At first, it didn’t seem to matter that much that the cows had escaped. Pip, assisted by her live-in lover, Toby and Ed, the cow man for Bridge Farm, had got them back in within an hour of discovering the break out, but in that time they had already mingled with the herds on both Bridge and Home farms. It was when animals started to fall sick and die that Pip realised the enormity of what had happened, but Toby persuaded her that nothing would be gained by disclosure. Over the next few weeks, David’s refusal to accept responsibility threatened major divisions within the family. Pip could conceal it no longer; the truth had to come out. David was furious but then forgave his daughter and focussed on what they all needed to do to limit the damage. Ruth, Pip’s mother, was dreadfully disappointed. She felt Pip had betrayed her trust and was too ashamed to forgive her.
More subtle than the grand emotions of anger, anxiety and sadness, less catastrophised than panic, disappointment encompasses hurt, regret, guilt and shame. It may be caused by an expected treat that doesn’t happen and is quickly forgiven and healed, or it may, as in the example quoted from ‘The Archers’, BBC Radio 4’s long running tale of country folk, be a much more serious collapse of faith in a much loved personal friend or family member. The longer it remains unresolved, the greater the risk that the erosion of confidence, well-being and self regard will achieve expression as a bodily illness that represents the feeling of what has happened.
Disappointment is often shared. Both the person who feels disappointed and the one who is the object of the disappointment experience a loss of innocence. Their world is no longer as reliable or trustworthy as it once seemed. They are diminished by disappointment. Ruth thought she had brought Pip up to be a better person and cannot forgive her for the person she seems to have become. And Pip is disappointed in herself for not following her parents’ moral compass.
Of course, if Ruth had not invested so much trust and faith in her daughter, she would not feel so hurt and neither would Pip. Pip feels the shame so acutely because as the oldest child and a prospective farmer, she is carries the burden of her mother’s overweening pride, but maybe this crisis is the touchstone that will enable her to develop a more authentic sense of herself and a more mature relationship with Ruth. Disappointment is a rite of passage for successful relationships. We cannot go through life without risking trust and being let down.
So how are Pip and Ruth going to heal the deep narcissistic wound caused by their mutual disappointment? How can they prevent it becoming consolidated as the grievance that drives a wedge into their relationship? On Ruth’s side, it not only requires understanding and forgiveness, but also a shift in the dynamic of her relationship with Pip that accommodates the reality that her child is growing up and learning from her own mistakes. Pip, by contrast, needs to do something that will restore the faith and trust in herself and others. Saying sorry isn’t enough. An act of contrition is necessary. So Pip has given up living with Toby in Rickyard Cottage so the farm can recoup some money on holiday lets. In the meantime, both Ruth and Pip need to communicate and remodel their relationship into one that is more realistic, resilient and recognises each other’s individuality.
It is a sad comment on contemporary society that too many people may fail to resolve the shame and grievance of their disappointment and suffer for years with illness that has no clear medical explanation.