I’m going to go out on a limb and say that anyone who’s reading this has probably been disappointed at some point in their life. We all experience it. Sometimes it’s the little let-downs like not having milk for your coffee, or missing an opportunity to meet an out-of-town friend. And sometimes it’s the really heavy disappointments, the ones where “disappointment” doesn’t really cover it, like failed relationships, difficulties with children, health or financial troubles.
So what do we do when disappointment rears its head? How do we cope with All The Feelings? My old “coping” mechanism was generally to be sad, think about what “should have been,” talk about it ad nauseam and be short-tempered with my family. As you can imagine, that didn’t really work so well. Over time, I’ve learned that when I’m feeling hurt and confused and sad, I call my Rebbetzin, who I know will listen to me and give me advice that’s rooted in wisdom.
Still, it’s a process. Even with disappointments that are, shall we say, “second-tier” (as in, they don’t involve life-threatening or -altering scenarios), it’s still possible to feel devastated, angry, hurt, guilty, whatever. There are a lot of emotions that just need to be processed and dealt with. And it can be very lonely when dealing with a situation that you want/need to keep private. But if we know that disappointment is going to happen at some point, we might as well come prepared, right?
Here are some tools that have worked for me:
Perspective. When faced with a major disappointment, it can completely dwarf all the things that are going right. The only things that exists in my mind is the situation causing me pain. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining, there’s a sweet parking spot right in front of me and all my laundry is folded and put away. It can even dwarf my kids doing cute things, which is ridiculous. But that’s how it is sometimes. When I’m feeling sad, it’s very hard to think about anything else but the pain. So I have to force myself to. There are so many blessings in life. Even just being able to walk around and see is a tremendous blessing that I regularly take for granted. So I make a list, either in my head or in my journal, of all the things things I’m grateful for.
Prayer. I don’t know why I always feel slightly uncomfortable mentioning anything overtly religious, but when it comes down to it, prayer really helps me a lot. When I’m experiencing strong feelings of angst or turmoil, I can open the pages of Tehillim (Psalms) or my siddur and to talk to Hashem. I like Tehillim because there’s a number of references to pain and transcendence of pain, so there’s a lot of relatable material. And there’s just so much food for thought and consolation in there. Also, even though it doesn’t happen so often right now, I love davening from a siddur, where I have a chance to connect to the wise words that reinforce the foundations of my beliefs.
Belief. There’s a fundamental concept in Judaism that everything happens for a reason, that nothing is by chance. Every challenge we face is custom-made to encourage our growth and help us maximize our potential. This is obviously a major, major concept that takes years to internalize, and is best worked on when everything is going swimmingly and there are rainbows and sunshine and kittens everywhere. It’s not light stuff, but when I really study the concept by listening to classes (Rabbi Aryeh Nivin’s chabura has been very helpful for me), reading books etc., it does make it easier to deal with the bigger disappointments in life.
Good Deeds. In the words of Uncle Moishy, “Mitzvos make you happy, mitzvos make you smile.” Doing something nice for someone else not only takes your mind off your troubles, it’s physically good for you. Even though my day basically revolves around doing nice things for my family (including myself), when there’s a cloud of sadness hanging over me, I need to stretch my giving muscles just a little bit more. Even something like being extra nice to a cashier at the supermarket can give me a little boost. Some other acts are giving a ride to someone who needs it, making a meal for a new mommy, or offering to take someone’s cart to the corral for them at the grocery store. Whatever I can do for someone else, I do it.
Outlets. During times of deep disappointment, I find I have a lot of energy (is it adrenaline? I don’t know), and if left undirected, I end up feeling very anxious. So I turn to some familiar outlets to help channel all that extra nervousness. My journal gets a lot more use at these times. I also turn to music, mainly piano. Lately I’ve been revisiting the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach. It’s pretty sublime and does wonders to calm my nerves. I wish I turned more to exercise (those endorphins are really powerful), but my creative outlets are usually where I go.
Time. No matter how effective these tools are, there is still the reality of pain that isn’t gone until it’s gone. And when I’m feeling that pain I know I just have to ride the wave, do my due diligence to cope with it as best as possible, and trust it will pass. It helps to remember that I have made it through painfully disappointing situations before, and I will do so again. That it’s just part of life, and that, yes, it has made me stronger and more attuned to the pain of others (most of the time, I hope).
What do you do to cope with pain and disappointment in life?