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Dealing with the Disappointment of Canceled Plans

Has this ever happened to you? Plans are on the calendar for a visit with your grandchildren and you get a call that one of them woke up with the sniffles. What do you do? Go and risk the possibility of getting sick? Cancel the plans and deal with your disappointment and the guilt of disappointing others?

Disappointment can be one of life’s most uncomfortable feelings. “It’s complex,” writes Raeeka on Tiny Buddha, a website I discovered recently when I was dealing with my own disappointment. “It contains a subset of other emotions like anger, hurt, sadness, and probably many others too subtle to identify.” Disappointment can leave me feeling angst, unsettled, and unresolved.

There are two kinds of disappointment: the disappointment you feel when plans or people let you down and the feelings that come when others feel disappointed in you for letting them down.

One of my GaGa friends calls this second form of disappointment the “vaporous guilt that clings to us when we let people down.” If you’re a people pleaser, saying “no” can feel like a burden on yourself—that you’ve disappointed someone even though you know you need to take care of yourself.

Last weekend I experienced both of these kinds of disappointment when we had to cancel family plans to celebrate our granddaughter’s tenth birthday because her younger sister came down with a cold. When we got off the phone, I was left with that uncomfortable feeling of guilt mixed with sadness. I should have been able to wave my magic “grandma wand” and make everything all better for everyone. But I couldn’t.

The whole disappointment experience sent me looking for some comfort. I found some helpful advice for dealing with disappointment on Tiny Buddha.

4 Steps to Deal with Disappointment.

  1. Let it out. One of the hardest things to do in a world where everything is immediate is to just let yourself experience a feeling. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling without any agenda of speeding up the process. Whatever you are feeling is OK. Take some time to just sit with your emotion and experience it without moving to fix or change it. Genuinely experiencing emotions, no matter how painful, is one of the beauties of life. Don’t shy away from these moments. Be present in them.
  2. Get some perspective. Once you’ve allowed yourself the space you needed to experience your feelings of disappointment, you’re able to give the situation or individuals involved more room to breathe. Giving yourself the space to be as you are prepares you to allow the same for other people.
  3. Know your own heart. Disappointment can ripple through to the core of who you are. If you don’t know what your core values are, you may not have a framework to support you when you experience negative emotions. For example, if one of your core values is open heartedness, then keep an open heart and be ready to share love and kindness with others, regardless of how they might behave.
  4. Practice acceptance. This step is a lifelong challenge and fundamental to dealing with disappointment. Disappointment is a part of life, part of being human and will no doubt happen at various points throughout the rest of your life! Learn to say: I will be disappointed, I will disappoint, you will be disappointed, and you will disappoint. Life will be disappointing—but it will pass.

In my own case, getting past the initial disappointment and angst of indecision to a place of accepting that the party had to be cancelled, led to a sense of calm. My husband and I went to a movie and then took my mother, who was also disappointed, out to dinner. We went to the library and got a pile of books to read to our granddaughters. On the day that the birthday party was planned, we Skyped with them and wished the younger one a speedy recovery.

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