The naming and validation of feelings is essential in helping children to understand their feelings, to aid self regulation and as they develop, an appropriate level of emotional literacy. It works with adults too. It signals to the individual that you know what they are feeling, that you are with them and recognise the process they are in. In simple terms we are saying ‘I get you. I am here. You are not too much for me’. We know that shutting feelings down or suppressing high feelings can cause confusion, a sense of not being heard and can lead to more negative traits, or in that moment, escalate the issue into utter blind frustrated fury.
There is a tendency to jump to or clumsily identify some behaviours as emotions on the anger spectrum when often the underlying emotion is actually disappointment. I have argued frequently that disappointment is an under-rated emotion. Of course I’m not suggesting we create more disappointment; why would I? In it extreme forms it’s truly horrid. I am merely offering that we should talk about and notice disappointment more. It is not unusual in schools to here help scripts using phrases such as ‘I can see you are sad/angry/cross….’ But you rarely hear disappointment acknowledged.
Disappointment has it’s origin in Old French ‘desappointer’ and became ‘disappoint’ in late Middle English with the definition as ‘deprived from position’, ‘defeat the realisation of fulfilment’ or ‘the defeat or failure of hope or expectation’. Strong stuff. Its no wonder we confuse it with anger, misery and fury.
In flippant terms, it appears on banner cartoons. “Thanks for putting the empty cereal box back in the cupboard, I got to have disappointment for breakfast’. However, there are many occasions when disappointment is signalling and linked to other much stronger feelings such as deep hurt, grief and upset.
Think of times when you have seen people experience and discover betrayal in a relationship, be it a friendship, business or love; the disappointment they have in that person to whom they had bestowed with their trust, what could have been and all that the relationship stood for disappears out of sight, out of their grip, down a dark hope sucking drain hole. Disappointment is strong. This may put us in mind of the extraordinarily difficult political climate why are in with key political figures expressing their disappointment and the betrayal they feel by resigning, stepping down and changing political parties.
There are so many circumstances when disappointment drives behaviour but the response is often matched to a different emotion. Identifying and naming disappointment can help you provide the appropriate empathetic response by giving the individual the opportunity to express their perception of what has been lost. That is what disappointment is; lost hope. But this is not the same as hopeless. Providing space and time to process the ‘lost hope’ is very important, especially for young children and anyone who is showing signs of vulnerability. Skilled, timely support enables the ‘disappointed’ to recover and prevent the deterioration into hopelessness, which psychiatrists always consider as extreme psychological vulnerability.
So whether as a parent, a partner, a friend, a teacher or colleague take time to consider the many things that cause disappointment. The list is endless: Failed driving tests; lower GCSE scores; Arsenal losing at home; flight cancellations; the wrong present; failure to show up to have your children on your weekend; not being invited, the current state of political manoeuvring….. it goes on and on.
Give disappointment its rightful place; name it, provide the chance to express what has been lost and gently acknowledge that the feeling doesn’t last forever.
Binks Neate-Evans is an executive headteacher across three schools within the Diversa Trust (which has recently entered a partnership with Evolution Academy Trust). She is a member of the core group of Heads’ Roundtable.