The Nature of Disappointment

By Greg Baer M.D.

March 19, 2009

Disappointment, Irritation and Real Love

On many occasions I have defined Real Love as caring about the happiness of others without any thought of return for ourselves. It is not Real Love when I do what you want and you like me. That is simply a trading of Imitation Love. 

Rather, it’s Real Love when I make mistakes, when I’m stupid, and when I inconvenience you, but you don’t feel disappointed or irritated at me.

It is disappointment and irritation that separate Real Love from all the pretenders.

When Disappointment is Selfish

I have been asked repeatedly, however, “Is all disappointment selfish? Isn’t a certain amount of disappointment normal? In some circumstances couldn’t disappointment be compatible with Real Love?”

The nature of disappointment varies from one situation to another. Sometimes it’s selfish and unloving, while on other occasions it is not.

Let’s suppose I ask you to do something for me, say, spend some time with me. You refuse, and I am deeply disappointed. I carry this disappointment around with me for several hours, perhaps even days. In fact, I resent you a bit for refusing my “request” and feel somewhat less inclined to respond positively to any request you might make of me in the future.

In this case my disappointment is selfish, and I have proven that when I “asked” you to spend time with me, I wasn’t making a genuine request. I was really making a veiled demand, with an attached expectation that you would give me what I wanted.

When Disappointment is Not Selfish

Now let’s imagine another occasion where I ask you to spend some time with me. Again you refuse and again I feel some disappointment, but this time my disappointment is both mild and short-lived. I also feel no change in my affection toward you, nor am I reluctant to grant any request you might make of me.

This kind of disappointment is not selfish. When we don’t get what we ask for, some disappointment is natural. After all, the whole reason we ask for something is that we actually want it, so not getting it naturally involves some disappointment. But if we’re making a true request—as opposed to a demand—the disappointment we feel is slight and brief.

If we make a request, it is accompanied by a healthy hope that our request will be fulfilled. If that request is not fulfilled, it’s natural that we are mildly disappointed—although it’s possible that even mild disappointment will not be experienced. Our happiness is certainly not diminished.

It should be noted that we are capable of making true requests only if we feel sufficiently loved unconditionally. If we are empty and afraid, we feel compelled by the desperation of our pain to make demands, with their attendant expectations and exaggerated disappointments.

Unconditional Love, Expectations, and Disappointments

Can we feel unconditionally loved and still have expectations? Of course.

In business, if I pay you to deliver a package to my door by a specific date, I will expect you do make that delivery. Even in friendship, if you promise to meet me at a certain place at a specific time, I will expect you to be there. Both expectations are reasonable.

But if I feel sufficient Real Love in my life, my happiness will not depend on your filling my expectations. Then if you should fail to deliver the package on time, or fail to meet me at the appointed hour, I would not be irritated or unhappy. I might feel disappointment, but it would be only superficial in character and brief in duration.

It is simply a part of life that sometimes we will not get exactly what we want. Because people are mortal and flawed, they often will break their promises, inconvenience us, and otherwise fail us.

Sometimes our plans will be obstructed in ways that won’t involve people at all: a flat tire, rain on a picnic, a malfunctioning computer, and so on.

All of these deviations from our plans are potential disappointments, but with our preparation we can determine entirely how they affect us. If we have sufficient Real Love—which we can all find, with enough faith and a little effort—we can tolerate and even thrive with a great number of these occasions where circumstances go contrary to our plans.

With enough Real Love, disappointments take their proper place as minor inconveniences, rather than sources of frustration and unhappiness. As always, it’s about love, not about the people and events around us.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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