Most all of us are disappointed and hurt by our parents, from time to time. It’s just part of being a human. But for some, t’s not just from time to time, it’s pretty much all the time. When the disappointment and hurt is so consistent and painful, we can build a core belief that we will always be disappointed and hurt. Being disappointed and hurt becomes simply the truth, how life is, at least for us.
Once it is assumed that we will be let down, we start building another core belief. Namely, that we are deserving of the pain and disappointment we experience, or, otherwise put, not deserving of getting what we really want and need. By determining ourselves as unworthy, we make sense of the initial wounding; we are not entitled to what we want and need and thus, understandably, our caretakers did not give it to us. This allows us to keep mom, dad or whomever perpetrated the hurt in a positive light and to continue holding ourselves to blame, as the cause of our own suffering, which for a long time, ironically, may seem preferable to considering that we are not to blame and in fact, deserving and worthy of good care. And yet, still, did not receive it.
When disappointment and hurt have been deep and consistent, there can develop a paradoxical pleasure in the experience of suffering. We feel a sense of validation and satisfaction in being let down again and again, a strange enjoyment and comfort in proving our negative experience to be true. We continue proving to ourselves and the world that we can’t get what we need, and, underneath that belief, that we don’t in fact deserve it. The ongoing disappointments confirm our rightness and establish a truth that can be relied upon, unlike the rest of life, and people. There then grows a masochistic pleasure in our own unworthiness, a satisfaction in being proven as undeserving. This distorted gratification then becomes an habitual substitute for getting what we really want, which is not actually disappointment.
As an adult, we then use self-selected evidence and construct a narrative of our life (and ourselves) that supports our core beliefs and validates our disappointed experience and expectations. I don’t get what I really want and I shouldn’t expect to becomes the mantra with a long list of let downs to confirm it. We get stuck subsisting on the same paltry stand-in: the pleasure in our truth being right and our self being wrong.
As time passes and we accumulate more disappointments, our narrative gets stronger and the masochistic pleasure we derive from being proven unworthy starts to sedimentize into anger, resentment and depression. We lose sight of what we originally wanted and needed from that source who disappointed us; we forget that anything else, any other experience of life, any other version of ourselves can in fact exist.
So what’s the path out of this self-fulfilling narrative in which disappointment creates more disappointment, and strengthens the story that only disappointment is possible and thus only disappointment happens?
The way out is the way in, that is, turning into our own heart—finding the place in us that longed and longs to receive what we really need, feeling the longing itself. Healing from the cycle of disappointment, masochistic pleasure, personal narrative, resentment and depression happens when we drop into the real ache for what we genuinely need and want.
In order to experience our longing directly, in the body, in the heart, the longing which has been disappointed, perhaps for a lifetime, we must first drop all thoughts of past and future. We must let go of all ideas about what has happened to us and what is going to happen to us, our story, and just feel what we actually want and wish for, right here, right now.
The pleasure we derive from not being disappointed by disappointment, not being wrong about being undeserving, will never truly nourish us or bring us happiness. The satisfaction in disappointment will never not be disappointing at a fundamental level. Returning to the truth of what we really want and have always wanted, before the emotional scar tissue formed and the pleasure in not receiving appeared, is indeed the path to freedom from the addiction that disappointment can become. Just welcoming the longing itself, un-narrated, un-conceptualized, un-contexualized, whether satisfied or not, becomes a deep healing in and of itself. At last, the longing gets to receive, not perhaps what it had imagined, but our own loving attention, the space to be heard, which nourishes us in a way that disappointment never can.