Emotional Healing and Other Disappointments

Emotional Healing and Other Disappointments

Although death and divorce are widespread and emotionally traumatic, there are other disappointments that can cause emotional scarring, as well. Though it may manifest in different ways, at the crux of such scarring is disappointment and the other emotions it creates.
Financial Disappointment

Financial disappointment and failures can create very real emotional trauma, although it is rarely talked about in such terms. For some people, this may occur simply because their financial situation is not what they always imagined it would be. Adults who came from homes that were more financially successful than they themselves are, often struggle with such disappointment. In fact, many problems (such as extreme credit card debt) that millions of people face can sometimes be a symptom of such disappointment and the grief that may result. In fact, a person charging up thousands of dollars of credit card debt that they have no ability to pay is an excellent example of denial about their financial situation. And just as denial about death or illness is a coping mechanism, it can be a coping mechanism here as well. Unfortunately, credit card debt as a coping mechanism only creates more of a problem, generating a vicious cycle. But the emotions involved are similar, or the same.

Individuals who have made financial decisions that they believe should have led to success, as well as those who have faced unexpected financial setbacks or expenses, often face the same disappointment.They have had an expectation of a certain level of financial success; when their financial situation doesn't match their expectation, it can be emotionally difficult. Theoretically, people would be able to prevent any emotional effect by understanding the logic behind their situation. In reality, however, even an individual who understands the reason for their financial straits can and often will struggle emotionally about it. Sometimes, the despondency and hopelessness that comes with financial setbacks or extreme debt is just as emotionally scarring as in virtually any other situation.

Disappointments in Health

Although those facing their own mortality are given a lot of emotional support, the same can rarely be said about people facing chronic illness. In fact, those facing cancer or other temporary (but potentially life-threatening) conditions usually also enjoy a certain level of support from their family and friends.Those struggling with physical and/or mental health conditions that are chronic tend to have far fewer resources and support systems. These individuals, frustratingly, also tend to need resources and support for much longer periods of time. In fact, they may sometimes feel unsupported because of the lengthy nature of their illness. When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, for example, there may be a temporary influx of support from the larger community; over time, however, the family's trouble may be forgotten, although their struggle continues.

For those people who find that they have a life-altering chronic illness, the disappointment involved is far more pervasive than a lack of support. Financial problems, work problems, family trouble, and the lack of a social life are all common side effects of many chronic illnesses. People whose illness or disability is "invisible" may face additional challenges, because the people they interact with are not aware of their limited capacity. Traveling through the stages of grief is one aspect of dealing with such a chronic illness. However, the loss of their sense of self (which is often wrapped up in the roles they play in life) is particularly difficult to accept. In some respects, because they'll lose their life as they know it, but do continue living, it is sometimes more difficult for a person to accept a new life as a result of chronic illness than if they had been diagnosed with a fatal condition.

A diagnosis of a major mental health disorder can be just as, if not more, devastating than a challenge to one's physical health. In addition to being an invisible illness, most mental illnesses (along with some difficult-to diagnose and explain physical illnesses) are misunderstood by the people in the patient's life. A spouse, parents, children, and more may find living with and/or loving a person with a major mental health disorder very emotionally difficult.

In fact, chronic physical and mental health disorders that cause significant change to a person's lifestyle can be a major factor in many divorces. Because other people don't always know how to best respond to their loved one being struck by a chronic mental health (or pervasive physical health) illness, these individuals face grieving the loss of their sense of self, having to change almost everything about their lives, and grieving the loss of relationships all at the same time.

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Relationship Disappointment

Although the people in our lives are never precisely as we would want them to be, relationship disappointment goes beyond human imperfection.True relationship disappointment is when we discover that the relationship we thought we had (or were going to have) with a loved one is not as we hoped. Some relationship disappointment may be minor or more easily processed. Other relationships, ones that we have valued or expected more out of, can leave us emotionally shell-shocked when we realize our disappointment.

Most of us can imagine multiple relationships that were disappointing to us. Emotionally damaging relationships, however, tend to be ones in which we either care more about the relationship than the other person or parties involved, or ones in which we do not feel loved enough or are not loved in healthy ways.

A common example might be a situation in which one of your parents is passive aggressive. In this scenario, it may be that when you try to have a direct conversation or share with your parents something that they do that is hurtful to you, they are unable or unwilling to respond in a healthy and appropriate way. This type of parent may give love, support, and smiles one day and then turn around the next day and make accusations or become overly upset about a minor comment or action on your part. It would be very difficult to be in this relationship for several reasons. First, you would likely find yourself walking on eggshells around this person, unable to share with them who you really are and what you really think. Second, as most of us continue to seek our parents' approval, it would be confusing and upsetting to be on the receiving end of their comments and behaviors when they're not being loving. Third, relationships such as this are particularly challenging, because when we make an emotional break with that person and we process how unhealthy the relationship is, we often get sucked back into hope when they begin performing according to the loving relationship we want to have with them.

This situation is only one example. In general, being able to have an open and honest discussion with a loved one, where you address issues of hurt in an appropriate way, can yield some positive results, even if it is simply clearing the air and starting over. No relationships are perfect and people are always going to be disappointing or imperfect in some way; but a relationship that is continuously damaging to you emotionally, despite efforts to address and fix the problems, is unhealthy. Truly processing that our parent, spouse, children, siblings, and friends are never going to be capable or willing to have a loving, supportive relationship is a healthy step. Unfortunately, it is a necessary step that nonetheless can cause a lot of emotional damage.
Emotional Healing and Spirituality

The role of spirituality in emotional healing depends largely on the individual trying to heal. Obviously, atheists may not perceive much use from this article; nonetheless, even those who do not believe in a higher power can gain a lot of insight into their own spirit and world view. The role of spirituality in emotional healing is not focused on any particular religion; rather, we look to what benefits our spiritual life can bring in our emotional healing.

In general, religion can offer followers a tremendous amount of support, whether in a spiritual manner, or in a practical manner from their religious community.Those individuals who are able to "give their pain to God" are often able to heal emotionally faster. Unfortunately, try as they might, many people with strong religious beliefs still struggle tremendously with emotional trauma. It is absolutely necessary to understand that regardless of your religious beliefs, there is no shame or guilt in struggling with your healing process. Well-meaning individuals that we know and love may offer platitudes and may even mean what they say; nevertheless, your grief and hurt is something that you have a right to. Your feelings are legitimate and may take a tremendous amount of time and effort to heal from, regardless of the strength of your spiritual life.

As we discussed when looking at the stages of grief, anger and bargaining are particularly relevant when we discuss spirituality. Most bargaining that occurs in the grief process is directed toward a higher power; there is nothing wrong with engaging in that behavior as long as you understand that if what you dread still occurs, it is not a rejection of you by God. In fact, prayer in itself can sometimes fall under the stage of bargaining, even when there is no exchange being proffered. Many people find that prayer gives them a tremendous strength to continue; again, prayer can be an excellent technique for processing emotional hurt. But when bad things still happen, it is vital that we not interpret that as a rejection or punishment from God. Virtually every world religion will hold that many things happen because it is the nature of humanity, not the nature of God.

So if we believe that prayer does not guarantee the answer that we want, what good can spirituality serve in our emotional healing? The issue is not if God grants us what we ask for; the issue is seeking comfort and support from God and, when applicable, our religious community. Many religious scholars hold that prayer's greatest power is transforming the mind and heart of the person praying. Prayer that is centered on asking God for things that God can give without violating the laws of nature (which God set forth) can be exceptionally helpful, if we believe that God will answer those prayers.

A simple example is a woman that while in high school, was romantically interested in another student. When the annual Sadie Hawkins dance was coming around, and she prayed to God not that the boy would say yes to her invitation; rather, she prayed that God would give her comfort if the boy said no. Although you may believe that God can and will change our situations, or create a scenario that is what we want (such as God making the boy above want to go with the girl), prayer is the most powerful when we are asking for God to provide love, support, and comfort to us rather than "fixing" a situation.

A more painful example is of a woman who is pregnant with her second child. When she goes to see the doctor and discovers that the baby is the size it would be at only five weeks rather than the projected eight weeks, the woman and her family begin praying hard that the baby is healthy. By the laws of nature (set forth by God), there is nothing God can do as the baby was already miscarried. Although our natural inclination is to ask God for what we want, it is better for our own emotional healing to ask God for what we need to handle and heal from whatever emotional trauma we may have to endure.

It is also very common for people to have a crisis of faith when receiving emotionally damaging news. A parent of a child who has been diagnosed with a degenerative illness is likely to experience some moments, if not months or years, of questioning whether or not there is a God, if God loves them, or why they have spent their life loving and serving God.They may become angry with God; such a person may go to God with their anger and yell and scream, while another person may refuse to believe or communicate with God as a result of their anger. If you are dealing with a person who has been emotionally traumatized, even if you are experiencing the same trauma, recognize that a person's spiritual life is one of the most deeply personal experiences one can have. Be patient, forgiving, and nonjudgmental with a person who is having a crisis of faith. Each individual's spiritual relationship with God must be pursued on their own walk of faith. It can cause further emotional and spiritual damage to preach to or try to influence a person going through a spiritual crisis.

If you find yourself struggling to heal emotionally and you believe that spirituality may be helpful to you, pursue that support. Almost every religion has leaders who are available for counsel and assistance, many of whom are licensed counselors. If you are not a member of a particular congregation of some kind, don't worry. Most religious leaders will listen to you and talk with you about how spirituality can help in your healing, regardless of whether or not you are a member of their congregation.

Alternatively, if you find that you're uncomfortable or hesitant to speak with a religious leader about your struggles, consider more self-guided assistance. There are many books and guided journals available for purchase that relate to spirituality and emotional healing. One of the most widely respected writers, Harold Kushner (who penned the classic, "Why Bad Things Happen To Good People") has a number of books geared toward helping people of any faith handle and heal spiritually and emotionally.