Handling Disappointment Within the Military Community

Handling Disappointment Within the Military Community

Recent news has been very impactful to service members and their families for many reasons. Service members voluntarily join the services to protect and defend The United States of America in return for whatever they value: Honor, Duty, Service, Sacrifice, Tradition, Life Attainment, Scholarship Opportunity, Travel, Safety, and the list goes on. Families support their service members and stand by them despite challenges for similar reasons. Their sacrifice has a purpose when they attain that which they valued. Recent news, like past experiences, has brought up disappointment. In general, service members learn to “carry on” and are flexible to ongoing change and challenges because there is a level of trust that expectations will be met “at some point”. However, when there is no clear purpose or the actions/outcomes go against their beliefs, there is a disappointment.

There are different emotional and psychological reactions that a person experiences when expectations are not met. Someone may experience; shock, confusion, anger, resentment, sadness, fear, and even betrayal. Disappointment is part of everyday life, and the only way to avoid it is to have no expectations. Since we are born we learn to have expectations for others and for ourselves. In our formative years, we learn that when we cry if we are comforted/protected then we learn to trust others. If we are neglected then soon enough we learn that we can not trust. We begin to have uncertainty about the world, those around us, and even ourselves. The reality is that the greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment. Managing expectations means adjusting expectations based on what is reality. For service members and their families, lowering expectations too low can mean risking the loss of motivation, morale, and eventually end of a career.

When joining the military someone expects leadership and their brothers/sisters in arms to watch their back, to unite, and stand up for what they value. Although recent outcomes can not be controlled by an individual, there still are other expectations that service members and their families have that may be attainable such as; a plan to take care of those who have directly been affected by the outcomes of the Afghanistan War. These actions can help to build and maintain trust and connection within the community. When things don’t work as expected, it brings up some level of disappointment and that’s what many have recently experienced. The feeling of disappointment has also been described as sadness or loss, so in coping with this experience, an acknowledgment is necessary. Disappointment is an uncomfortable space where one experiences a range of emotions as a response to expectations and outcomes. When service members or their families have experienced disappointment, they may feel the loss of respect, trust, support, protection, meaning, and even purpose.

Throughout history, it is known that service members and their families experience many challenges during their time of service and even after retirement. Many of those experiences are related to temporary or permanent loss. These experiences can be anything from loss of connections after a big move, to the loss of a loved one. Therefore, witnessing the outcome of current events can trigger and add to past experiences related to disappointment and loss. Some in the military community will choose to unite as they have shared experiences while others will avoid in efforts to go on. Regardless of how service members and families choose to handle disappointment, they could benefit from supportive leaders (active, reserve, civilian) to provide reassurance of the purpose of their careers and to express the importance of military values. Leaders can encourage their community to identify and express their concerns and needs. In addition to allowing service members to be heard, leaders that provide a message that conveys purpose, encouragement, and hope can help to promote resilience.

How will service members go on to do their job, if there is no purpose? How do they hold on to their values if they have lost trust? Service members should trust their leadership but many have expressed frustration after dedicating years of service to only hear disappointing news. Leaders can demonstrate trustworthiness by responding timely and proactively to their community’s frustration and by acknowledging their disappointment. Leaders can work towards building trust by committing to value their sacrifice, especially for those who question whether or not their efforts have been worth it. This disappointment may take time to heal for some, but history has shown that resilience does rise from even the most difficult of times. Current events have certainly stirred up emotions related to present and previous disappointments, so if you or someone that you know needs some support, reach out to a local vet center, installation behavioral health clinic, military family life counselor, chaplains, or a mental health therapist.

Speak Your Mind