Dealing with Disappointment
You didn’t do everything on your to-do list. You let a loved one down. You yelled at your spouse, or your six-year-old. Or both. You still haven’t gotten over your ex. You thought someone else would make you happy but they didn’t. You received a bad performance review. Your Thanksgiving dinner didn’t turn out the way you planned. Nothing has turned out the way you planned.
And you’re disappointed in yourself. You’re disappointed in your circumstances. Deeply disappointed.
What were you thinking? How could you do such a thing? Why are you still being so ridiculous? Why does this always happen?
There are many different reasons we feel disappointed in ourselves, in others, in situations. It might be because of small, everyday reasons—like not completing a specific task. It might be because of massive reasons—like a relationship shattering.
Each of us has certain expectations, and when we or others don’t meet them, we naturally get upset. “It’s even as simple as the expectation that we can carry all of our groceries in the store in our arms without a basket, and then we get disappointed when we drop the eggs and they all crack on the floor,” said Jenn Fieldman, LPCS, a life transition and recovery therapist in Asheville, N.C.
Feeling disappointment is inevitable—just like sadness and anger. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions. After all, you’re not a robot. The key is to deal with it healthfully. Below, Fieldman shared five suggestions.
Validate your disappointment. Acknowledge how you’re feeling. This is disappointing, and this is hard. Because “it’s hard when things do not work out how we want them to,” Fieldman said. Validating your real feelings helps you to move forward, versus becoming stuck, she said. Plus, it stops you from seeking unhealthy alternatives to mask or dismiss your disappointment, to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Keep moving. “It may sound strange, but just getting up and physically moving the body can help to move the trauma of disappointment,” Fieldman said. Moving your body, and releasing endorphins, may help you get clarity or perspective on the situation. And it may help you reduce any anxiety or sadness. It’s important to pick movement that you enjoy—not exercise you think you should be doing. This might be anything from taking a walk to taking a yoga class to dancing in your living room.
Encourage yourself to restart. For instance, you might tell yourself something inspiring or uplifting like: “OK, that felt like a setback, but I am going to be more aware next time” or “I got this next time,” Fieldman said.
It also might help to read stories of others who’ve been in similar situations, and have struggled, too, and persevered. Stories of people in toxic relationships. Stories of people who stopped trying to juggle it all and started making more deliberate decisions about their values and priorities. Stories of people whose lives didn’t go according to plan but have become meaningful, fulfilling and beautiful anyway.
Get a hug. This might seem silly or small. But “Physical touch is an important piece to healing whether it’s disappointment or just a daily reminder that we are all connected,” Fieldman said.
Own your actions. “Disappointment can sometimes sound like ‘it happened again, I should have known better,’” Fieldman said. “This kind of reaction keeps disappointment as something that happens outside of us rather than how we can adjust on the inside to achieve a goal.”
In other words, this makes us feel helpless, instead of empowered. It makes us feel like we have zero control. Which isn’t true. At all.
Fieldman shared this example: You and your partner break up. You start dating someone new, but they’re similar to your ex—and the same pattern plays out. When this relationship ends, you become disappointed that people keep leaving you. However, the key is to look inside yourself to see what changes you can make, such as: how to maintain boundaries you set; how to choose a partner who actually respects you; or how to respect yourself.
This way instead of blaming others for leaving us, or blaming the universe for not letting us be in a good relationship, we can refocus on changing what we can control, Fieldman said. And we can “choose a different kind of relationship to have a different outcome.”
Own your actions with compassion. It’s not that you’re a bad person, or a loser who doesn’t know anything. Your choice “wasn’t the wisest choice,” Fieldman said. Which, again, gives you the opportunity to learn and grow. Which is a powerful part of life, isn’t it?
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Dealing with Disappointment. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/dealing-with-disappointment/