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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Success or failure in life may depend on how we learn to deal with disappointment ....

One of the most understated of emotions is ‘disappointment’ .... whoever you are and whatever you aspire to be there’s no getting away from the natural ebb and flow of personal fortune. Tensions and situations are winding us up, knocking us back or letting us down.  Ranging from mild discouragement to chronic soul-destroying disillusionment, it affects everyone from the cradle to the grave at various times, and our success or failure in life may depend on how we learn to read it and deal with it.

To understand early on what disappointment is and how to deal with it is to know that a) the world doesn’t revolve around us. And, b) not everything we think we want comes in the package we envisage. Only people who have weathered disappointment and immersed themselves in the aftermath and made something ‘else’ with the remnants are the true philosophers. They have probably understood that within their life script there is an unknown hand at work that is both rebel and tyrant and acts without the consent of the logical mind, but perhaps with the backing of the heart! and maybe at some unconscious level they knew exactly what they were doing all the time!

The often ignored territory around disappointment is ‘choice’. Sometimes we have to learn how to choose or simply how to choose again on something we thought we wanted. And sometimes we have to learn when not to choose at all, but to wait and see! If insight is missing or limited then so is choice. Choice comes and goes, or so it seems. Often its presence has not been obvious until it has passed. But if disappointment takes root in the soul as an accepted state of existence it may become apathy, which in turn becomes rigidity, which can then become despair with unknown origin.

Anticipation is linked to expectation which is close to desire and what is strongly felt as desire becomes an absolute rule of consciousness - even an obsession. (This is why mystics and aesthetics throughout the ages practised self control to the point of self denial - to understand the mastery of self). But the whole business of wanting things through to totally being unable to live without them is part of the human experience. And never has it been more prevalent than in today’s society - ‘delayed gratification’ is no longer a very fashionable mind-set.

Influencing the material world is one thing but controlling other areas of life where disappointment arrives in varying forms is something else entirely; a broken relationship! a bereavement! a business failure! These are occurrences that may or may not be soothed by a credit card spree or a holiday.  There are distractions which might or might not be viable substitutes for those kind of losses but overall, eventually, and in some way, the disappointment has to be dealt with. And by the time this happens we may have blown ‘disappointment’ up into something else.

The bigger and more expansive our access to life experience becomes these days the more important it is to let ourselves feel the subtler emotions Iike sadness or apprehension! There is a tendency we have to drag subtle feelings by the scruff and shape them into states like depression or anxiety, when they may actually have started with something as mild as disappointment or discontentment - which we refused to absorb or acknowledge - but we are liable to transform them into some massive upset or trauma.

Over-blowing feelings is as bad as not acknowledging them at all. The middle ground is both the goal and the key. Among some draconian cultures, feelings of disappointment are repressed or discouraged, whilst in the more indulgent of societies those same feelings may be bought off with alternative consolations and substitutes. It is only in the most enlightened of environments where we are actually taught to understand the balance between wanting and accepting lack, and perhaps re-appraising the whole matter. Meanwhile stressing over things we can’t have, or even over potential failures to acquire, is like the hair-shirt of past religious martyrs - if it isn’t done we may forget who we were when we got out of bed in the morning! Or incur the wrath of the invisible gods of beneficence!

Disappointment is in fact an anti-climax, a landing stage to other shores, a chance to re-trace steps and take a different route. If only we can gird our loins, grit our teeth, go back to the drawing-board and start again. Was the desire wrong? or was the planning just flawed? That is the pivotal part of the necessary post-mortem. Once we have dealt with that we can move on.


If disappointment is not properly addressed and absorbed, or is refused admittance, it can become the sort of frigid pining which breeds paralysis - a state where we cannot risk anything new for the fear of being let down and so we live in a perpetually nostalgic limbo. This is similar to once having sustained a painful injury and then forever protecting the affected part of the body against reoccurrence!


To experience too much disappointment without fighting back is to invite all sorts of later psychological-through-to-physical consequences. Conversely, to expect life to be free of disappointment is to remain unseasoned:  a sapling never grown into a tree, a bud never opening into a flower. If we don’t eat life then life eats us! The seasons have to take us and we have to let them. Otherwise we will never know who we really are!

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