Monday, February 6, 2012

Facing Disappointments

The day after the Patriot's disappointing 4th quarter loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl seems like a good occasion to think about disappointment. Disappointment is perhaps one of the most common kinds of negative emotion. It happens when our hopes don't turn into realities. It happens so often that we tend to discount or dismiss it...but, under the surface, it can contribute to a host of problems that clients bring to therapy.

Like all emotions, disappointment serves a purpose. It helps us get our needs met by recognizing which of our desires are healthy and realistic (and which aren't), whom we can count on (and whom we can't), and what is (and isn't) in our control. However, for individuals with depression or low self-esteem, disappointment easily lends itself to cognitive distortions such as: "Nothing ever goes right for me," "nobody cares about me," or "I don't deserve to have good things happen."

The first step in coping with disappointment is to guard against these kinds of distortions, and try as much as possible to keep your thoughts balanced. Recognize that it's normal to feel disappointed sometimes, and that the disappointment is limited to this specific time and circumstance (in other words, don't overgeneralize). Put it in perspective by reminding yourself that other good things will come along (as sports fans say, "There's always next year!"). When in doubt, get someone you trust to serve as a sounding board. If necessary, implement distress tolerance skills.

Once the worst of the disappointment has passed, look back at the situation to see if you might have contributed in some way to the disappointment - for example, through unrealistic expectations, denial, or self-sabotage. If any of these things are present, they are good topics to cover in therapy, especially if they are patterns or habits.

Finally, re-focus on your goals and use your problem solving skills and creativity to figure out what it is you really need, and how you can move in that direction in spite of the disappointment. As the old adage says: "Where there's a will, there's a way!"

(Adapted in part from The Food and Feelings Workbook)

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