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Dealing with Disappointment

image from Drew Hays

Disappointment seems such a casual word for something that can haunt us. It is not like missing a party; disappointment can leave scars that hamper motivation and confidence and can turn to destructive envy of anyone else’s success. Perhaps parents were a disappointment, or we were told we were a constant disappointment by a parent or teacher, a difficult label to overcome.

It's both interesting and useful to observe the process. I did this recently after a piece of creative work, on which I had devoted a year of effort, was turned down. First came the sinking feeling that usually plugs into a history; in my case an acting career that was inevitably fraught with rejection and disappointment, the last of which pretty much ended my career. Similar to relationships, we accumulate baggage. I watched my ego dance about, trying to settle. Having received encouragement and gained enough self-belief to risk submitting, rejection inevitably made me question if I am deluding myself into thinking I am good enough. I also noted a slight feeling of shame in admitting failure and imagining others would think less of me.

'Creativity is a wonderful gift, but putting it out there is fraught with risk and rejection.'

I know this is all “reaction stuff” and I am familiar with the counter arguments – “it's nothing to do with the quality of your work, it’s about personal preferences, the right fit with the right person, at that time etc.” However, the process still has to be gone through and surmounted. We may practise letting go, breathing and reminding ourselves of its unimportance in the wider scheme of events, but we still need to experience the feelings. I felt my energetic body contract, as my ego shrank, withdrawing inside a protective shell. Each time it gets harder to surmount our resistance and risk putting ourselves out there again.

This is what we do, we shrink inside, vow never to expose ourselves again. Creativity is a wonderful gift, but putting it out there is fraught with risk and rejection. The most renowned authors have had work turned down numerous times before finding success. It is the same process in different situations, such as relationships. Each time our heart is broken, each time we are let down, or our relationship fails, it becomes that much harder to open to another. We become more guarded, less trusting. Perhaps childhood lay the ground when someone repeatedly let us down, or just wasn’t there for us.

'I can recognise the pointlessness of harbouring old stories as fodder to inform my present.'

A rebellious attitude can help, like that well-known stance of, “I’ll prove them all wrong”. People in many walks of life show how dogged determination can overcome setbacks. I am thinking for example, of those who suffer disability or injury and fight their way back to a meaningful life, or indeed become Olympic champions. We can get stuck in feeling sorry for ourselves, in resenting what life and others have done to us. A friend asked if I was dwelling on it, I realised I allowed myself twenty-four hours, then that was enough. At the same time we can miss the opportunity to heal by forcing ourselves into the false positivity of denial, a brave face attitude, while not facing our feelings.

I am trying to use this opportunity to let go of hanging onto past disappointments. I can recognise the pointlessness of harbouring old stories as fodder to inform my present. It can be a valuable time to de-clutter those boxes in our psychological basement. Having a negative experience of this type exposes the patterns and attitudes that underpin it and is an opportunity to reflect and update our psyche’s software, so that we can move forward instead of backwards.

Moving forward to the next chapter...

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