-follower.