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How To Be More Resilient When Life Disappoints You

Jennifer Dopierala
Written by Jennifer Dopierala

All of us work with disappointment every day. Our expectations are constantly being disrupted, whether it's having a friend be late to a plan, missing a train, or the store running out of the brand of toilet paper you want.

There are those days when we can meet the feeling of disappointment with a shrug of our shoulders, and others when it breaks our hearts. Usually, in the latter case, the situational disappointment is triggering something deeper, some unmet or unresolved emotion. When we are disappointed, there's an opportunity being given to us to heal.

We want to think that life isn't supposed to disappoint us. Or that if we do accept disappointment, it's with a resigned or begrudging attitude.

But actually, we can see these moments as invitations to wake up and examine our expectations — and specifically how we impose our particular opinions, assumptions and other views upon the world. Disappointment is always an opportunity to see what it is, and trust that "it" is exactly what we need.

Here are five ways anyone can cultivate a practice of acceptance around disappointment. You can work with disappointment, rather than against it. And the process of working with is a healing one.

1. Find immediate relief in embracing what is.

A friend recently told me a story of going to see a Buddhist Lama Marut. She forgot most of what he said, but the quote that has stayed with her was, "It's like that now." Simply acknowledging what is happening removes a lot of the stress that comes when we struggle against something. Realizing that you can't control your life helps you let it go when things don't go your way. Sometimes just allowing ourselves to think, "I am really disappointed" can be a relief in and of itself.

When my two year-old is losing it over being given the wrong cup, simply repeating back to her that she wanted a different cup can be enough reassurance to allow her to move on. Her tantrum isn't about the cup; it's her way of releasing pent up stress. She wants to be seen and acknowledged. We may be more sophisticated in our tantrums, but we aren't all that different as adults. We need to see and acknowledge within ourselves that we had different expectations, and that our disappointment may be catalyzing a deeper sense of unease that we wish to release.

2. Ask "Where is it in my body?"

Try to find where your disappointment and related emotions are located in the body. This is especially helpful for the bigger disappointments. For me, it usually resides in my heart/chest.

Taking a minute to breath into the space (without attempting to move or remove it) gives us information. This practice is a way to acknowledge the depth of the mind-body connection. It is also a healing way to recognize the power of owning our vulnerability, to work with an uncomfortable feeling instead of fighting it. This allows any old, stored cellular memory of pain to be dispelled. We don't always know what's underneath, but feeling it can be enough to allow it to move.

3. Dig deeper into the feeling (and don't be afraid to ask it more questions).

Your feeling of disappointment most likely transcends the immediate situation at hand. So ask yourself questions, and get to know the nature of your disappointment a little better. How is this about me? Is this a recurring disappointment? Am I disappointed all the time, or just on off days?

Getting honest with ourselves about our patterns and habits bring it to our conscious mind, where we can work with it. My husband leaves veggie scraps in the sink every time he cooks. It drives me crazy, but it's my disappoint to work with. My plans for controlling him and my kids get foiled everyday. If I fly off the deep end every time this happens, I will only bring myself out of center. Realizing that my disappointment often stems from my underlying desire to control helps me shift the pattern.

4. Set the timer.

This one is helpful when we have the same disappointment again and again, or if we're working on a larger, painful situation. Sometimes when we just allow ourselves an hour (or evening) of going in to the pain we're holding, we can move on the next day. For some, this might be a weekly date. Be sure to allow the pain to leave when it's ready.

5. Redirect the feeling.

For those of us who have a propensity toward going down the rabbit hole with our emotions — over-analyzing and picking ourselves apart — the practice of redirecting our attention toward something that brings us joy is often just the medicine we need.

Once we've done the work of getting to know our disappointment better, pulling apart the whys and hows, it's not helpful to continue probing the emotion until we allow ourselves to sink down into depression.

So acknowledge what you know about yourself and your own patterns, and when you find yourself going into the dark every time you're disappointed, find a way to see the positive aspect and do something that feels good. Sometimes, in our need to constantly self-examine, we need to learn how to move into joy more and just be OK with ourselves not being perfect.

We have so many opportunities to work with disappoint every day, and the more we become aware of our thoughts, the greater chance we have to shift our patterns toward those of compassion and gratitude.

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