As a psychotherapist, I notice that birthdays conjure up disappointment and unfinished childhood business. Eventually, everyone is at some time disappointed. Everyone has a particular history and preference, even a equirement about how they prefer to celebrate their birthday.
In the unconscious, there is a virtual child who wants to feel special. As a child you might have missed out on feeling special. Conversely, if you were over indulged,you might feel entitled to have it you way, like a despotic three year old.
Think about how you react when you are disappointed:
How do you respond when your need for being special gets thwarted?
What do you do when you feel that you are not top priority, especially on your birthday?
Do you punish your special person(s) by sulking or withholding affection?
Instead of insisting on grandiose birthday demands to confirm your specialness, there are alternatives. Ask yourself, “What can I do to manage when I don’t get what I want?”
Is this you? You minimize your disappointment thinking, “I’m not a child. I’m an adult and I can manage if my birthday is not a priority. I know he or she cares about me. I’m cared for other ways. Big deal if we can’t celebrate on my birth date.”
Or is this you? You begin wondering about your birthday weeks or months ahead. Will your special person remember without your prompt? As your birthday approaches, you’re increasingly obsessive. Will he or she remember and plan something special? You start to fantasize about a weekend getaway. A dinner at that ‘impossible to get a reservation’ hot new restaurant. You start to worry and are anxious if you think you will not get proof that you are special. In anger, you are already resentful: “After all, does it really take that much to plan a surprise celebration?” “Poor me.”
Take one of my female patients who is dating a divorced man with a twelve year old son. She despondently complained that at the last minute he cancelled her birthday celebration because he forgot his son’s important Cub Scout meeting that same night.
On one hand, she wanted to be understanding. She admires his dedication as a father.
On the other hand, in an angry irritated plea, she rationalized, “Is this Scout meeting so important that he can’t miss just this one meeting? Can’t he ask his ex to cover for him–just this one time?”
Despite disappointment, she can choose to accept his priorities and obligations as part of who he is. Yes, he may be acting out fears of intimacy. He may even have a need to prove his autonomy. He may also be reluctant to let his son know that she is important to him.
Whatever his reasons, she will have to face this difficult reminder that she is not the number one priority she wants to be. He has needs separate from her needs. She may be jealous of the kid, but if she wants to be with this man, she has to understand and accept that she is with a guy who will choose the Scout meeting!
If you are with someone who forgets, routinely backs out or lacks follow through on plans, you have a choice. Identify what you give and get from this relationship? Decide if you can accept that the other person has needs separate from yours. Provided you get enough important needs filled, you can choose not to interpret disappointment as a fatal issue.
Here are three things that you can do to manage disappointment:
1. Shift your inner conversation.
2. Investigate your own thinking. Ask, “Am I acting like a diva that needs proof to feel worthwhile?
3. Make a party for your own birthday instead of punishing and ruminating in disappointment!
Birthdays present opportunities to feel and move through painful disappointment and anger amplified by early childhood experiences. You can learn how to transform the urges to retaliate, punish or withhold love. By bringing awareness and insight to difficult feelings, you strengthen the muscle of ‘consciousness’. This helps you choose not to act out in hurtful ways.
You can choose love and compassion and learn to honor disappointment as a birthday gift.