Tuesday 21 December 2010

Disappointment: How do YOU handle it?

Sarah Layton is a psychotherapist and has been a Chocolate Fairy since 2007. She runs very popular workshops and groups in London. Her next workshop is on 22 January. Meet Sarah.  

So, I’m disappointed....very disappointed.  My toenails are newly painted in sunny pink, my suitcase is packed and I’m off to the sun.....except I’m not.   Having left the house at 9.40am last Saturday morning for a ten day trip to Mexico we inched our way to Gatwick.  Things had started fine, with light snow forecast and our hopes high that we would escape the vagaries of the British weather before the worst happened.  
We made our way to the M25 and then, suddenly as if from nowhere, snow descended.  We continued, inching our way gingerly and hopefully, past jack-knifed lorries and stationary cars.  The journey, which would normally take around seventy five minutes took three hours and we were just fifteen miles from Gatwick (on a stretch of road with no exits before the airport) when it was finally confirmed that our flight had been cancelled.  
OH BEEP!  here I am squashed in the back seat of the car with my two children, who are actually 20 and 17 and fully grown, having spent three hours plus getting to a plane that isn’t going to fly’.    Such disappointment... such great disappointment.   One minute I am imagining myself floating in the warm Caribbean Ocean with my pretty pink toes..... and the next I’m not going!    OH BEEP! 
How to deal with these feelings?  I instantly realised that I wanted to manage without turning to food when I wasn’t hungry which would have been so easy to do on a car journey that was to last, it turned out, eight hours.  I really wanted to find a way of dealing with this situation without using food to shut myself up ....and down!  
Historically I find dealing with disappointment extremely challenging perhaps because I experienced a lot of it as a child.   When disappointed I have had a real tendency to look around for someone to BLAME.  Anyone who could conceivably have contributed to a situation would do - if there was someone to blame somehow my sense of powerlessness seemed reduced.    
This disappointment however could not be blamed on ANYONE!    We booked the holiday months ago, checked the web before we left and the plane was scheduled, we had checked the weather forecast and it had looked as though we would just be lucky.....and we WEREN’T.  We were left completely high and dry! 
The experience however, became a most wonderful opportunity for me to practice self-care and attention when I decided to use it as an opportunity to experiment with myself and tuned in.   I became aware that my shoulders were up round my ears and that I was holding myself really tightly.  I rearranged them gently and then tuned in again and repeated the action.  I began talking to myself about how I was feeling - acknowledging to myself that I was really pissed off, really sad and really disappointed.  Feelings that I might otherwise avoid by reaching for food very quickly.  
We stopped at a service station - the only time we got out of the car anywhere near Gatwick - and I tuned in again and chose food to satisfy myself even with such a paucity of choice.     I considered buying up the chocolate counter and decided it really wouldn’t help and took myself kindly back to the car.     
Having eaten my lunch I tuned in again and realised that I was coping in a way I wouldn’t have thought I could.  I was ok.  I was sad, disappointed, pissed off and still ok.  My family was safe, together and we had a wonderful minicab driver who hadn’t abandoned us at Gatwick even though his Controller had told him he needed to pick up another job.  He really was fantastic; cool-headed in those terrible conditions, kind and funny, and noticing how he was reminded me of a a book I recently read.    
Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
by Viktor Frankl describes his time as a Concentration Camp prisoner.  in it Frankl describes how he and others managed to survive such appalling, inhuman conditions by finding purpose in their lives (in his case choosing to maintain his belief that he would live to see his wife again and to do what he could to support others in the meantime) and by making the most of every situation that occurred.  
Frankl was able to find joy in the fact that, when assigned to dig a trench in the snow he was guarded by a kinder guard than most.  I find it almost impossible to imagine how he could find joy at all when held prisoner under such atrocious and inhumane conditions, with inadequate food and clothing and shoes that didn’t fit, and yet he did and ultimately, by continuing this approach over and over, he survived.  
This ‘cup half full’ attitude was often recommended to me when I was a child as a way of coping with adversity.   I found it unhelpful then as it came with the instruction that I ‘shouldn’t be feeling what I was feeling because others were so much worse off’.  Having my feelings denied really didn’t help and led me to overeat.  
What I have experienced these last few days is very different - I found I was able to experience my feelings and sit with them, and then chose to view things optimistically, and I haven’t overeaten.   I feel grateful for several things; not to to have spent days at the airport; to have found a way of managing my feelings without turning to food and for the silver lining lesson contained in the experience.   The holiday just wasn’t meant to be - my toenails are still pink and when I see them I still feel a pang of sadness -  and of acceptance too.    It’s just how it is.   


  1. Hi Sarah - I'm very sorry you weren't able to go on your holiday and very impressed that you didn't turn to food to crush down the disappointment. I hope you'll get to go on your holiday next year or that you'll get a refund to spend on a future holiday.

  2. FAB post Sarah - Could you have a Mexican party at home to compensate??

  3. Thank you for this post sarah, Our flight was canceled too! and I am so angry, it kind of help put things into perspective.

  4. Sarah
    Great post about the importance of feeling our feelings - it really is absolutely OK to be angry, fed up, depressed and thoroughly pissed off! Life can, at times, suck and that is perfectly OK - it is the denial of these feelings that is the wrong step to take - lovely balanced blog!

  5. Great post.. our original flight to spend Christmas with family in the US was cancelled as was a flight we had re-booked through Brussels and only found that out after standing in the freezing queue at St Pancras for 6+ hours. But we are healthy and enjoying the new adventure of spending the holiday here. You put things into perspective beautifully.


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