Introverts deeply internalize their experiences, so they may over-personalize disappointment.
I come from a relatively small family, which includes my only sibling (a brother whom I adore), and this suits my introvert heart just fine. But, as a child, visiting friends with larger families always made me feel like I had stepped onto the set of The Brady Bunch. The idea of having a brother and a sister, and maybe another one or two of each, captivated me. The potential tricks and troubles that a larger group of kids could get into, with the parents outnumbered, seemed a mighty power.
One summer, an overnight visit with family friends (four siblings!) meant the six of us kids could sleep in a tent in the backyard. We woke early — before the grown-ups, still sound asleep in their comfy beds — and piled into the kitchen. We grabbed spoons and cereal, and each poured ourselves an overflowing bowl.
The unsweetened cereals of the 1980s weren’t worth the milk they swam in without at least three heaping teaspoons of sugar. Unsupervised, we poured mountains of sugar into our bowls and dug in. Anticipating the too-sweet milky slime awaiting me at the bottom of the bowl, I scooped a massive amount of properly anointed cereal into my mouth, ready to satisfy my glucose gluttony.
But it wasn’t sugar. It was salt. Someone had put salt in the sugar bowl!
Since that taste-bud-torturing surprise, I’ve had countless salt-in-the-sugar-bowl moments, from familial stress to friendship fails. From health hurdles to career confusion. From unrequited love to unaccepted manuscripts. From financial jams to vacation nightmares. Life has been sprinkled with the shock of disappointment, and acquiring a taste for the unexpected hasn’t come easy.
But I’ve learned that with disappointment comes the promise of redemption. After the initial jolt of eating a mouthful of salt, the five innocents gulped massive amounts of whatever liquid we had at hand, then fell all over ourselves laughing at the genius of it all.
Lesson learned: Never judge a sweetener by its container. But, best of all, this was the same bowl from which the parents later scooped “sugar” for their morning coffee. I was finally in on the joke and had my very own Brady moment — and a taste of the power of life’s unforeseen adventures.
As introverts, we are gifted with many strengths that can help us navigate disappointment. Here are five ways to apply your introvert intelligence to overcome the unexpected.
How Introverts Can Deal With Disappointment
1. See disappointment as a surprise, not a devastation.
By our very nature, introverts internalize experiences and often understand the world as if it were mapped directly over our interior landscape. This tendency leaves us vulnerable to personalizing disappointment, as if every little thing that goes awry does so at our hands.
Disappointment is uncomfortable because it feels like failure. Feelings of loss, discouragement, and thwarted desire try to tell us that disappointment is devastation. But if we think of disappointment as merely the surprise of the unexpected, rather than as the result of a personal failing, we can face the pain with emotional distance, helping us to more comfortably move forward.
In areas requiring creativity and deep thinking, introverts shine. Use these strengths to consider the situation from a different perspective. Rather than viewing disappointment through the lens of failure, examine setbacks as if through a portal to another dimension. Peer a little closer, think a little broader, and try to find, however small or slight, the inherent opportunity of unexpected events.
2. Calm the waters.
For introverts, who are already prone to overstimulation and overwhelm, disappointment can feel less like the nuisance of a hiccup and more like the assault of unsedated open-heart surgery. The emotional fallout can easily spin us into self-protection, throwing us off balance and confusing our bearings.
But you can’t see your own reflection in turbulent water, so let the emotional whirlpool settle, then ask, “Who is this moment calling me to be?” Finding equilibrium means holding up a mirror to reveal the kernel of potential hidden within the letdown.
Quiet, independent, and self-motivated, introverts have many calm and considered ways to still the water. For some, the soothing lullaby of words, through writing or reading, settles choppy emotional seas. For others, a decadent meal and emotional deep-dive with a trusted friend invites peace. Relief can also be found in the endorphin release from exercise, or in the stillness of meditation or prayer. During these moments of calm and self-care, a potential solution or way forward might just burble to the surface.
3. Let disappointment show you what you want in life.
Picture in your mind a salt and vinegar potato chip. Feel your mouth pucker from the tangy acidity and dry up a bit from the crunchy saline hit.
Now imagine a fresh, gooey donut — maple-glazed or jelly-filled or covered in a rainbow of sprinkles. Notice the way the sugar hits your tongue and then explodes in your brain.
These two very different mouthfuls remind us that by sampling life’s buffet, we discover what we like and don’t like, what we need and don’t need — and, deliciously, what we just can’t live without. Whether you are a chips junkie, a sweets person, or a chocoholic, you know what you like and what you don’t like because you sit at life’s table, which is laden with contrasts.
Using your powers of observation and analysis, you can explore contrast to understand disappointment, and then consciously move toward what is good for you, and away from what isn’t. When life serves disappointment, the unexpected can show us what we do want and need. The contrast of different flavors, textures, and tastes can teach us who we are and what we want our life to be.
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4. Heal, then work on building resilience.
In the introvert community, phrases like introvert hangover, door slam, and highly sensitive are used as identifiers, terms that help us explain ourselves to ourselves. These words don’t mean that introverts are weak, but do honor a relationship with the world that includes unique sensitivities and permeabilities. Through this terminology, we come to understand who we are, how we cope, and what we need.
When disappointment strikes, your initial reaction might be to seek shelter from a too-much world, pull the covers over your head, and only come out to pay the pizza delivery guy. And, for a short time, your nervous system absolutely needs that time to heal and recover.
But I’ve found that emotional resilience is a psychological muscle that needs to be flexed, strengthened, and tested. Smaller setbacks are often warm-up exercises for the larger ones. Leaning into disappointment’s unexpected opportunities will prevent emotional atrophy and make you strong enough to pick yourself up after future letdowns.
To lean in, begin by acknowledging and honoring the loss, emptiness, and absence that arise in disappointment’s wake. From these feelings comes the gift of space: The cracks of disappointment let in the light of possibility. And introverts, called to solitude — to space — are already aligned with its magic. So when the time comes to pull back the covers and let in the light, ask yourself, “Although I didn’t choose this outcome, what does this space allow me to choose now?”
5. Reframe disappointment as information.
Disappointment is a crowded emotion, packed with regret, shame, sadness, and more. It can hold a taste of pain that is difficult to rinse off. But ultimately — whether physical, mental, or emotional — pain is information.
Disappointment shows us how to fortify our emotional reserves and protect ourselves. It hones our coping strategies, enabling us to revisit difficult situations or move into unfamiliar territory. It uncovers hidden strengths, reveals unknown dimensions, and reminds us that even though we might not have chosen this, we can still make room for it in our lives.
Now, when life unexpectedly serves me a salt-in-the-sugar-bowl moment, I recall that taste-bud confusion of so many years ago. I remember the liberty of being away from my parents’ gaze. The freedom to scoop as much sweetness as I wanted. The shock of tasting its opposite.
And I remember, too, the delight and joy borne from disappointment.