Dr Judith Guedalia

The Higher The Expectation The Bigger The Fall

Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K.

Chaim K. comes into the office and immediately begins to speak, as if our last meeting had never ended.

"Eight years ago, at age 14, I was hit by a car and left a quadriplegic on a respirator with the ability to only control my facial movements. A few years ago someone told my mother about a doctor who maybe could help me improve my condition.   I was waiting for an appointment with all my heart.  Maybe he could help me just improve my situation a little.  After months of waiting, we drove to Tel Aviv and I met the doctor and he checked my whole file.

_option_option_option_option_option_option "Then he called another neurologist and another doctor and then a few more.  They all consulted with each other and looked at me again and again.  Finally the moment I had been praying for, they were going to tell me something life changing.  I visualized my heart doing flips in my chest; my pacemaker was firing like crazy.  This famous doctor, whom I had waited months to see, came into the room, and this is what he said: 'The possibility that something will help your situation or change it, is less than 0%.  The possibility that someone will win the lottery is greater than someone in your situation improving.'
"When I heard this it hit me like a sledgehammer, I was depressed for months; later when I started thinking about it, I tried to understand why I was so disappointed, this wasn't the first time I had heard this same news from doctors.  I have been in this SCI (Spinal Cord Injured) condition for a few years already, why am I so surprised by it?
"I 'posited' (good word Dr. J., huh?) the reason being that I had expected something else.  I expected a miracle worker.  I was waiting, dreaming maybe, there is something, some kind of surgery, anything, that will change my situation.  Because I had built my expectation so high, the crash was so painful.
"The story taught me a great lesson; take everything in proportion, even your expectations of something have to be measured with their relationship to reality.
"Let's not confuse expectation and ambition, for example a man who just started working in a big company does not (and shouldn't) expect to become the CEO within a year.  He needs to retain the ambition to achieve his goal; he needs to adjust his expectation to reality.  With hard work it may take him over 20 years or even more to achieve his ultimate goal.
"After this happened, and after I took to heart what I had learned, I now try to take everything in proportion and have 'under-expectations' rather than heightened expectations.  I learned this the hard way.
"So I want to pass this on to you," says Chaim K. "If your expectations aren't high, then the disappointed is less steep.  I'm still disappointed but not to the same extent as THAT time. 
"Expectation can be a great tool in life.  For example, when a person is set up on a blind date, he develops certain hopes, anticipations, and expectations that will come to fruition when he does meet that girl.  He is more anxious and excited to meet her; at the same time he shouldn't expect that she will be THE one."
Smiling Chaim says: "He shouldn't buy a ring or take out a mortgage on a house, for example, yet!"
"Now, Dr. J.," he winks and smiles, "I did my part on this article, you add the psychological and 'other' stuff."  

I agree and disagree at the same time.  "I didn't expect anything else," he says and winks, his arched eyebrow seems to say: "bring it on."

In their article "Discounting delayed and probabilistic rewards: Processes and Traits", Myerson, et al describe disappointment, and an inability to prepare for it.  Disappointment has also been hypothesized as the source of occasional immune system compromise in optimists. While optimists generally are thought to exhibit better health, they may alternatively exhibit less immunity when under prolonged or uncontrollable stress, a phenomenon which researchers have attributed to the "disappointment effect."  Further amplifying on the disappointment effect, Suzanne C. Segerstrom's (1990s) research suggested that rather than being unable to deal with disappointment, optimists are more likely to actively tackle their problems and may experience some immune system compromise as a result of this "work."
Ian Craib in his book: The Importance of Disappointment (1994), drew on the works of Melanie Klein and Sigmund Freud in advancing the theory that disappointment-avoidant cultures - particularly the Therapy Culture - provides false expectations of perfection in life and prevents people from achieving a healthy self-identity. 
Oddly enough I came in contact with this culture recently when I bought the little kid's game "Candy Land" for my grandchildren.  The original game was a sort of Snakes and Ladders where the players moved forward on a board and sometimes went UP a ladder beating a co-player, or sometimes landed on a snake and slid DOWN and landed below a co-player.  The new version doesn't "allow" for any disappointment and is basically no fun to play.  It doesn't teach the skills of competition, anticipation and success tempered by disappointment any more. (I am searching e-Bay for the older less PC-fixed model!)
In a 2004 article, Psychology Today recommended handling disappointment through concrete steps including accepting that setbacks are normal, setting realistic goals, planning subsequent moves, thinking about positive role models, seeking support and tackling tasks by stages rather than focusing on the big picture.
Margaret Marshall of Seattle Pacific University and Jonathon Brown of the University of Washington, Seattle, found that students who expected to do badly, actually felt worse when they did mess up, than those who predicted they would do well but similarly botched their test. This suggests that gloomy expectations could actually exacerbate the wretchedness felt when a person fails. The old advice of "preparing for the worst" does not seem like a successful strategy.   
In Parshas Korach (16:1-18:32), we have an opportunity to read about raw emotions and the consequences of ambition and disappointment.  Korach was Moshe and Aharon's first cousin.  Moshe received malchus (kingship); Aharon received the Kehuna (Priesthood) and Korach who was the next in chronological line was sure he would receive the nesi'ut (presidency).  Hashem had other considerations and awarded this position to the youngest cousin Elitzaphan.   
Instead of trying to understand what might be the intrinsic requirements of the position, Korach lashes out at Moshe's decision.  The resulting divisive revolt caused death and destruction and teaches a strong lesson in how to deal with personal disappointment.  Instead of trying to learn about the roles and respect Hashem's understanding of the requirements of the position of president, Korach sowed anger, jealousy and blame.  He lost an opportunity for introspection, self-feedback and learning from disappointment.

Our ambitions and our expectations are gifts from the Almighty.  To help us to achieve, grow and constantly seek to improve our situations we must learn to use frustration and disappointment as stepping stones to reach a sense of shelaimut  - wholeness and peace.



Discounting Delayed and Probabilistic Rewards: Processes and traits.  Myerson, Joel, Green, Leonard, Holt, Daniel D., Hanson, J. Scott, Estle, Sara J. Publisher: Elsevier B.V. Publication Name: Journal of Economic Psychology Subject: ISSN:0167-4870

Year: 2003

Is It Best to Expect the Worst? Psychologists test long-held theory of emotional cushioning. John M Grohol, Psy.D. February 4, 2006



Tags: Chaim K. | Disappointment | Expectations | Jewish Press | SCI | Spinal Cord Injured