Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Dealing with Disappointment

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?

Let's DO this!
Let’s DO this!

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?  

31 thoughts on “Dealing with Disappointment

  1. I can’t help but smile as I read this post. It’s so real, cute and true! (sorry for the disappointment :) – not exactly the adjectives you were expecting — ). Real – because I totally relate (see below). Cute because your kids are great actors and ka”h sooo cute. Love the sad and happy faces of your five (?) year old son. The best!!

    And so true….because I have to say that as a kid, my father used to smile warmly whenever I would be frustrated over a disappointment (ranting, venting, talking ad nauseum….) and he’d say, “Miriam, life is full of disappointments…” It became sort of a cliche in our family and till this day we joke about it with our father (till 120). These days when I’m disappointment (big, medium, small ones – and surprisingly the small ones are sometimes the biggest deal with me for some weird reason), I visualize my father’s face (he’s in NY) and take a deep breath

    But seriously, your coping mechanisms are perfect, and it’s great that you have them down pat in list. Outlets are great, and so is time. Yesterday I was sooooo nervous about something and I played my harp for about 45 minutes and felt so much better. Prayer works too, and that good feeling lasts for the rest of the day sometimes. It just kind of feels like I’m relinquishing control (hard for me), letting go, and putting my trust in Hashem. (lately that has worked a lot).

    Great post, as always! Keep them coming, Rivki!

    1. Isn’t music the best that way? I love it. And I totally say that to my children too, when they are feeling very disappointed about things like not getting more cheese puffs or something. :)

  2. I hadn’t really thought about it until I read this, but I guess I tend to employ three P’s: Perspective, Prayer, and Psalms.

    I also find that sometimes disconnecting from social media during those times helps. It’s too easy to get the wrong perspective by comparing my disappointments with what others have/have accomplished. Even though I know what people post online is only a small window into their reality (and maybe not even that), when feeling down, it doesn’t exactly put me in a positive space.

    (Sidenote: I get you on the feeling slightly uncomfortable mentioning anything overtly religious – for me I think it has to do with the strong reactions people have to religion, and the lack of context when I’m on the internet. In person, I feel far more comfortable, but online, I feel like I’m opening myself up to negativity.)

    1. I totally agree about the social media thing. When I’m feeling down, going on Facebook makes me very agitated. And thanks for the insights into the aversion to mentioning overtly religious stuff. It can certainly be very hot button sometimes.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Building a relationship with a rebbetzin (or rabbi) can be hard sometimes. Some advice I got on that once was to call (or email, I guess) a rebbetzin you want to be connected to with “small” questions, or even just to say hi, or to say “mazel tov” on a happy occasion. If you don’t have a rebbetzin in town, let me know and I’ll see if I can find someone somewhere for you. :)

      1. I don’t have a Rebbetzin where I live. Maybe you could help find someone somewhere for me?? That would be great. Its highly frustrating to feel like I’m on this journey alone since I’ve learned I’m Jewish and fully embraced all that entails. I deal with frustration through music and singing. It is a calming help for me.

  3. Putting things in perspective – 100 times yes to this!!! “In the grand scheme of things” vs a particular disappointment (and I had a rather unpleasant disappointment just an hour ago) – this helps me keep my sanity. The Earth continues to go round and round… Tomorrow will be another day…
    Then there is my dad and his “all that happens is for the best” philosophy. Very, very often I realize that he is right.
    Sense of humor: I try to make a funny story about it. This helps on two levels. First, it forces me not to take myself too seriously. Second, anticipation of telling the story to my husband and friends makes me feel better.
    Finally, if everything else fails, there is this Russian method of dealing with disappointment:
    1. Raise your dominant arm up high in the air.
    2. Take in a deep breath and hold it…
    3. Simultaneously, breath out, drop the arm and curse. (I can’t curse, so I substitute my Grandma’s favorite “gezunt af dein kop”).

    1. I love this comment, Natasha! I’m sorry about your very recent disappointment, and I hope the sting fades very soon. The Russian method of dealing with disappointment cracks me up. Thanks for sharing!

  4. The main way I deal with disappointment is bitachon, bitachon, bitachon. I think *I* know what’s supposed to happen and how my life is supposed to go? *I* have the full picture? Yeah, right! I can’t even see around the corner to know if the bus is on its way or if I missed it already. Reminding myself that Hashem knows WAY better than I do what’s best for me and loves me like crazy and wants to give it to me helps a lot. It makes me be happy (or worst case, accepting) about the disappointment itself until I can see the bigger picture of why it’s actually awesome that it worked out that way.

    I am actually in the middle of a number of these right now, and I keep seeing the reason when I wait it out. A couple apartments we really wanted didn’t end up being available…in order that we would be free to move into the amazing one we found that I am in love with. I didn’t get an answer back about switching to an easier work location on the day my daughter was sick and came with me…and the place I started out ended up way less busy than the place I wanted to switch to.

    Some bigger disappointments in life take much more work to see this way, but that work is my job in life and again, keeps me humble be reminding me that I’m no prophet and they way I think it should be often has nothing to do with the actual Hashem-decided truth of how it really should be, aka what is best.

  5. Wow, great post. And so timely. Why do I always feel like you are spying on my life? One thing that helps me (sometimes, when I remember) is that disappointment comes from comparing what I WANTED to happen with what ACTUALLY happened. It can be an exercise in humility, realize that I am not the Boss of the Universe and that just because I want it doesn’t make it come true. Letting go of the expectation helps a lot. But so do your suggestions. Thanks!

    1. Oh yes, expectations are notoriously linked to disappointment. I still fall into that trap more than I should, but I also need to realize that I am not Boss of the Universe!

  6. I love your post! The ideas you gave are great and I loved reading the suggestions of the other commenters ( is that a word?). For me, even when dealing with the bigger disappointments, I find it helpful to repeat to myself ” This is NOT the end of the story. Just the middle. Good things are coming.” Also, friends are great (hint, hint…).

    1. Commenters is totally a word. And I love the perspective of it being the middle of the story. It was nice talking with you this morning. Thanks for the nudge to call! :)

  7. This is a great article. I agree with a lot of what you have to say. I just wish this article was around a few weeks ago when I was wrapping my head around being disappointed over not getting to meet one of my favorite celebrities. People were telling me that I was wrong to have such expectations, and maybe they made sense in some ways. However, the point was that I was disappointed. It may have been something minor to people, but maybe they didn’t get that this was my first chance to meet the celebrity and I was completely blown off my them when they appeared right in front of me. So yes, it was disappointing. I rank it on the level of my last little weekend getaway before having my first child, when my husband got strep and was too sick to enjoy our time together. Neither are colossal, but I have every right to feel disappointed nonetheless. So thanks for the validation!

    1. I am happy to provide validation! And that does sound like a very disappointing situation, to be so close and then to still not get what you wanted. I can completely relate to that.

  8. This is a great post! I try to put things in perspective as much as I can–at least I have a wonderful family, etc, etc. But I do try to acknowledge that X happened and it’s difficult and painful at the same time. I’ve been thinking about trying Rabbi Nivin’s chaburahs for a while–will check out the link.

  9. Recently I lost my Dad and so ‘sad’ or ‘disappointed’ doesn’t really cover it . Those close to me know, of course, that I’m mourning, and there’s no pretense. But otherwise I make a point of being outwardly happy and do so by saying hi to everyone with a big smile – and I mean everyone. So when someone the other day who would have great cause to be unhappy/sad/disappointed etc said that my happiness made her feel happy I thought, wow, that’s the power of a smile and as sad as I was feeling, that lifted my spirits enormously. Just thinking about it now…weeeeee!

    1. Oy Joanne, I’m so sorry for your loss. And thank you for sharing that powerful story! It’s a great example of how pushing ourselves to do something nice, even something as “small” as a smile (which, as you know, is hard to muster sometimes), can make a huge difference!

      May your father’s memory be a blessing, and may you be comforted in your grieving.

  10. These are wonderful and I have to tell you that these are tried-and-true methods I have used to manage situational anxiety over the years. I can get it pretty bad right before or during (or after) a major life change and I’ve used prayer, time, doing good deeds (that one is awesome), and having outlets for my pain or anxiety. I’m so glad you found me because I am bookmarking this to read next time I need it. (which will probably be tomorrow)

    1. Those major life changes can definitely wreak havoc on anyone’s nerves! Thank you so much for visiting, and I hope you won’t need to check back on this post too soon (though it is that time of year, seems to be).

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