NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Are You Overreacting to Routine Disappointments?

Are You Overreacting to Routine Disappointments?

What Are Routine Disappointments?   
We all experience routine disappointments from time to time.  Rainy weather on the day you plan an outing, missing a sale for something you really like, or having to reschedule a brunch because a friend can't make it.  These are all examples of what are usually considered routine disappointments.  They're disappointing, but for most people they're not traumatic.  They're the kinds of situations that happen to everyone.  In order to preserve your own well-being and maintain your relationships, what's most important in these situations is how you respond to them.

Learning to Deal with Routine Disappointments is Part of the Developmental Process
Small children usually don't have the capacity to deal with disappointments.  It's something they have to learn over time.  Young children don't have much of a capacity to tolerate frustration.  If you've ever witnessed a small child being told by his mother that they had to leave the park to go home and the child had a temper tantrum because he didn't want to leave, you've witnessed this lack of frustration tolerance.

This is a normal part of a child's development.  If all goes well and the parents are able to weather this stage in the child's development (without either frustrating the child too much and too often, or giving in and gratifying the child's every wish), the child will learn to develop an increasing ability to handle routine disappointments as he gets older.

What Happens When Adults Haven't Learned to Tolerate Routine Disappointments?
As adults, if we don't learn to tolerate routine disappointments, we can become easily overwhelmed by stress.  We can also damage our relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.  With regard to how we respond, we need to be able to differentiate between routine disappointments and major disappointments.  Continuously responding to small disappointments as if they're major disappointments will exhaust you and can leave you feeling bitter, brittle and lonely.

Case Example
The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases, illustrates the above:

Francine, who was in her early 30s, wanted more than anything to be in a romantic relationship and to have close friends.  But her romantic relationships and friendships usually ended in a bad way.  Sooner or later, she would alienate people, and they would tell her that she was too demanding and disappear from her life.

By the time Francine came to therapy, she was very lonely.  The last man she dated, Tom, just ended their relationship because Francine got angry when Tom's boss sent him out of town on a business trip, and Tom asked to reschedule their date.

They were only dating for five months.  Most of the time, Tom was reliable, considerate, and easy going.  They usually enjoyed each other's company.  But, two months earlier, Francine got upset when Tom got sick and had to cancel their date.  It wasn't that she didn't believe him--she could hear that he was coughing and losing his voice.  Nevertheless, she got angry because she felt very disappointed and lonely, and she didn't want to spend the evening alone.  Afterwards, she realized that she was being inconsiderate and self centered, she apologized, and they made up.  But when it happened a second time, Tom said he felt she was overreacting, too demanding, and he had enough.

This was the ongoing pattern in Francine's life.  Usually, when she calmed down, she realized that her reactions were out of proportion to the situation but, by then, she had already alienated people.  After Tom stopped seeing her, she knew she had to change, but she didn't know how, and she was starting to feel hopeless about it.

Francine's family history was one of emotional neglect.  Her parents divorced by the time Francine was 10.  She was sent back and forth between them throughout her childhood.  They were both highly narcissistic people who had little time for her, so she spent most of her time with a succession of nannies and housekeepers.  She was given everything she could have wanted materially, but she grew up being an insecure, lonely child who had difficulty making friends.

Francine felt deeply ashamed that she was unable to keep a boyfriend or any close friends.  She had some acquaintances that she saw from time to time, but even those relationships became problematic when Francine became disappointed.

Learning Not to Overreact to Routine Disappointments

In therapy, she mourned the emotional neglect that she experienced as a child.  We worked on her self esteem and coping skills.  We also worked on how to develop and maintain friendships.  She began learning basic life skills to handle routine disappointments without overreacting. After a while, Francine also learned how to be alone without feeling lonely.  She eventually got married and had children.

It wasn't easy.  There was no "quick fix." It was a process, and it took time.

Getting Help in Therapy
Some people only realize that they are overacting to routine disappointments after they've worn themselves out emotionally and physically, and they've lost a succession of people in their lives.  

By then, it can be become a vicious cycle of disappointments, ruptures in relationships, more disappointments, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness.  

If you're motivated and willing to take the time and make the effort, a skilled therapist can help you to overcome this problem.  Rather than continuing to perpetuate this cycle, you can get help to become healthier and happier.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.