This is a topic we have been addressing at home a lot lately. There are so many things that disappoint us – and by “us”, I of course mean my 6 year old. If a friend is not available to play, she is disappointed. If Mom or Dad can’t drop what they are doing to come running to meet whatever current need she is experiencing, she is disappointed. If she doesn’t get what she wants exactly when she wants, she is disappointed.
There are no degrees of disappointment with her – every disappointment is a level 10 – full-out, heart-crushing, tear-inducing, drama-filled devastation. We try to navigate each of these with patience and concern, giving the situationally appropriate response to try to train her to recognize that some disappointments are more annoying than life-altering; but it never seems to make much difference. She hasn’t figured out how to regulate her disappointment. This may be the most stressing thing about being her parent – how to reason with the unreasonable level of emotion that is attached to every, single, stinking disappointment that comes along! It is quite simply more than I can take some days.
I’ve tried all the cliché statements – “sometimes life isn’t fair”; “everything isn’t about you”; “take a deep breath and think of good things” – I hold the line and stand my parental ground; I don’t cave to begging, bartering, pleading, crying, etc. – but my child is stubborn. She can wallow in disappointment longer than anyone I’ve ever encountered. She’ll figure it out one day – she just hasn’t yet. It is annoying and frustrating and enraging.
This got me to thinking why or when we adults started to become immune to disappointment. Daily life is filled with disappointments. The older I get the more frequently they occur. Each morning, I’m a tad disappointed to look in the mirror and not find the young 20 year old face I once had. I catch myself experiencing a certain level of disappointment that an outfit I had planned is not as cute on as it had been in my mind’s imagination. I am disappointed when a plan to meet a friend has to be postponed or any other minor inconvenience arises. I think over a life time these mild disappointments work their way into a layer of calloused protection over my feelings.
It’s the big, life-altering disappointments that still stop me dead in my tracks and send me off into the same feelings of a level 10 – full-out, heart-crushing, tear-inducing, drama-filled devastation – just like my 6 year old. Ironically, most of these disappointments are self-created. Those times when my inner demons sabotage my best laid plans; when I don’t measure up to my standards of success; when my character imperfections are so blaringly obvious that I shake my internal head at my own stupidity.
External disappointments are so much easier to stomach and overcome – it is so easy to place the “blame” for those at the feet of others – they didn’t come through, they didn’t live up to my expectations, they failed. There is a certain level of self-righteousness that occurs when someone else disappoints me. When I disappoint myself or God-forbid someone else, I crumble.
Maybe it is the pleaser nature of a first born or some sort of unfilled need to be an over-achiever, but self-induced disappointment is my Achilles heel – it can render me incapable to move forward. If only I had done, said, thought, or moved differently – this situation would be less disappointing. I can chew on these missteps for days, weeks, months, even years – I find myself reliving conversations and actions over and over, ruminating over each millisecond that led to my current level of disappointment.
I seem to have passed this undesirable trait onto my own child. Often conversations with her start with phrases like, “remember that time I (Arden) didn’t do this right…” – good grief. The beginnings of self-flagellation for sure.
All these musings on disappointments have led me to this conclusion – we all need to just cut ourselves some slack! We are wearing ourselves out allowing these disappointments to build upon each other. And let’s be honest, it is unlikely that we will stop making mistakes that lead to further disappointments. People are unlikely to stop doing things that disappoint us. I am unlikely to wake up looking like a 20 year old college student tomorrow.
Life is definitely not perfect, but there are moments of perfection to find each day – redirection of thoughts and attitudes seems to be the best solution. It may not always work – just like my 6 year old will probably not stop succumbing to level 10 disappointment any time soon – but it is worth the effort. Because life really IS too short.
And isn’t that disappointing!?!?