March 24, 2023

Teaching Your Child and Yourself to Cope With Disappointment

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are having a good year so far.  It's been a while since I have written a post and to be honest, I am disappointed about it.  And that's exactly what this post is about....teaching yourself and your child how to cope with disappointment.  

Let's get started by understanding what disappointment is and what it isn't.  First of all disappointment is the feeling of being let down or feeling unfulfilled when expectations or goals are not met to a person's expectations (realistic or not).  Disappointment is different from regret, which is the focus on unfulfilled outcomes being caused by a person's actions, not the outcome itself.

When it comes to experience disappointment, many people have a certain alexithymia, or emotional numbness, stemming from being unable to accurately identify the emotion they are experiencing. Disappointment co-exists and co-occurs with these other feelings, but often we don't recognize it because it is more complex than basic emotions.  In fact, disappointment is a deeper feeling tied to sadness.  The feeling of disappointment is often buried under other, more superficial emotions, which are easier to identify.  Examples include sadness, regret, frustration, annoyance and so on.  

Disappointment IS NOT ANGER!!  Quite often feelings of disappointment get covered over by the stronger feeling of anger, especially when someone blames another for their expectations not being fulfilled.  Anger is seen by many as "safer emotion" to deal with disappointment because it does not require the person to experience vulnerability by facing tougher and deeper emotions.  The downside of this is that the person will not gain insight into what causes their anger and therefore be less likely to come up with effective coping tools for coping with deeper emotions.  A hammer will be used for all emotional difficulties when, perhaps, a wrench may be more useful.

So how do we teach ourselves and our children to cope with disappointment?  Here are some ideas that, when put together, result in what I like to call a DISAPPOINTMENT PLAN.  A disappointment plan is is designed to help build emotional resilience and recovery when experiencing disappointment.  


1.  IDENTIFY upcoming situations where you might experience disappointment.  For example if you are looking forward to going to a movie, but the movie is sold-out.

2.  FRICTION-Understand that there are circumstances outside of our control, which may delay or prevent something from going the way we want it to or that we want to achieve.  These circumstances are called friction because they create a counter force to our efforts.

3.  When you experience disappointment, label it as disappointment.  When you notice you are angry because something didn't turn out the way you wanted, you are likely also very disappointed.  Identifying the disappointment not only cues you to adopt your disappointment plan, it also begins the process of doing away with the alexithymia that occurs when we only notice the superficial emotions.

    Parents are critical at this stage because they have more emotional and contextual awareness than their child has.  You can discuss the topic of disappointment when your child is calm after they have been disappointed.  You can also try to label it for them when they are disappointed in the moment, if they are able to focus on you and not their emotions (that can be a tall order).

4. Redirect your emotions and thinking to another topic.  In other words distract your mind so you don't dwell on the disappointment and the things that went wrong.  This is where many people get "stuck" by focusing on the negative outcome without being able to take a way out.

5.  Model resiliency.  This can look anything like the above steps to including taking a positive perspective on the disappointment by finding another more preferable outcome or giving yourself credit for handling the disappointment well.

6.  Trying again.  While we don't want to beat our heads against a wall trying futile tactics, trying again can give us an opportunity to affect a different outcome as well as teaching the importance of not giving up.

Being disappointed is certainly not fun, but it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom.  I hope these ideas help you and your child deal effectively with disappointment.

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