I’d venture to say it is common to feel the sense of disillusionment at least once in your life. The feeling may be brought on by the realization that your parents don’t really know it all. Or perhaps it’s the sudden epiphany that you’ve been spending years and oodles of money on a major that won’t get you the career you want. Maybe you just entered the work force or changed positions and you’ve discovered it isn’t what you’d expected. Or perhaps you are faced with a disillusionment that shakes you to the very core, as the recent scandal at Penn State has done for so many staff, faculty, students, alumni, fans and friends.
No one plans to be disillusioned; that would be contradictory to the term itself. Thus, it’s hard for one to be prepared for when it happens. It’s nearly impossible to educate our students to anticipate the unforeseeable, so our favored proactive approach fails us here. What, then, can we do when our students’ faith in themselves, or in someone else, has been shattered?
For starters, it’s probably a good idea to analyze the way you’ve handled your own experiences with disillusionment and look for the bright spots. Find the positive ways you’ve moved forward so that you can share those moments and suggestions with your students. But don’t deny the dark spots; students need to know they’re not alone in those negative, heart-breaking moments when their world seems to be spinning out of control.
In analyzing my own experiences with disillusionment and consulting a few sources to support that personal conclusion, I offer the following:
- Give yourself time to mourn. Disillusionment can bring a great sense of loss, and it’s important to give yourself time to acknowledge and feel that realization. But in allowing yourself to mourn, don’t forget to commit to moving forward; you don’t want to linger in the mourning period too long.
- Sort through your feelings and identify the problem(s). Why is it exactly that you’re feeling disillusioned? What were your expectations and how were they let down? Were your expectations too high? Was there a moment or situation that led to failure?
- Get the facts straight. While understanding your feelings and processing are extremely important, it’s also important to be rational and take time to research reality.
- Brainstorm and research solutions. Before you can begin to move forward, you need to research your options and possible solutions. This may protect you from further disillusionment in the future.
- Recognize the opportunity and choose to grow. We have the choice to drown in our pool of disillusionment or allow it to reflect and develop or strongest values. From that decision, we have the opportunity to confront the problems that caused our disillusionment or prune the dead branches and blossom in a completely new direction. Either way, the opportunity exists for us to glean something amazing from what was once a moment of dark, barren emptiness.
Perhaps these notes will help you the next time you find yourself disillusioned, whether it be within Student Affairs or another aspect of life. Better yet, perhaps the next time a completely disillusioned, disenchanted student wanders into your office, you’ll be able to offer peace of mind and encouragement as a guide through the tangled web of emotion to the door of possibility. Those moments that seem completely shattering often serve to build, strengthen, and develop a strong value system; what appears to destroy may just be the impetus for creation and solidification.
Have you found yourself counseling students in the wake of scandal or amidst their own personal angst? What methods have worked for you in guiding students through disillusionment? Or if you have been fortunate enough to not yet have an experience like this, what skills do you anticipate using in the future should a student in crisis walk through your office door?
Check out Perspectives on Loss: A Sourcebook and The Ability to Mourn: Disillusionment and the Social Origin of Psychoanalysis for resources to address disillusionment.
Devon Purington is a Residence Life Coordinator at Penn State University-Hazleton.