The Truth About Disappointment in Psychotherapy (And Why You May Benefit From It.)

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“The most important things that each man must learn no one can teach him. Once he accepts this disappointment, he will be able to stop depending on the therapist, the guru who turns out to be just another struggling human being.”

-Sheldon Kopp.

Kopp was a very perceptive psychotherapist and writer; this memorable book, below, was written in the early 70’s.

 

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Kopp’s message is about each person becoming aware of the disappointments they experience in psychotherapy and by implication, in their life.

The pain of this will likely lead, if worked through with the help of the therapist, to a sense of freedom, greater confidence, strength and self-actualisation.

However, Kopp warns that therapy is hard and is not to be undertaken lightly. Before this enlightenment happens, people often go through a difficult process in therapy. 

This process usually begins with the realisation that the therapist is not living up to all they had initially hoped for.

Most people come into therapy expecting the therapist to sort things for them, possessing magical ways of changing lives.

Understanding that the therapist does not have any solutions might feel really upsetting. Sometimes, at this juncture, people become despondent, feel lost, or angry with the therapist.

If the therapist doesn’t have the answers, then WHO DOES??

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However, this phase in therapy can represent a crucial turning point. Negotiating such feelings with a sensitive therapist can mean that new learning will occur.

Expectations of the therapist being the longed-for parent or god-like figure (“Buddha”) need to be explored, perhaps in the light of the person’s unmet needs from the past.

When a young man, whom I shall call Peter, came into psychotherapy with me, depressed, self harming and suicidal, he had unconsciously hoped I would be a replacement for his absent mother.

Yet he was so angry that the therapy only lasted 50 minutes, that he spent most of the session watching (and hating) the clock, begging and manipulating me for longer.

The clock itself became a weapon that he perceived me as using against him, merely by having it in my therapy room.

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Focussing on the clock meant he could not use the time we did have. I worked at helping him with this, empathising with his enormous pain, whilst staying firmly within the time boundaries.

At the end of each session, I was, in the transference, his unavailable mother. He was disappointed with me for a long time and furious that there were others in the waiting room for me to see.

They felt like rivalrous siblings for him.

Slowly, as the months passed, he began to see my limitations, that I was a fallible human being and I could not be his fantasy mother.

I could not make the session last for as long as he wanted it (endlessly) and see him exclusively for therapy. This was a huge disappointment.

However, he also realised that I was able to help him develop a kind of ‘parent inside’, a feeling that he could care for himself, so that he no longer felt like an abandoned child. He began to also find some answers of his own.

Despite my shortcomings,  I was not abandoning him. Far from it. Peter began to appreciate what I could offer and forgot the clock. He stayed in therapy twice weekly for several years and grew into a strong, confident person, having accepted some losses and disappointments.

Managing Disappointment in Couple Therapy.

There are many couples who come for therapy disillusioned with each other. Therapy will usually be aimed at exploring expectations, tracing where these have come from and refocussing on reality.

For example, it may be that one or both of the partners had an unhappy childhood and abusive or inadequate parenting. Then, people might search for an ‘ideal’ parental replacement in a partner.

The unconscious hope is that unmet needs from childhood will be totally satisfied. This is, of course, a vain hope, in that we can never fully make up for what has been lost. We cannot be that needy child again.

However, it is possible to work towards meeting one’s unmet needs in a relationship in the present, as long as these are realistic.

Sometimes people are expected to be knights on white chargers, coming to the rescue  after a traumatic past. This is, of course, a recipe for disappointment.

Others are expected to fit the ‘perfect’, stereotyped image of what a wife or husband ‘should’ be, whatever that is in the individual’s psyche.

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Image: James Vaughan, Flickr.

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Such stereotypes are based on past experience, or on fantasy.

How do psychotherapists help people overcome disappointment in relationships ?

In a relationship where expectations are high, people will feel constantly dissatisfied, resenting the fact that the other cannot live up to their exacting standards.

This is about needing to control others, to fit them into a view of how they ought to be. It is often extended outside the relationship, to children, friends and colleagues.

If we expect perfection in others and wish for control , we will be projecting onto them our own thoughts about having to be ideal. We are imposing impossible behavioural criteria that we ourselves could never live up to.

We must question where these high expectations originated. Often, patterns of behaviour experienced as children become repeated in adulthood.

As we saw in Part 1 of this post, expecting the other to be perfect usually involves criticism and accusations. Learning to negotiate, to be non-judgmental and open-minded, compromising and adapting, are ways someone with over-high expectations can address their problems.

Couples and individuals are helped in therapy to work through past disappointments. They are encouraged to explore how they project onto others and ultimately to take back their projections. Then, hopefully, they will be able to accept the other, warts and all.

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.”
– Sam Keen

Expectation has brought me disappointment. Disappointment has brought me wisdom. Acceptance, gratitude and appreciation have brought me joy and fulfilment.

Rasheed Ogunlaru

When Being Grateful Begins to Grate on Us.

 

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“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

Oprah.

“Gratitude is a burden, and every burden is made to be shaken off.”

Denis Diderot

Gratitude is good………….Isn’t it?

Like thinking positive  it cheers us up……doesn’t it?

Well, it does benefit us if it is our independent choice to be grateful. Authentic, genuinely felt gratitude, honestly expressed, can bring us real benefits. The research clearly shows this.

However, when being grateful feels like an ought or a should, gratitude loses its appeal and benefit.

Unfortunately, the world at times seems to be full of orders to be grateful. Maybe you do not always feel grateful?

So often , when people feel depressed, miserable, down, they are urged to ‘Count their blessings.’

This only increases feelings of guilt and inadequacy and it worsens the situation for the person who is depressed.

It is akin to telling someone who is depressed to ‘think happy thoughts.’ I have explored and expanded this topic in a previous post.

From childhood, many people have been given strong messages about being grateful that are actually quite unreasonable and illogical.

‘Eat your greens- you should be GRATEFUL  for that food – there are children starving in Africa!!’

alien-29939_1280In reality, forcing a child to eat green vegetables by using this guilt-inducing tactic simply invites resentment, increases dislike for the food and also creates puzzlement……….

……How will it help starving children in a faraway country if the child eats this slowly congealing portion of peas?

In addition, ‘having’ to feel grateful is a rather impossible task. How can we tell a child – or anyone for that matter – how they should feel?

Other common injunctions to be grateful:

‘Why do you never phone or visit? After all I’ve given you, you should be indebted to me and phone every day.’

‘What have you got to be miserable about? You have everything! Why aren’t you more grateful?’

Having to feel grateful may also make you feel small, someone who only receives and is at the mercy of others’ generosity.

The Narcissistic Parent:  “You Should be Grateful, after all I’ve done for you.”

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“Narcissists playing the “grandiose” role promote themselves as powerful figures, demanding gratitude and adulation from their child.”

Molly S. Costelloe

Children ‘made’ to be overly grateful for what they are, in fact, entitled to, will develop confused, resentful and often rebellious feelings.

Such narcissistic parenting often involves an implicit expectation to be grateful for being born.

“Some people have a knack of putting upon you gifts of no real value, to engage you to substantial gratitude. We thank them for nothing.”

Charles Lamb

Additionally, people-pleasers may feel that they have to be over-grateful:

“There are slavish souls who carry their appreciation for favours done them so far that they strangle themselves with the rope of gratitude.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes gratitude might be seen as having a cynical and manipulative motive  :

‘Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favours.”

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

HOWEVER : Feeling Real Gratitude Means….

Research  has been carried out which indicates that if a person believes that they have been freely helped, then they can feel grateful more easily. The research paper is entitled ‘You didn’t have to do that…Belief in Free Will Promotes Gratitude.’

The issue of choice therefore works both ways. If the giver gives freely, then the receiver will generally feel more gratitude.

If the person who is helped feels genuinely and freely grateful, then we can be sure that this gratitude is free of coercion and intimidation.

Such sincere, open and true gratitude will have benefits on both sides.

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Gratitude: The Benefits

Gratitude strengthens and enriches relationships. By showing how thankful we are, we make the other person feel appreciated and loved.

This is, as we have seen in last week’s post, a crucial element in a loving, functioning relationship.

“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

Alfred North Whitehead

Instead of always expecting gratitude from children in a narcissistic way, perhaps we can express our gratitude to them. This will again benefit both parent and child.

The child will feel valued, strong, worthwhile and as if he/she has something to give to important others.

superman-2478978_1920It is also a good way of teaching the child to be grateful themselves.

Rather than being ordered to be grateful, if they can see that the parent feels gratitude to them, they will learn to express such feelings themselves.

“Gratitude is one of the greatest gifts we can give. And it’s not a gift we often give to children. We expect it of them, but we don’t necessarily give it back.”

Jason Reynolds

Gratitude has been shown to be beneficial to the one who really feels it. Research indicates that gratitude is important to psychological well-being (Wood, Joseph, Maltby ) and that it enables people to ‘build and maintain social relationships.’

(Bartlett et al.)

It is possible to feel gratitude towards aspects of life other than people. We may be grateful for life, for nature, for love, health freedom.

As we wake up on a beautiful day, we may feel thankful and joyful for being in the world.

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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein

“The earth has music

                 for those who listen.”      

                                                                -Shakespeare

What are you grateful for today?……….

I really feel so much gratitude to you, the readers and followers of my blog posts, for your loyalty, much needed encouraging feedback and support. 💐

You keep me going and you keep me writing.

To Each And Every One Of You,

Whatever Your Colour, Ethnicity, Nationality, Race, Religion, Gender Identity

In All The Different Corners Of Our Amazing Shared World:

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Linda. 🙏🙏

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THANK YOU!

How You Can Cope With Disappointment. (In Life and In Relationships)

 

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“Disappointment is the nurse of wisdom.”

Sir Boyle Roche

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”– Henry David Thoreau

The Disappointments of Life.

is it possible  that we an actually gain from our disappointments?

This might sound an odd question, but think about it. The above quotations would suggest that both wisdom and compensation may ultimately emerge from such an experience.

Initially, of course, it is painful and disheartening to have our hopes and expectations dashed. We might find that, for some time, it is hard to let go of feelings of distress, disillusionment, despondency.

We will most likely feel, depending on the depth of disappointment, a mix of frustration, anger, sadness. Sometimes it feels as though the disappointment may never go away. We may feel depressed and alone with our feelings.

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Edward Hopper – Automat [1927] Image: Gandalf’s Gallery Flickr

However, if we re-read Thoreau’s quote, above, what he says is ‘If we will be quiet and ready enough……’

What might he mean?

The answer to this question may be found in Bridges’ words, below, which at first may seem like a kind of riddle.

“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.”

― William Throsby Bridges

What is implied by the word ‘transition‘?

‘Disenchantment,’ Bridges implies, can lead us into a period of change. It can be a kind of catalyst, precipitating a move towards more self-understanding and personal growth.

It is as if he is saying that there can be life after disappointment; good can emerge from what may have felt bad.

How can this be?

Instead of giving up when we feel disappointed, perhaps there might be something potentially strengthening in such an experience. It may be that there could be valuable learning in terms of having over-high expectations.

When we have some distance from the occurrence and have reached a stage where we are strong enough, we might be able to gain some kind of objective view of ourselves and our situation.

Then we may be able to consider our own behaviour as partly responsible for what has occurred. (Of course, this might not always be the case. But it is worth considering.)

Realistically, could it be that we have hoped for too much?

“Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality.”
Unknown

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Shakespeare

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

Alexander Pope

Having high expectations is far from unusual, but it does lead to let- downs, hurt feelings and disappointments. It might also mean that we cannot enjoy and appreciate what we do have, so preoccupied are we with wanting something more or different.

Disappointment in Marriage and Relationships.

How do high expectations affect relationships? If we expect too much of our partner, as we inevitably do, especially at the start of a relationship, that partner will inevitably fall short.

I believe that, in every relationship, at some point there is disappointment to contend with.

Many enter a relationship or marriage with elaborate fantasies that have developed from life experience, literature, the media and from other people.

Romantic notions and preconceptions of how loving relationships ‘should’ be crowd our consciousness.

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Hearts and flowers are all very well, but real, everyday life is often less romantic and more variable and inconsistent. There are, or course, highs and lows and shades of grey.

Happiness is not a constant feeling, yet some expect relationships to be a permanent rose garden. A bed of roses.

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Sometimes life with your partner might seem full of romantic promise; at others there may be feelings of dislike or hatred between you. More thorns than roses…….

If there are high expectations of perfection, there are likely to be considerable difficulties. Expecting the other to be perfect usually involves criticism, contempt and accusations of not being good enough.

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However, there needs to be awareness of the fact that even though roses have thorns, and people have imperfections, these do not usually detract from their overall beauty.

We just need to be careful of the thorns and to be aware that nothing is flawless. (In any case, the thorns do have a purpose for the rose.)

“You’re not looking for perfection in your partner. Perfection is all about the ego. With soulmate love, you know that true love is what happens when disappointment sets in – and you’re willing to deal maturely with these disappointments.”

Karen Salmansohn

Instead of being critical and disapproving, can we learn to be grateful for and to the other person in a relationship, despite the ‘thorns’?

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.”

Kristin Armstrong

If we allow ourselves to feel grateful, it may be that the positive aspects of our partner will crowd out the negatives, bringing increased joy to both.

“Expectation has brought me disappointment. Disappointment has brought me wisdom. Acceptance, gratitude and appreciation have brought me joy and fulfilment.”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

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“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
Marcus Aurelius
In next week’s post, I will write about Gratitude.
In two weeks’ time, Part 2 of this Disappointment post will be published, looking at disappointment in psychotherapy.
Thank you for visiting waysofthinking.co.uk 🙏