8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)
Disappointment is a powerful feeling that occupies that space between inhalation and exhalation. It pains deepest when I expire, feeling much like a dull pain somewhere in the region of my solar plexus. It causes me to shrink away from myself and others. When combined with other emotions like betrayal, humiliation, shame and embarrassment, it desires an acceleration of time to a period that is not reminiscent of the associated expectations. Disappointment can cause a numbing that seems to make everything a blur. Outwardly I am engaging, inwardly collapsing. It draws me into an internal dialogue that is so loud and critical that I fear others will hear it. It creates the illusion of inadequacy and inability from others. It drives me to seek a hiding place from which I don’t want to emerge until normalcy has returned to my soul. Of course, the world continues and without external expression others are unaware of the distress, desperation and angst. Disappointment unabated becomes anger. Anger unconstrained becomes frustration, discouragement and cynical bitterness. Each one of these progressions is not immediate but definite if disappointment is allowed more time than appropriate. Disappointment integrated becomes acceptance and growth. Like anything that is worth achieving, arrival at these ultimate destinations requires intentionality, vulnerability, authenticity and transparency.
I recently experienced deep disappointment. Something that I had my heart set on did not materialize. All of the experiential descriptions in the above paragraph became real for me. Each inspired breath seemed to hit an immovable ache within my chest. This ache radiated to the extremities of my torso. It felt like a tight hand around a portion of my bronchioles. Everywhere, I saw reminders of the plans that would not be. I wanted, desperately, to hide from the questions and inquiries from those who had become aware of my aspiration. I wanted to avoid the explanations and well-meant platitudes. Rather than hide from the uncomfortable feelings of discouragement, frustration, surprise, inadequacy and embarrassment, I allowed myself the permission to feel them. I expressed them verbally to those who were close to me. I expressed them, respectfully, to owners of the decision that had resulted in the outcome. I opened up vulnerably to colleagues who were willing to listen. I shared with a trusted counselor. Validation from others without unsolicited meaning making, allowed me to acknowledge my emotional state and be gentle with myself at my stage of grief. I embraced the loss I was experiencing, that of an envisioned future. As I did that, I began to create the possibility of a different future. I began to do the necessary work that is associated with closing identified gaps, the things that will get me even closer to realizing my goal. I am integrating the experience, without discarding my still plausible envisioned future.
Even as I integrate this experience into my existence, I encounter new feelings. These feelings associate themselves with the uncertainty of outcome with this unimagined path on which I am. How will this delay/detour to my plans pan out? What relationship will I have with any new players along the way? I can take comfort in the apostle Paul’s ultimate refrain in the above passage. “We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” Even though uncertainty lies ahead, our experiential strengthening and the assurance of God’s presence and providence assures our preservation. We are confident of thriving irrespective of the disappointments that dot our traveled past.
Where are you with the disappointments in your life? What has your progression been? Have you coped by allowing discouragement and cynicism to protect you? Have you adjusted your expectations lower to ensure that you never experience the let down of disappointment? Have you done the difficult work of integrating your disappointments into your life, while keeping sharply focused on your goals? Wherever you are, there is hope ahead. Do as I did and reach out to others. If you need the help of professional counselors, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.