Dealing with Disappointment
The adolescent years are tough. They’re tough on everyone. The kid AND the parents. That’s especially true for families dealing with autism.
My son Noah has autism and some other issues and those years as he was going through puberty were grueling. I was warned but nothing really prepared me for the volatility, the total shift in him as he acclimated to his new body and hormones and growing up. All of this is better now—way better—so we can laugh about it now. But those were some tough years.
During this time, I worked hard to help him learn how to be flexible. Something hard for all of us but a real challenge for people with autism. When faced with something he didn’t like, he would get incredibly angry. He would pitch a real fit and sometimes even resort to violence. Oh, the stories I could tell! To best deal with this, I’d talk to him when he wasn’t angry about what he could do the next time he got agitated.
After one of these conversations, Noah came to me one morning and said “Mom, say something I don’t like so I can practice being good.” I cracked up! But he was so wise. He had taken to heart what we had been working on. Better yet, he was smart enough to know it was going to take practice.
Life ain’t always perfect. Things happen that you don’t want to happen. Car accidents, arguments with friends, scary medical things, money woes. You get the picture. Some days you have things happen that you don’t like.
I don’t know anyone who never has this happen to them. So like Noah suggested to me, what if we have a plan so that these trials and bumps in the road won’t derail us and throw us off our game.
In today's podcast I have four suggestions to do just that. Lets get started.
Number 1: It’s Ain’t Personal
You’ve got to know that whatever is happening to you that you don’t like is not personal. Really it isn’t.
The cook in the restaurant didn’t mess up your order because it was you who placed the order. You’re not cursed by the Universe and forever doomed to live paycheck to paycheck.
Your parents didn’t willfully give you the genetic makeup for crooked toes and high arches making finding shoes a nightmare (ask me about that some day). Your neighbor didn’t buy a constantly barking dog because she hates you. You don’t have an “X” on your forehead, drawing to it trials and tribulations. Most everything that happens in your life that’s unpleasant frankly is not personal. (Sidebar here . . . having perpetual negative thoughts will bring more negativity to you, that’s for sure . . . but the world does not have it in for you. You might have it out for you. (I have a another podcast about that) See the link below.
Even when you get into an altercation with a friend or loved one, most times their anger or ugliness to you isn’t personal. When Noah got so angry with me and threaten me, it wasn’t personal. He didn’t have it out for his mother. For Cheri. He was simply angry, and I was there. It felt personal. Did it ever! But when I could, I tried to be aware his outburst was really all about him and his changing body and his lack of skills and understanding to navigate those changes. When I did this, I was calmer and less unset myself.
The bad things that happen to you are rarely personal. There was just a mix up in the kitchen. The sun caused a glare in the eyes of the person who wrecked into your car. Your husband is frustrated at work and you’re a safe person to vent to. You messed up with money causing an avalanche of bank fees. The bank doesn’t hate you. Bad things happen to you, to all of us, and they feel directed right at us . . . but more times than not. . . they’re random or really about the other person and always something we can learn from.
Number 2: Reframe It
The next tip is to reframe what is happening. This means to look at it differently, put it in a new frame, look at it from another perspective. More often than not, I do this by using a guiding principle I call “Assume Goodwill”. We begin our reframe by acknowledging that things aren’t personal and then find a new way to look at it.
So, you wanted to get a promotion and a raise. But sadly, someone else was chosen for the job. First, this feels personal. Very personal. But it most likely wasn’t. Likely, the person or people choosing who got the job chose the person who they viewed to be the best candidate. To take this position is what I mean by to assume good will. Assume people are doing what they think is best—being their best.
Then reframing means to look the disappointment from another angle.
When you don’t get what you want (after you’ve dealt with your disappointment) reframe it. Say to yourself (and try hard to mean it) “There must be something better for me that I can’t see yet.” These are powerful words and almost always true!!!! Always. When this isn’t true is when you don’t make the effort to see the good that is waiting for you downstream. I’ve got a whole podcast on downstream thinking.
The critical step in reframing a disappointment is in monitoring and changing your self-talk. Change, “I never get what I want” to “I really wanted that; I really did. But something better must be in my future.” That’s downstream thinking
This step sounds simple—and it is—but it’s not always easy. But with practice it will become second nature.
Number 3: Perform By-Pass Surgery
If someone has a clogged artery in their heart, he or she often has surgery to reconfigure the route of the blood flow. A new route is made for the blood flow to go around the clog. To by-pass the obstacle. This is done when the blockage itself can’t be removed or changed. So instead of removing the blockage, they reroute things. You can do the same thing when something happens that you don’t like.
Here’s another example from my son. During his senior year in high school, through no fault of his own, he wasn’t allowed to play football due to a technicality. Football was his life. His identity! His everything. He was devastated.
I did everything I could to break through the block that was put in front of us. I lobbied, petitioned, you name it. But the block remained. We had no choice but to accept that he was not going to play football. But Noah and his coaches found a way around it. They decided he could be the manager.
But this didn’t quite cut it. Noah was not satisfied. You see, he really wanted to wear a jersey. He really wanted to participate in workouts and do his best to earn his name on his jersey. He wanted to work with is bros, in his words. So, he talked to the coaches and they agreed he could do everything a player did but not actually play in the game. They created a by-pass around the roadblock and figured out a way for him to have most (maybe not all) but most of what he wanted. This, along with amazing reframing on Noah’s part, made him extremely happy. He dealt with the disappointment by creating a by-pass around the problem and finding another way to get what he wanted. He’s awesome.
Number 4: Take Some Kind of Action
Action cures fear! Plain and simple. But unfortunately, when we don’t get what we want we sometimes throw ourselves down on the ground and give up. Its like when you see the kid whose parent refuses to buy them something at the store and the just flay themselves out on the ground, refusing to move. They surrender to the disappointment and wail and scream frankly make a scene.
Do you do this? Do you acquiesce to the disappointment, jump right into bed with it snuggle up with it and refuse to feel better? I see this a lot.
We all can over identify with the bad thing, making it a part of our being—of who we are and refuse to feel better. We get stuck because we surrender to the disappointment and refuse to move.
Instead of making your disappointment a permanent part of you, instead I propose you take some sort of action.
I was a rape crisis counselor many years ago and would meet people who’d been raped at the hospital at all hours of the day and night. This is arguably one of the worst situations anyone could find themselves in. The pain, physically mentally, emotionally, these people were dealing with was staggering. But I was trained that the best thing I could do for them was to encourage, prod and coach them to take some kind of action; whether it was to call the police, go to the hospital, tell a loved one. They had been made to feel powerless and the quickest way to reclaim their power was to take action! Action was a crucial step in healing. And after taking that step they need to take another step, then another and then another.
Like I said earlier, action cures fear. Action is a salve for disappointment. This is because it’s easier to act your way into new feelings than to feel your way into new actions. If you wait until you feel better to move and chart a new course, that day may never come. You may stay stuck and even anchored in your disappointment. Then if you’re not careful, your life will atrophy like a muscle that never gets used.
So, when disappointed, take some kind of action as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what it is really. Just DO something differently.
First, your disappointments and the wrongs that happen to you are rarely, and I mean rarely, personal. Secondly, gotta reframe that disappointment. Look at it from different angles and watch your self-talk. Practice assuming goodwill when you can. Thirdly, do by-pass surgery. Find a work-around. Chart a different course or a create a plan to go around whatever is blocking you and the life you want. And lastly, take some sort of action. Any action. Remember, action cures fear and all you need to know and do is take ONE step, a next step toward a more pleasing and desirable outcome.
So, disappointments are inevitable. It’s your choice as to whether you drop anchor in it or not. Take Noah’s advice. Plan for those times and you will have far more satisfying moments in the life that you design.