Okay, So They’re Disappointed!
Okay, So They’re Disappointed!

Okay, So They’re Disappointed!

Today, my friends, we are branching a little off the beaten path with our usual conversations here at Restorative Grief. Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked with a handful of clients and connected with friends on the topic of boundaries and how exploring the way we use boundaries can either help or hinder our healing process. So I want to chat about how we can identify the type of boundaries we’re the most comfortable with and find a way to use them to our benefit in our experience of grief.

Let’s start with some honesty. Are you feeling disappointed in your own life right now? Maybe it comes from your decisions, your grief experience, your relationships to others or self. Where is disappointment centered? Take a moment and reflect on how disappointment has recently reared its head in the last few weeks. If you can think of multiple ways you’ve been disappointed, pick a way that feels relatively mild – like a 2 to 3 on the intensity scale.

Disappointment arises when we have an expectation that remains unmet. As a griever, I feel like I can name hundreds of disappointments in the aftermath of losing my mom, my miscarriage, my job, and all kinds of other losses in the last four years alone. In many situations, we can anticipate disappointments, too. Have you ever just thrown your hands in the air and walked away from a situation, disappointed and believing you cannot affect the outcome?

We already know that grievers tend to shy away from rocking the boat by keeping our needs and opinions quiet. We don’t want to disappoint or upset others with our own discomfort, so we pretend all is well. Maybe we have expectations of care from our circle of support that aren’t met. Maybe we feel we personally could do more or better by our own grief, and feel disappointed in our lack.

Framing disappointments as unmet expectations is a nice way to say someone violated our trust in one way or another. Violation of our trust in relationships is a broken boundary, and these broken boundaries can result in a secondary loss of security and relationship if we do not allow ourselves to get into the uncomfortable work of repair and reconnection.

If you are someone who tends to avoid confrontation, you might be worried about where I’m going with this conversation and that’s okay. Again, a willingness to be a little uncomfortable means we’re in a position to expand our awareness and understanding. That’s a great characteristic for grief work.

If you’re like me, you’ve got a history of avoiding confrontations when you know it would create disappointment in others. I know, I seem like a person who always speaks up when needed, but that’s typically on behalf of others. When it comes to my own safety, security, and belonging, my history of trauma and rejection defaults to a behavior of staying guarded and hidden to remain connected – no matter how tenuous that connection may be.

Wanna know about my boundaries? Well for years, they were extremely porous, allowing anyone or anything access to my heart and mind in order to hopefully create some kind of attunement. Have you ever said, “Ask anything, I’m an open book?” That can be a great example of a porous boundary. Because we want to belong, we act as though anyone can have access to us and everyone deserves that access.

The problem with this type of boundary is that it lacks reciprocity and opens us to being taken advantage of. Reciprocity in relationship is crucial for real attunement to develop. When we are open and share, we do so hoping and expecting the other to do the same. When it doesn’t happen, that unmet expectation leaves us disappointed but we tend to let the violation of our boundary go unnoticed right away.

It’s when we notice that we’ve had porous boundaries that we begin to grieve. This is where we recognize the imbalance in the relationship, the sense of feeling unknown or unseen, and realize that in trying to build connection, we violated our own values of being accepted and loved for who we are.

Anyone? I can’t be alone in experiencing this. I remember when I first realized I was operating with porous boundaries in relationships. It created an immediate influx of shame over the way I showed up for myself LAST and everyone else first. And recovering from this kind of people-pleasing behavior takes time, but what it also takes is courage to let others be disappointed.

Because when we suddenly express a healthier sense of self and stronger, healthier boundaries, we are rocking the boat. We start to push back in the relationships where we’ve not received that sense of reciprocity, and the people who benefited from our porous, people-pleasing boundaries get their chance to experience disappointment.

I’ll never forget the way one former spiritual leader spoke to me after I declined to volunteer any further. In retrospect, the response was fully revealing of them and the way they benefited from my desire to belong. But at the time, all I felt was hurt and rejection. When I pulled out of helping, they responded along the lines of, “That’s too bad, because the Lord told me you are positioned for great blessing and growth in this space, but you’ll never receive it outside of the covering of this house. Our team supports one another and you’re choosing to leave.”

Holy spiritual abuse, Batman. Can you see where this person let their own disappointment activate their nervous system into a sympathetic state of fight? Their response was definitely not about me, but when a person is so familiar with their power dynamic and having access to people in their vulnerable states, then losing access to that person and their contributions can be a big loss. Or in this case, a threat.

On the other side of healthy boundaries are rigid boundaries. Unmet expectations, such as mine in the scenario above, can lead us to a short-term need for rigidity in our boundaries for the purpose of safety and healing. In the situation above, my decision to pull back was affirmed by their response. Rather than remain in the community, I opted to leave altogether (although it was a slower process than I’d hoped). Why? Because the desire to avoid disappointment is such a human response to trauma and loss. I had already experienced so much of it, that I didn’t want to embody even more. And secretly I hoped they would notice how wrong their response was and apologize, creating an avenue to maintain connection.

It was 100% healthier for me to pull away completely, but in my own fear of more grief, I didn’t understand how do that without experiencing the disappointment of their judgment and condemnation. And indeed, the attitude toward me continued after leaving, which also reinforced my choice as the best choice for me at the time. Still, the rigid boundaries were painful and hard to navigate.

This is because in the short term, rigid boundaries help us to create safety where needed. But long term, unchecked rigid boundaries are harmful. Why is that?

The coping strategies we use in short term, if never set aside, prevent us from healing. Coping strategies are meant for survival and management of what hurts or harms in the moment, and to get us to a place of safety. But when we have that safety, the majority of us are rigid around whether or not we will return to our pain and face it with compassion and curiosity. This is usually because we’ve never been shown how to approach ourselves in this way. And why would we? It’s “easier” to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as if nothing traumatic happened.

Denying ourselves a chance to face our pain is a form of rigid boundary that has transitioned from coping strategy for safety into permanent fixture for safety. It is also a function of longstanding white supremacy, and I bring this up because I want us to understand how this way of being became preferred by our culture and also, how we can partner with one another to dismantle it.

Before you stop listening, let me quickly define white supremacy. Historically, it was commonly acceptable for Eurocentric nations to introduce their cultural way of life into Indigenous cultures as preferred and more “civilized.” For the sake of self, Eurocentric nations eliminated practices that did not align with their preferred outcomes for the people they were influencing. These goals typically included power, profit, and political control at whatever cost necessary.

As grievers, we cannot hope to heal in a way that aligns with our own values if we cannot understand how this principal of supremacy has controlled our grief process throughout history.

Being an individual who prioritizes the collective wholeness of our community means recognizing that the collective might need something that costs more than the collective is willing to pay for. In this case, consider that as a white middle class American woman, I want paid bereavement leave for more than three days and I want it guaranteed and funded at the national level for all occupants of the nation. In my perfect world, that would mean anyone, regardless of their immigration status, too.

Unfortunately, my viewpoint stands staunchly against the supremacy nature of my culture, which states the best way to continue as a nation is to compartmentalize, pretend we’re not hurting, and find a way to look okay enough to return to productivity and making money within three days. Even though I can demonstrate how the collective wholeness would be much healthier long term with paid bereavement leave for all, my approach costs the “powers that be” more than they’re willing to pay. Our nation, despite being a democracy, often cowers to the political and financial lobbyists who do not care if you are healed or happy at work.

Choosing to break away from the rigid internal boundaries that keep you appearing okay in a culture like ours is a deep disappointment to the people who directly benefit from your porous external boundaries. It’s wild how we can demonstrate both in a single moment, but it’s true. Our internally rigid boundaries against our own needs, combined with our people-pleasing porous boundaries just so we can belong create a perfect storm where our grief work and our stories are the ongoing additional loss.

When you decide to start practicing healthy boundaries, you will hit up against cultural norms like supremacy. You will experience rejection, loss of relationship, and a lack of safety in places you once enjoyed.

But you know what else you’ll experience? A rush of acceptance for yourself. You begin to notice a return of the wilderness in your spirit that allows you to sense when you need to laugh, cry, run, or jump – and you’ll start giving yourself the freedom to lean into those precious moments of expression and healing.

Understand that as much as grief work is personal, it is also (and always) political. You can bet your bottom dollar that pushing into your inner world and looking for realignment with your true self will disappointment people who like the controlled, quiet, and seemingly peaceful version of you. Some of them will even go so far as to say, “Wow. I’m not angry, I’m just really disappointed.”

Okay. So they’re disappointed. Odd that someone who proclaims to love and support you might be disappointed in the uncovering of your true, healing self, but here we are.

The question is are you disappointed in your healing? Or are you possibly and finally the one person you are no longer willing to disappoint?

Thank you for listening to episode 132 of Restorative Grief. I meant it when I said we were veering off the beaten path today, and I hope you’re feeling inspired and prepared to practice disappointment in your own life. I don’t mean by remaining disappointed in yourself and your own life story. That’s not a helpful place to remain. But when we talk a big game about healing and grief work, we have to back it up with the willingness to follow where our internal parts are leading. And that can ruffle some feathers, to say the least. But the power of our honest expression is unmatched by any power play or control someone else can put on our lives, and that my friends, is worth all the disappointment and boat rocking you create.

If this is your first time listening to the show, I want to thank you for listening through the whole thing! This conversation is not an easy one to start with, so kudos to you for starting out boldly! Be sure to subscribe to the show and keep yourself close as you listen through each episode. Listening to say you listened doesn’t serve your long term regulation or healing work. So lean in! You can learn more about Restorative Grief Coaching and our Patreon offerings in the show notes.

And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.

Links + Resources from this episode: