On disappointment

One of my favourite blog posts ever is from Arielle Bair Arbushites’ old blog, The Cat Widow. A journal of grief and healing following the death of her husband. One of the most memorable posts from that collection is her reflection on the feeling of disappointment that accompanied becoming a widow at the age of 30. 

“I’m disappointed that I can’t have the life I wanted. I’m disappointed that I can’t spend another anniversary with Rick, another birthday, another Friday night. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to run home and tell him good news…or show up with him at someone’s wedding…or go on a vacation this summer.”

-Arielle Bair Arbushites, Deafening Disappointment – June 20, 2014

The post quoted above is nearly six years old, but I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot recently. We, as a global community, are experiencing a moment of collective disappointment. That shitty feeling of being let down. Whether it’s a cancelled vacation, a postponed wedding, birthdays spent in isolation, job loss, or shuttering a small business, not to mention mourning the loss of a loved one, there’s plenty of disappointment to go around at the moment. None of us is living the life we thought we would. 

The feeling of disappointment very often comes with judgement, including self-judgment, and minimization. One of the least helpful but most common ways to respond to a feeling of being let down is with the phrase “at least”. And we often use this phrase when having conversations with ourselves. Any time I think of my own, seemingly trivial disappointments I tend to immediately respond with phrases like, “at least me and my family are healthy. At least we’re employed. At least we’re fed. At least we’re together. We are the lucky ones.” 

Regardless, disappointment doesn’t care how big or small our letdowns are, it still worms its way into our hearts. And the best way to keep disappointment coming back is to minimize it. Disappointment is like a little bouncy ball – bat it away with a judgmental thought or comment and it will bounce right back, often with more speed and ferocity. Hold it tightly in your hand, sit with it – the bouncing stops, and you can put it away. 

Just because someone is disappointed about postponing their wedding doesn’t mean they don’t understand or care about how lucky they are. Just because a person feels a bit let down after a virtual birthday party doesn’t mean they’re not grateful for the digital well wishes. We are complex beings, we are capable of feeling many emotions at once. It is possible to check your own privilege while also feeling let down by changed plans and expectations. 

So here’s my suggestion. As the waves of disappointment inevitably come up during this weird time we’re living through, sit with that emotion and feel it. Understand that it’s valid. Try not to judge yourself, and certainly try not to minimize the feeling. I promise that will make it easier and faster to let go. I count my many blessings every day, I like to think we all do. That doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to feel a sense of disappointment following this drastic life change we’re all experiencing. 

So let’s feel the feelings and let them go. Practice gratitude and try to help where we can. And most of all, try not to judge ourselves.  


See also:

This is not the mat leave I imagined – Jessica Pollack for Today’s Parent 

Brené Brown on Empathy


Special thanks to Amélie Matte Zakaib for copy editing ❤️

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