How to Tell If You’re Disappointed (And What to Do About It)

By Alice Clarke

catch the fire toronto

We all experience disappointment. It’s on a sliding scale. From disappointment when the croissants are sold out at your favourite bakery, to being let go from a job that you were hoping to progress in. From missing a meal out with friends because of a cold to the deep pain of losing a loved one to a long term illness.

Disappointment in itself is not a big problem. Some disappointments don’t make any difference. You’re unlikely to remember the sold-out-croissants a few weeks later. However, some disappointments will completely change our lives. They’ll affect our thinking, our emotions, and even our relationships.

When Disappointment Gets Toxic

The problem comes when those life-altering disappointments are left unchecked. When we don’t deal with them and make space for God to speak into the pain.

Do you have a compost bin? One of those little ones that live under the kitchen sink, where the not-so-fresh food and vegetable peelings go. That’s fine for a while, even a few days. But if it’s not emptied for a week, or more, something interesting starts to happen. The food starts to break down and become juicy, smelly, and it begins to grow extra nasties that you’d rather not have living in the kitchen.

The same goes for disappointment. If we don’t do anything about it, disappointment doesn’t magically disappear. It just festers. Sarah Jackson, Executive Director of Catch The Fire, put it this way: “When we don’t allow Him into the places of pain and regret and heartsickness that we face, we end up stuffing it. We end up shoving it backwards and the toxic waste of disappointment begins to disperse through our life and the fruit of it will cost us deeply.”

How to tell if you’re carrying toxic disappointment

Are you harbouring some less-than-tasty food scraps (ie. disappointment) in your kitchen (ie.heart)? Here are some telltale signs:

  • Lost peace - You might find that you’re thinking over your disappointment, reworking it, reframing it, and trying to figure it out. You might be asking why it happened or how you could have prevented it. This kind of anxious thinking robs you of your peace.

  • Disconnection - When we’re let down by someone we love, many of us try to protect ourselves from the pain repeating itself by closing ourselves off in some way from that person - choosing not to trust them in that area again, for example. We can do this in friendships, marriages, and even our relationship with God. Unfortunately, the bitterness that you develop toward one person can affect all your relationships.

  • Control - Many people try to manage their disappointment by attempting to prevent it from happening again. If you were passed over for a promotion at work, you might find yourself becoming an overachiever, trying to force your way through. Or perhaps you’re controlling the outcome in the opposite way: purposely underachieving so that you don’t get disappointed again.

  • Blame - When you’re trying to work out who’s to blame for a certain scenario, whether it’s yourself or someone else, it’s a telltale sign of lurking disappointment. In this video, Brene Brown gives a humorous and eye-opening take on blame, highlighting the way we use it to discharge our anger and pain.

  • Depression - For some, emotions linked to disappointment that aren’t dealt with can trigger depression, feelings of despair and hopelessness.

“We would do well to keep in mind that although disappointment is inevitable, being discouraged is always a choice.” said psychoanalyst Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries in the  Harvard Business Review. So how do we make the choice to move out of discouragement and into freedom?

Dealing with disappointment

Have you ever hoped that the pain of your disappointment would just fade away with time? “What I know is that time is not going to heal it,” said Sarah Jackson, “I’ve met people 20 years later, 40 years later, even 60 years later, and they can describe their day of disappointment to me as clearly as though it were yesterday.”

There are some steps that you can take, with God, to process your disappointment and move back into hope:

1. Own it.

Know that you are in good company and accept your state as perfectly normal,” says Beverly D. Flaxington, author and behaviour analyst, in Psychology Today.

Without acknowledging our disappointment, we can’t properly do something about it and make a choice to move on.

2. Get real. Really real.

King David is a great example of someone who knew how to be real with God. In 1 Samuel 30, David returned home to Ziklag to find that the land was raided and all of the women and children were captured. David immediately brought his raw pain straight to God: “So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” (1 Samuel 30:4).

Sarah Jackson says, “What we need to do, what David was so good at, was get alone before God, and be honest with Him... He is the only one who can truly resolve your disappointment for you. He is the only one who can speak words of life that can renew your hope again.”

3. Forgive and let go.

Who is the person that you’ve been blaming for your disappointment? Have you been waiting for them to come back and apologize, hoping that they’ll finally see how they’ve affected your life?

Choosing to forgive those that have disappointed you allows you to let them go so that your wellbeing is not hooked into their actions. You may have been holding yourself responsible for your disappointment, or even God. When you’ve taken time to be honest with God, speak out simple words of forgiveness, and allow Him to bring healing.

4. Repent.

If you find that you’ve disconnected from others or chosen control, blame, bitterness, or unforgiveness, it’s time to bring that to the Father and repent. Tell Him you’re sorry and let Him empower you to choose a different path.

5. Listen and find hope.

Now that you’ve been real with God and begun to forgive, it’s time to wait and hear from Him. In 1 Samuel 30:6, we read that “David found strength in the Lord his God.” Jesus is the source of the life-giving words that can restore your hope and peace again. Ask Him for the word that will sustain you as you move from disappointment and find joy.

This blog references Sarah Jackson’s sermon on Disappointment at Catch The Fire Toronto on Sunday, October 19 2018.