Your child’s perception is his reality. Anything is disappointing if he feels disappointed. He is the judge. Also, he is the only judge of how disappointing it was for him. This means not getting invited to a party can be more painful for one child than not getting a college scholarship is for another. Not making the basketball team can devastate one child and not bother another child much one way or the other. Listen to what your child is telling you and then believe him. He is the expert on his perceptions.
When a disappointment of any kind is very painful for your youngster, this is what is happening. He had started seeing himself as having what he wanted. In his mind, in the viewfinder of his developing perception, he was someone who had reached his goal. He made the team, was part of the group at the party, was going to be a college student. It matters little what his goal was. It had become part of how he thought about himself, who he thought he was. In his mind, he was a team member, one of the group, someone who fit-in, who belonged. It is how your children think about and understand important things.
Your child’s loss may be because of embarrassment and humiliation, because a relationship is no longer there for him, because of a severe disappointment. Whatever its cause, it is less belonging for him. He can come to believe he does not belong at all, anywhere.
You can say, “I know a lot about disappointment. I think you may even know more than I do right now. I remember how awful and painful it feels. I remember it feels like a huge crash or sometimes like suddenly losing everything important. Can you talk about how you’re feeling? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Your objective is to get him to talk about his disappointment, about his loss. At the same time, though, encourage him to talk about his feelings, especially his angry feelings.
Another example helps to show how disappointment, loss of status, and feeling embarrassed and not accepted can lead to depression and suicidal feelings. It also shows how events can accumulate and compound.
Things are going from bad to worse for Holly. It starts when her brother dies in a car wreck. He was her best buddy, when they were not arguing. Steve was the only person in her life she could talk with about things that really mattered.
Steve just listened and thought she was pretty. She knows she will never get over Steve’s leaving her but can handle that and maybe even the stuff with her stepfather. At least she does not have to worry about dealing with him every day now since she and her mother have moved away.
Things are getting worse, though. She finally gets up her nerve to try out for cheerleading and now wishes she never had to go to school again. She thought it might be different in this school. “I should’ve left well enough alone. It doesn’t get you many friends; but being the best Math student in the school should’ve been enough.” She can hardly stop shaking inside when she thinks about “the incident,” which is only a thousand times a day. The competition is in front of everyone at a pep rally.
It starts out well enough until it is Holly’s turn. Not only does she forget the words to the cheer, she falls into the pep band while trying to make a jump. If hurting herself is not enough, she also feels like the joke of the school. But just when she knows it cannot get any worse, it does. A new boy in school moves in on her one special place.
Not only is he a Math whiz, everyone likes him, including the Math teacher. Her teacher’s saying, “Being the second best Math student in the school is nothing to feel badly about,” only makes her feel worse.
“There’s nothing special about me anymore. At least Steve thought I was pretty and now he is dead. It’s all too much.”
Holly’s world is out of control. “Being dead would be a relief. There is no way out. I can’t stand this. I’ve got to do something to stop the pain. I just want out.”