Being let down has its benefits.

Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

It feels horrible when people let us down, situations don’t turn out as expected, and something we’d been looking forward to doesn’t come to fruition. Minor displeasures such as the grocery store running out of our favorite ice cream flavor don’t usually stay with us long — But significant disappointment hurts somewhere deep down in our souls. It can take us a while to recover depending on the severity and ramifications. Disappointment also teaches us a valuable lesson, however. It helps us evolve in ways that serve us throughout life.

A person who has experienced little to no dissatisfaction is likely to have a greater sense of entitlement. It’s only natural. When we don’t know anything other than getting our way, we can come to feel as though it’s the norm and we have a right to whatever it is that we desire. This circumstance eliminates the opportunity to be faced with the alternative, and more importantly, develop a healthy response.

Studies show that a sense of entitlement can breed narcissism and a lack of empathy. It can be difficult to relate to misfortune or those who experience the condition because it’s unfamiliar. The same way that someone who has never known privilege may have trouble grasping the idea of being wasteful with money, for example. As far as the inflated sense of self-importance that can stem from entitlement, it often manifests as a belief that the rules applied to everyone else don’t pertain to us. We’re unapologetically empowered to say and do whatever we want, however we want, because we always have. Now, qualities such as compassion and humility can absolutely be cultivated, entitled or not, both are just less common to come naturally to a person who has never needed them.

I knew someone growing up that got every single thing that he asked for, whether within or outside of reason. He was seldom told “no” by the decision-makers in his life. Everything was packaged and handed over just as desired. I must admit, as a kid I was a bit envious. Because my requests were denied A TON. This didn’t reduce the pain of being let down, but for me it was not a foreign concept. I soon understood how my friend being catered to had hindered aspects of his growth.

As we got older and out into the real world where there was no more, or at least less asking parents and others to meet our needs, my friend struggled. He couldn’t handle adversity and got into trouble looking for the easy way to maintain the clothes, possessions and lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. Everything always came to him so effortlessly that he’d never faced considerable resistance. Learning that much of non-privileged life is about overcoming obstacles was a lesson for which he was ill-equipped.

He got a crash course in ‘people will not always like you, give you what you want or do what you say.’ I think he may have failed, initially. Elements of conflict resolution and sudden feelings of inadequacy weighed on him. But this story has a happy ending. He got himself back on track. I’m sure that just (finally) experiencing disappointment itself played a pertinent role in him figuring it out.

Think about it. In being told “no” regularly enough, whether by people, the universe or other circumstances beyond our control, we quickly discover how the world works. We learn that we don’t always get what we want — not even what is deserved or fair. We don’t like it. We may scream, cry and complain, but then we move on. We accept it as a sometimes painful part of life, and develop the ability to deal with the mental and emotional impact.

When we expect something that does not come to pass, we never want to feel that way again. So, we learn to expect a little less in hopes that next time, the disappointment hurts a little less. We lean more on ourselves than others, which fosters independence and accountability.

Limiting expectations doesn’t mean we accept behavior and situations that don’t meet our standards, we just take a ‘wait and see’ approach. Rather than being overwhelmed with the anticipation of unrealized potential, in expecting less we’re able to live more in the present moment. We look at what is actually happening instead of what we hope will happen. Though it’s natural and sometimes uncontrollable to get a bit excited about what could be.

I think the ultimate gift that we receive from experiencing disappointment is the ability to fully appreciate the instances when things do go our way. We’re filled with so much gratitude when people show up for us and situations transpire according to plan. I don’t know that our hearts could be so grateful had they not known the immense pain of failure and disillusionment.

When we’ve undergone a rough breakup or have been treated poorly in relationships, we value meeting someone who loves and respects us that much more. If we’re passed over for a job that we really wanted and felt we were qualified to obtain, getting the next one leaves us overjoyed. In living a life where it can seem as though almost nothing goes the way that we hope and our wishes are too often not granted, when the stars align for us, we notice. Being afforded favor is rarely taken for granted by those who have known what it’s like to feel slighted.

Nothing compares to the warmth of the sun on our skin after we’ve been standing in the rain. That sensation can’t be duplicated or manufactured. We can only arrive here by enduring the other side.

Gratitude, to me, is the greatest, most fulfilling of all qualities to possess. That’s what experiencing disappointment allows us to receive and express on profound levels. I think that our lives would be much more mundane if it were difficult for us to be stimulated by triumph because getting what we want has become too familiar. A loss now and then makes the victories that much sweeter.

Next time someone hurts me, or you — when we are disregarded, overlooked and handled without care — I think it serves us to try and be thankful even for those moments. We can appreciate what they teach us, and how we’ve been prepared to cherish the more fortunate moments to come.

Author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687069786

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store