I've been feeling down in the dumps lately.
It’s not just me–I’ve noticed that in the last few days friends, family, and clients all seem to be in a funk. So much so, that it started me thinking, is there something about this time of year?
The holidays are over, and the pace of life slows back down a bit. We were looking so forward to that, but now that it’s here, it’s less satisfying than we had thought it would be…
In the Midwest, where I grew up, January and February are the hardest months of the year–cold, gray, depressing. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real problem for many people who experience winters like that.
Here in Los Angeles the weather has been, well, weird. Unpredictable. Chilly one day and hot the next. Today on the beach the air was still and the ocean was glassy. People were talking about how odd it is. In fact, it’s an odd day by definition when people in Los Angeles are talking about the weather!
It’s more than the weather, though. On the first day of February we begin to recognize that there are some resolutions that just aren’t going to make the cut. It’s disappointing. We started the year with enthusiasm and hope, and now they are both fading.
I believe that disappointment is an emotion that doesn’t get enough press.
Sometimes things just don’t go the way you thought they would. Or wanted them to. How often are we able to simply say, “I’m disappointed that I couldn’t make that happen”?
These days most of us don’t have a working knowledge of disappointment. We aren’t used to processing disappointment as such–if something doesn’t end well, we are supposed to cheer up, look at the bright side, engage the “law of attraction”.
We are not encouraged to feel appropriately lousy.
This is a mistake for a number of reasons.
The first thing to understand about disappointment is that it is temporary.
The second thing to understand about disappointment is that if we don’t acknowledge it, we internalize it, and eventually it morphs into depression, anxiety, or shame. These emotions have a lot more staying power.
So how do we process disappointment?
First we name it for what it is.
In my therapy practice I find that clients often don't recognize disappointment. Disappointment can masquerade as anger, resentment or depression. Just identifying that you are feeling disappointed can be liberating.
Next we get specific:
“I am really disappointed that I didn’t get the promotion I thought was coming after the holidays.”
Acknowledging that you are disappointed doesn’t mean it was your fault, was not your fault, you didn’t try hard enough, or you are a loser.
Acknowledging your disappointment simply means you are letting yourself experience an emotion that naturally arises from any kind of failure or setback.
By allowing yourself to experience the emotions that naturally arise, you are sending yourself a message that your feelings are valid. This is the antithesis of shame.
Once you are able to acknowledge your disappointment to yourself, practice sharing it with others whom you know will be empathetic. You will be surprised at the validation you will get!
Finally, the most difficult skill to learn is to acknowledge when you are disappointed with yourself.
For example, “I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to stick to my new exercise regimen. I had such high hopes, and I’m already 2 weeks behind schedule.”
This has a totally different feeling from what many of us usually tell ourselves, “I am such a loser–I only went to the gym for a week before I stopped going at all,” or “Obviously I will never be able to stick to an exercise schedule–I don’t have the discipline”.
These statements do not acknowledge how we feel (disappointed)–they are character assassinations, “I am a loser”, or “I don’t have any discipline”.
If you are a loser, or don’t have any discipline, then that is pretty final. If you are merely disappointed in your own performance, then you are free to re-evaluate the situation.
Is going to the gym just not practical for you right now? Do you have too many other commitments? Do you need to adapt your resolution, or even put it off for now? Or maybe you want to try again after arranging for some extra support.
When we do this, we move from character assassination to problem-solving.
I’m not happy with the way things went; how can I try a different approach in the future?
The good news is that disappointment is fleeting. It will fade as new experiences arise.
If you allow yourself to feel disappointed, you may be surprised at how much more quickly your mood will lift!
So…back to the beginning.
Are you feeling funky this February?
Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the post-holiday blues, but maaaaybe…it’s just unacknowledged disappointment.
Practice being disappointed, and free yourself up to feel better!
Need a little extra help getting out of your funk?
Therapy can help you get your joy back! Give me a call at 323-999-1537, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can chat about how therapy might help you, or what might be the next step for you to take.
If you'd rather just bypass the phone tag, you can go directly to my online calendar and schedule a free consultation by phone or in person.